Full steam ahead for the Albright express

America's iron lady goes to work as chill thaws in east Europe

Madeleine Albright began her maiden voyage around the world as the new United States secretary of state with a stop in Rome, where the press promptly dubbed her "the Iron Lady" - an image which sheds more light on Italian anxieties about females in high office than it does on the character of the most powerful woman in American history.

By the time "the Albright Express", in her own whimsical words, concludes its 10-day, nine-country tour of Europe, Russia, China and South Korea the comparison with Margaret Thatcher will be wearing rather thin.

Yes, she wears her patriotism in her sleeve. Her belief that "America truly is the indispensable nation" is drenched with the gratitude of one whose family discovered in the US a safe haven after the storms of Nazism and Communism had buffeted her native Czechoslovakia during the Second World War.

And she is more than grateful, amazed - more My Fair Lady than Iron Lady - at the bounties the land of opportunity has delivered. From her public pronouncements ("I am kind of this American story") one senses that she has to pinch herself sometimes to convince herself it is true that she, this mother of three who left it until her forties to leave home and start a career as a researcher, has achieved such phenomenal success.

The reason she has done so staggeringly well is that she shares with Baroness Thatcher another quality, a dogged resolve to get her own way - as demonstrated most recently by the single-minded aggression with which she hounded Boutros Boutros Ghali out of the United Nations. And she has a tendency to lecture people, the Italians having received an earful on Sunday for doing business with "rogue states" like Libya, Iraq and Cuba.

But here the Iron Lady analogy abruptly ends. Mrs Albright is a woman with a sense of humour. Lecture she might but a smile is never far from her face and she always has a self-effacing pleasantry at the ready. Imagine Lady Thatcher confessing in an interview, "I'm not that smart. I work very hard." Or, as Mrs Albright candidly remarked to reporters accompanying her on her coming-out world tour, her style is "friendly", "It's a very people-to-people style, everybody has their own style and I am trying my own out".

Style is not a word one would associate with her diffident, owlish predecessor Warren Christopher whose lack of "people" skills was one reason why the Clinton administration found itself so often at odds with Capitol Hill on foreign policy.

Mrs Albright's greatest strength is her capacity to project a confident, assertive personality without provoking antagonism. No member of President Clinton's cabinet elicits support across a wider base. She has charmed Jesse Helms, the Cold War dinosaur who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while winning the admiration of the feminists and other "liberals" whom Senator Helms and his conservative colleagues deplore.

For now, at least, the world may take comfort in the knowledge that when Mrs Albright speaks she does so, on most important issues, on behalf of the US government as a whole. It was a constant source of frustration to allies and foes alike during the first Clinton term that the White House was saying one thing and Congress something else. That led to paralysis, for example, on Bosnia.

Within the convoluted world of Washington politics Mrs Albright will emerge as the closest one can find to a coherent voice. And voice is the word. She is, as has been observed, the queen of the soundbite, a public attribute that combined with her winning ways in private make her the ideal saleswoman of American foreign policy.

Her weakness is that she is not a policy maker, as one of the rival aspirants to her job, Richard Holbrooke, would have been. But there are benefits here too. Mr Holbrooke, whose abrasiveness as assistant secretary of state for Europe, was what was needed eventually to bring the Bosnian Serbs to heel would undoubtedly have led to running spats with the Pentagon, the CIA and the White House.

Mrs Albright is a team player, utterly loyal to the president who made her queen. When foreign leaders meet her they need not nag themselves with the troubling doubt that she might be speaking for herself alone.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
filmEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Software Developer - Newcastle, Tyne & Wear - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer / J...

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering