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Jewish World Review June 29, 1999 /15 Tamuz 5759

Julia Gorin

Mort Zuckerman
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Maddy and Bill went up the (Capitol) Hill --
BILL CLINTON was running out of time. His presidency would expire in less than two years, and his most memorable legacy would be perverting the country. He’d need to do better than that. He’d need to find a war. His only experience with such a thing was protesting it, but now he required one, one with results. He thought hard. Eventually his thoughts led him to the Balkans.

Madeleine Albright also was running out of time. This administration was her only chance. Never again would she be in a position powerful enough to impact so directly the course of world events. Never again would she be able to prove with so broad a stroke that she is not insensitive to human suffering. No matter that her family had Serbs to thank for evacuating them from Czechoslovakia. No matter that by equating ethnic rivalry with genocide she would once again diminish the tragedy of the Holocaust. These were just details pestering a conscience installed to hinder blind ambition. She would leave her stamp on the world, damnit, no matter how many corpses the process took.

When Bill and Maddy met during the 1988 Dukakis campaign, it was instant chemistry between like-minded people. The pair would eventually discover that among their common visions was that of a global village: a world where borders, national integrity, individualism and history were irrelevant. And they were both cut from a mold which could help them claim it. Each recognized in the other the kind of steely drive that, if need be, could push the limits of even the most creative interpretation of right and wrong.

The advent of the European Union had helped to set their vision in motion. Europe has seen the consequences of such enlightened vision before, but she was nonetheless optimistic about the latest incarnation--intellectual globalism.

Only there was one recalcitrant state: Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was fighting to keep the territorial integrity of his country. He was a thorn in the side of a unified Europe. So the Balkans had to become the site of the first armed struggle in this gradual revolution. The rest of Europe, used to relying on America to put down aggressors imposing their visions on it, was happy to let America bloody its hands imposing theirs for them.

Coming from the anti-war, peacenik side of American politics, neither Maddy nor Bill had much experience in war-making. A 1990 Madeleine Albright was opposed to military intervention in a small country named Kuwait, because of a belief that force should be used only after all other options have been exhausted. Known for being an aggressive moralist, after her appointment to Secretary of State she proved to be a mutable one too, once causing General Colin Powell’s sturdy frame to nearly fall over when she asked, "What’s the point of having this superb military...if we can’t use it?"

Bill Clinton saw men make wars; he didn’t know why they made them. It probably had something to do with showing muscle, he figured. That some consideration as to right and wrong went into these decisions didn’t occur to him. Nor did the usual weighing of national interest and national good.

For guidance, Bill and Madeleine invoked a different kind of moral compass: one that pointed toward what could be PORTRAYED as right—a scale usually reserved for the interests not of a nation, but of a self.

But then, for both, survival of the self has always been paramount.

MADLENKA, as some long-forgotten relatives still call her endearingly, became a diplomat in the tradition of her father, Josef Korbel. And in the Korbel tradition, she believed in standing up against dictators, recalling her native Czechoslovakia, where she "saw what happened when a dictator was allowed to take over a piece of the country and the country went down the tubes."

Indeed, nearly every article written about Madeleine or "Madeleine’s War" attributes Albright’s outlook and foreign policy to a personal history that witnessed her family fleeing Hitler, then Stalin. She is said to have learned in "painfully personal" ways the lessons of Munich, a fact she brings up repeatedly when confronted by opposition.

Tolerating no hesitations or proposed compromises from her peers on NATO’s recent bombing campaign, she continually brought to example a 1938 Czechoslovakia whose fate was sealed when world powers dawdled and then compromised.

But were he alive today, her father might be disappointed to find that his little girl has gotten the analogies wrong and inverted the valuable lessons of the family’s history. That she could use them AGAINST humanity for the sake of self-interest would be heartbreaking.

For Madeleine’s purposes, Kosovo was Prague and Serbia was Germany. A shrewder observer, Josef Korbel would find the truth to lie somewhere in the reverse. He would point out to Madlenka that Czechoslovakia was not a renegade republic trying to break away from Germany the way Kosovo was trying to do from Yugoslavia, an effort headed by militants who want also to secure part of Montenegro and Macedonia to eventually create a Greater Albania.

He might also remind her that Britain and France, Madlenka’s new playmates in the game of European unity, were the chief dawdlers and abandoners in Czechoslovakia’s hour of need. Finally, he might try to snap her out of her willful and recurrent amnesia by repeating one man’s words:

"As soon as sufficient forces are available and the weather allows, the ground installations of the Yugoslav Air Force and the City of Belgrade will be destroyed from the air by continual day and night bombardment. When that is completed we will subdue Yugoslavia." --Adolf Hitler, 1941

But it would be all to no avail. For her blinder-protected goals have swept Madeleine very far away from Madlenka. Far enough not only to shun her Jewish past, but also to refuse a passed note from a first cousin she once lived and played with.

It was from the front row at a 1994 press conference in Prague that Dagmar Simova unsuccessfully searched her cousin’s face for a sign of recognition and then unsuccessfully tried to get a note to her, bearing family news and contact information.

In stark contrast to the careerism which kept Albright distant from her family’s past, Simova’s conscience drove her to ask questions and delve deep into the family history, pinning down who died, when, where and how. It also pit her against her country’s political tides, confining her to lifelong poverty and obscurity.

Meanwhile, Dagmar’s famous cousin tries to redeem her historical amnesia with others’ blood while insisting that she has "comported myself in a way that is very much in line with somebody who has known repression and what it ’s like to be a victim of totalitarianism."


"I feel your pain," Bill Clinton has said.


He also said he remembered the days when black churches were being burned in Arkansas even though no black churches were burned in Arkansas. But that was beside the point. It was never about honesty, honor, or country. It was about him: Get to the White House. Carry the presidency to term. Make some history.

Bill’s arrogance shone brightly when he put himself and the country in a position to be influenced by foreign powers. Not for any reasoned or flawed national strategy, but for campaign contributions. Then, with an arsenal more deadly than anything a teenager might buy at a gun show, he substituted firepower for diplomacy while getting tough on guns and supporting measures to censor Hollywood violence. The contradictions got further lost on him with every technology leak—whether approved or accidental—to an ideological nemesis which now has the capability to cause the country more widespread damage than a hundred high school massacres.

Indeed, the President’s obfuscation of the rights and wrongs of his personal life permeated his public life, and demonstrated to a country in denial precisely the relevance of character in a leader.

But in his televised address to the American people Bill managed to convince us that there was no correlation, calling his marital indiscretions a "private matter," to be resolved by his family and God.


It has to be "dealt with as a personal matter," Maddy Albright said when confronted with the revelations about her background. The words came to her on cue, as instinctively as they did to her boss. These are the well-cultivated survival instincts that do battle with the bumps in Ambition ’s Road.


Yes, their spirits were kindred. Soon enough, survival instinct would couple with murderous reflex, and yield lethal results.

In the Serbs Maddy and Bill were certain they’d found a path of little resistance. Surely a small nation facing off with 19 countries led by the US would cower and fold instantly. Bill and Maddy will have prevented atrocity, and world Islam would see that the West doesn’t have anything personal against it, but operates even-handedly, without prejudice.

To rally support, the duo equated Milosevic to Hitler and the conflict to the Holocaust, saying it was time for our sleepy international institutions to justify their existence or be deemed obsolete, having sat dormant through the recent massacres in Rwanda, Somalia and Bosnia. They borrowed phrases from history, words like "atrocities"; "standing aside while¼"; "ethnic cleansing"; "thug"; "genocide," and turned them into buzz words which by now have graced the lips of even the most oblivious and apathetic American.

Then they postured themselves as serious, tough leaders and adopted the kind of peacekeeping and patriotic language which as young idealists they would have dismissed as warmongering: They said that the fighting "would spread"; that they wanted to "avoid a quagmire"; and that a stable Europe was "vital to America’s interests".

They repeated all the things others had said before them, but with little appreciation for what circumstances they applied them to.

And they pushed for their war. With the kind of zeal people display when they have something personal at stake. Maddy stayed up late calling congressmen the night before the vote on air strikes, imploring them to cast their votes without further debate (after all, debate brings with it the risk of new information changing made-up minds).

Bill, meanwhile, went against the advice of the Pentagon and Central Intelligence. His objectives had been set and his mind made up long before he sought their counsel.

Together, Bill and Maddy forged alliances with enemies, alienated friends and counted on might to make right.

But they didn’t account for the Serb history of standing up to bullying, which saw them oppose the Fascists rather than succumb or acquiesce the way virtually all their neighbors did. They paid a high price for it. They wouldn’t roll over this time either.

Bill and Maddy had hoped to get in and get out, but they were in for a longer while than they’d anticipated, with stickier consequences.

Nonetheless, they call the results a victory. Perhaps they need a reminder of their initial goals: 1) prevent suffering of Albanians; 2) avoid refugee crisis; 3) obtain eventual independence for Kosovo; 4) assert NATO’s capabilities; 5) keep Europe stable.

What they got: 1) Hundreds of dead Albanians (and Serbs); 2) a mass of refugees destabilizing Europe socially and economically, with many reluctant to return; 3) Kosovo still part of Yugoslavia; 4) NATO’s ineptitude exposed to the world; 5) responsibility to disarm a KLA unwilling to be disarmed; 6) years of outreach to Russia and China undone; and 7) a clear message of encouragement to radical nationalist groups worldwide.

As Albanians restart their decades-old Serb cleansing campaign and thousands of our troops are dispatched daily to the region, the residue of what could have remained a localized conflict is beginning to prove itself more explosive than the conflict itself—now with implications for all of Europe and the United States. While the world watches just how far fallout can reach, Bill and Maddy will put their "victory" behind them and "move on," their legacies secured.

Maddy and Bill sacrificed the long-term welfare of the country for the short-term welfare of the self. But their efforts will ultimately prove to have been in vain. Because of a lesson so old and so simple, but one which the pair--even after all the errors and all the sins—have never learned: No matter in which direction you run, you can’t run away from what you are.

And what they are, are people who do it wrong. Because they do it for the wrong reasons.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a stand-up comic and journalist residing in Manhattan. Send your comments to her by clicking here.


©1999, Julia Gorin