MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

How Albright’s ‘Munich mindset’ turned into uninhibited interventionism

Posted by M. C. on March 25, 2022

In response to a question about the reported deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of sanctions, Albright said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

Written by
Daniel Larison

She was a refugee who rose to the highest levels of government and became a well-positioned advocate of American exceptionalism.

Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, a prominent liberal interventionist, and promoter of NATO expansion, died on Wednesday from cancer at the age of 84.

Born in Prague on the eve of the Second World War, Albright came to the United States with her family as refugees and rose to the highest levels of government service. A scholar of international relations and a professor at Georgetown University, she entered public service as ambassador to the United Nations in Bill Clinton’s first term, and then was nominated to lead the State Department in the second. 

Albright was a major influence on the Clinton administration’s foreign policy and consistently pushed for a more hawkish and interventionist line in response to foreign crises and conflicts. Her foreign policy worldview was rooted in the history of a Europe ravaged by total war, but this also served to distort her understanding of international problems and encouraged her to favor military options too often. She was a significant influence on the increasingly combative approach at the end of Clinton’s presidency, and her role in building support for U.S./NATO military intervention in Kosovo was her legacy.

“My mindset is Munich,” she would often say as an explanation of how she saw the world, and like generations of Europeans and Americans haunted by WWII she made the mistake of seeing new Munichs around every corner. As Owen Harries observed a quarter-century ago when Albright was nominated to lead the State Department, “she epitomizes a belief in the virtue of uninhibited American interventionism.” Entering government service in the 1990s when U.S. power was at its apex, Albright was well-positioned to advocate for that uninhibited interventionism. Especially in the Balkans, she succeeded in making that official policy.

Albright has long served as the exemplar of overreaching American interventionism in the 1990s. According to a famous anecdote, she berated Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” 

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