Madeleine Albright's attitude is "when in France, do as the French do." The former Clinton secretary of state unloaded on President Bush from Paris the other day. Albright maintained that "it's difficult to be in France and criticize my government," but quickly got over it. "Bush and the people working for him," she said, "have a foreign policy that is not good for America, not good for the world."
It's extraordinary for such a high-level former official to criticize the U.S. government on foreign soil -- especially on the soil of a nation that has done its utmost to become a dirty word in the United States. What's next? An Albright trip to North Korea to cozy up to Kim Jong Il? Actually, she already did that. In 2000, while still in office, she visited North Korea to watch and applaud along with Kim at a stadium demonstration -- think the Rose Bowl on acid -- that included praise for the rogue nation's nuclear and missile programs.
Madeleine Albright doesn't instinctively think "my country, right or wrong" so much as "my multilateralism, right or wrong." So it is not surprising that she has come to France's aid in its time of need. The author of a new memoir, the former secretary of state is the very embodiment of Clinton foreign policy and its weaknesses. Multilateral Madeleine, the toast of the Champs-Elysees, helped bequeath to the Bush administration most of the problems she now criticizes it for addressing.
Clinton officials have recently boiled down their foreign-policy approach to the truism that "it's good to have allies." No one can disagree with that. The question is how far you should go in deferring to allies (or nominal allies) when they are bent on obstruction. Bill Clinton, for instance, said all the same things about Saddam's threat as George W. Bush and had as little luck convincing France and Russia to take it seriously. So, Clinton gave Saddam a pass.
Albright made it her personal project to restrain the U.N. inspectors in Iraq in order to avoid a confrontation with Saddam that would have forced the United States into offending allies and taking meaningful action. As The Washington Post reported at the time, "The behind-the-scenes campaign of caution is at odds with the Clinton administration's public position as the strongest proponent of unconditional access for the inspectors to any site in Iraq."