Stanley Meisler

News Commentary

by Stanley Meisler

Boutros Boutros-Ghali
March 3, 2016
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth secretary-general of the United Nations, died onFebruary 16th in a hospital near Cairo at the age of 93. Since I covered the UN for the Los Angeles Times during his five-year term, I can add a few nuances to the obituaries that ran in the major newspapers. There is no doubt that he was denied a second term only because of the animosity between him and Madeleine Albright, the American ambassador to the UN during most of his term and the secretary of state afterwards. He looked on her as thin-skinned, undiplomatic, inexperienced, and bullying. She regarded him as overbearing, arrogant, stubborn, and erratic. A scholar and diplomat for many years, he believed that she felt any criticism of American foreign policy as chastisement of herself. She obviously felt that he failed to show due deference to the demands and requests of the most powerful nation in the world...

After Franco
January 2, 2016
A little more than forty years ago, after the death of the despicable dictator Francisco Franco on November 20, 1975, the world’s media began augmenting or opening their news bureaus in Spain. Editors feared that the death would unleash a second Spanish civil war. I became the first (and last) Madrid bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. That war never came. Most Spaniards had become too mature and educated and wise for another awful conflagration like the one that decimated Spain and presaged the Second World War. They now longed to take their place among the democratic nations of western Europe. The path to democracy was led in a remarkable way by two men who turned their backs on the teachings of the fascist dictator who had empowered them. The surprising leaders were young King Juan Carlos and his young Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez. They moved slowly but surely, taking steps forward and backward, somehow making every decision, no matter how wrenching, seem inevitable by the time they made it...

An Old Jewish Joke
November 18, 2015
There is an old Jewish joke about a religious man shipwrecked on a desert island. When his rescuers arrive a couple of years later, they discover he has built three huts during his isolation. One is his home. The other two? “This is the synagogue I go to,” he explained, “and that is the one I don’t go to.” The joke is supposed to reflect the disputatious nature of Jews — you can’t put two in the same room without expecting an argument, you can’t even put one alone without the same argument. Since a joke makes you laugh, this one is supposed to reflect the lighthearted nature of the disputes — they never cause lasting pain. Jews argue with each other but, in the end, always love each other...

Iran
July 25, 2015
As Congress debates the agreement with Iran, there will be much bluster in the next couple of months about bomb grade fuel, breakout times, centrifuges, heavy water reactors, stockpiles of enriched uranium, and, of course, the impediments to inspection. But all this technical stuff will have nothing to do with what really bothers the most blustering of the nay sayers. In their view, we had the Iranians down. It hurt so bad they were screaming for us to let go. And now, for a bunch of promises, we are letting go. Soon they will bounce up, stronger than ever and just as defiant...

Dark Election
November 17, 2014
In 2012, when Barack Obama won reelection, an odd but thrilling metaphor engulfed me. The election was like the climax of one of those early Howard Fast novels. After enduring months of derision of their leader as somehow unAmerican and countless maneuvers to curtail their right to vote and incessant tirades against the poor for taking, not giving, after enduring all the despicable attempts to belittle and suppress them, the poor and the blacks and the Hispanics and the young and the women united and arose to defend their hero and astound and frighten all the smug fat cats. “What a wonderful thing is metaphor,” wrote Christopher Fry in one of his plays. Well, so much for metaphor...

My Role In the Presidential Election of 1960
December 22, 2012
While reading The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of Robert A. Caro’s formidable biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, I found myself recalling my role in the election of 1960 when Senator John F. Kennedy defeated Vice President Richard Nixon for president. I was a junior member of the Washington staff of the Associated Press then but nevertheless landed some juicy assignments. Since my role has been ignored by biographers and historians, from Theodore H. White to Caro, I thought it might be helpful to set down some of the details...

A Hopeful End to a Shameless Campaign
November 11, 2012
The reelection of President Barack Obama is provoking an avalanche of punditry that does not need more from me. I just want to note a handful of highlights that may get lost in the avalanche. Most important, the result averted a calamitous injustice. If Obama had lost, it would have been a victory for obstruction, lies, distortion, deceit and racism. A cynical and shameless campaign, concocted four years ago by Republicans obsessed with dishonoring the new president, would have succeeded. Supporters of Romney even put forth a campaign argument that amounted to blackmail: since the stubborn Republican House of Representatives would never work with Obama, they said, the good of the nation demanded Romney as president...

Race and the Election
September 7, 2012
It must have been galling for the Republicans to see so many blacks voting for their own in the 2008 presidential election. The returns must have struck many Republicans as unfair, even undemocratic. Nothing else can explain the way the Republicans have allowed racism to stain their campaign against President Obama for a second term. No one likes to throw around so nasty an accusation, but I don’t know what else it is...

The Intellectual Congressman
August 25, 2012
If American elections made sense, the selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential candidate would be universally regarded as about as foolish a move as the selection of Sarah Palin four years ago. By no stretch of logic can any reasonable analyst justify the choice. Mitt Romney is so bland and clunky a candidate that for a long while we all have had a tough time figuring him out. He has been running around crying out that he is a rip-snorting genuine extreme conservative, but it was hard to take him at his word. It all sounded like election hooey. After all, he was a somewhat decent governor of Massachusetts who gave us Romneycare the model for Obamacare. A lot of people felt that once elected he would revert to his innate blandness. They also probably felt that his innate blandness might even turn into innate goodness. The embrace of Ryan changes all that...

The Pleasures of Newspapers
June 3, 2012
The New Orleans Times-Picayune has just announced it will soon publish no more than three times a week and devote the rest of its energies, reduced by a diminished staff, to the internet version of itself. The announcement struck me as a surrender, even a betrayal. When I was a boy I learned that the morning newspaper was a modern miracle. It arrested all the events of the world at a moment in time every day and lay them before me. It was as if the world stopped at, say, midnight so that I could stop and take in all its wonders. There was an order to this. Great editors placed the stories in a way that caught my eye and mind, holding my attention before releasing me to the lure of other stories. A wise reader could sit on top of the world for an hour or two. I sometimes felt like that and still do...

Americans in Egypt
February 29, 2012
For many years, I have felt that the American way of democracy, with its federalism and checks & balances, could serve as a helpful model for peoples trying to forge some way of democracy for themselves. This is especially true in countries of the developing world that have to reconcile competing and sometimes conflicting tribes and religions. The Americans on trial in Cairo obviously agreed with me and were trying to impart some aspects of the American way to Egyptians about to embark on the democratic adventure. It would be a great travesty if the Americans were jailed for their efforts. Egypt would deserve the condemnation that would surely spew forth from irate Americans if their compatriots were punished so severely. Yet there is more to the case than a clash between American idealism and Egyptian stupidity...

Ojukwu
December 29, 2011
Odumegwu Ojukwu, once the leader of Biafra, died during the last few days of November. He received respectable obituaries in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both Robert D. McFadden and T. Rees Shapiro got all the facts right and understood the causes and the horrors of the Nigerian Civil War well. But, befitting a man who was only a minor figure in African history, the notices were relatively small, and there was no room to portray his audacity, his operatic flair, his demeaning wit, and his contempt for the many less gifted than he. I interviewed Colonel Ojukwu for the first time in June 1967 a day or two after he had seceded from Nigeria and proclaimed the independent republic of Biafra...

Washington Out of Whack
August 4, 2011
My wife says that President Obama’s negotiations with Congressional Republicans reminded her of the story of my bargaining session with a merchant on the island of Zanzibar more than forty years ago. I spent two hours bargaining with him for a Zanzibar chest and ended up paying more than he originally asked. It’s not an unfair comparison. The tawdry turmoil of the last few weeks over an increase in the national debt ceiling left me with some broken images. One is the weakness of what we all used to regard as the most powerful office in any democracy on earth. Has it become so weak that it can be held hostage by an imbecilic faction in the Republican Party? I suppose so...

The Cave of the Patriarchs and the Tomb of Rachel
April 22, 2011
Every few months Jewish organizations wring themselves in fury over some slander, dishonor or injustice heaped upon Israel and the Jewish people by the United Nations. Envelopes flood my mailbox with pleas for donations to fight the latest libel and for signatures on petitions to the Secretary-General and other UN officials demanding redress. Numerous e-mails from friends and relatives follow, urging me to join the fray. Both the UN and Israel were created while I was a teenager, and I have long regarded myself as a supporter of both...

Sarge's Peace Corps
January 20, 2011
The family joke was that President John F. Kennedy handed his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, a lemon and Shriver turned it into lemonade. The lemon was the new Peace Corps, and Shriver, who died on Tuesday just six weeks short of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, transformed that lemon in 1961 into the most dynamic, popular and exciting agency of the new administration. The success of the Peace Corps made Shriver a national celebrity...

Belated Thoughts on an Awful Election
November 14, 2010
Losing the House so badly was a Democratic disaster of the highest magnitude. No rationalization of the defeat, no pipedream about the future will change that. Despite what happened on November 2, incumbents rarely lose office easily. Even a decisive Obama victory in 2012, powered by a recovered economy, is unlikely to dislodge so many Republicans. Some of the Know Nothing Tea Bags will probably be around for a while. Obama does have a communications problem. He reminds me of Pierre Trudeau, the great prime minister of Canada...

The Filibuster in the Broken Senate
March 7, 2010
It is hard to disagree with Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana about the sorry state of Congress. It is gripped by “institutional inertia,” it is not doing “the people’s business,” and it “must be reformed.” But his decision to run away from the Senate will not ease the paralysis. In fact, if a Republican takes Bayh’s seat, the woes will probably worsen. In a piece for the New York Times, Senator Bayh listed a host of congressional problems, including ultra partisanship, campaign financing, gerrymandering, lack of personal contact, and endless filibusters. The last problem, surely the most outrageous, should be the easiest to fix. Yet I am not sure there is much of a chance to do so...

Very British Republicans
December 28, 2009
How can we understand that stalwart band of forty Republican nay-sayers in the Senate, determined to prevent health reform no matter how necessary, determined to embarrass their president no matter how much they embarrass their country? The Republicans are behaving as if they have lost their way and somehow turned up in the British parliamentary system. They are like mean kids who show up for every baseball game with no gloves or bats but only skates and hockey sticks. The Republicans have deluded themselves about the American way of legislating for some time...

Tribal Politics
February 3, 2008
In 1962, when we were both young, I spent a good number of hours with Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi, listening to him explain the complexities of Kenya tribal politics. He was an official of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the party that would lead the colony of Kenya to independence a year later, and I was a Ford Foundation fellow studying the new nations of Africa. I would drop by his office every week or so and, if he was not busy, he would take time to reply to my questions. He was polite, soft-spoken and matter-of-fact, not charismatic at all, and it never dawned on me that he might become president of Kenya some day...

Blather about Iraq
September 26, 2007
Recent weeks have brought us so much blather about the war in Iraq that it is difficult to hold on to realities. But let’s try. The President gave us his latest speech on Iraq in September. I often wonder who listens to him any more, who believes him any more. Yet I can’t help finding a certain fascination with his oratory. I am always astonished at what he will come up with next. He has a new though clunky slogan: Return on Success. Since the success is imperceptible, his pullback of troops is insignificant. But he does not say that, of course...

Letting Go of Iraq
April 11, 2007
The enthusiasts who stormed into Iraq are incapable of letting go. It is not so much that President Bush and Vice President Cheney cannot face defeat. Far more important, they cannot face the enormity of the mindlessness that powered them to war. So they are hanging on with a stubborn show of honor and even political courage, persuaded that, despite their mistakes and misadventures, history will absolve them. To keep on in the face of congressional harassment and public discontent, they are spewing a lot of cant about terrorism, micromanagement, chaos and patriotism. It is not easy to see the awful situation clearly...

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations
January 22, 2007
The last ten years have been the most transparent in the history of the United Nations. Scholars, reporters and the public learned more about the machinations behind UN scenes than they ever had before. But that openness may be difficult for Ban Ki-Moon, the new Secretary-General, to maintain. Ban is a veteran South Korean diplomat, and diplomats are notorious for their joy at working in secret and commenting afterwards in words of mush. In one of his first interviews, Ban boasted to Warren Hoge of the New York Times that the press in South Korea used to call him "the slippery eel" because "they could never grab me..."

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste
December 4, 2006
This is the season for summing up the legacy of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General whose ten-year reign comes to an end on December 31. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a day-long seminar at Georgetown University assessing his "legacy for Africa." The forty scholars, diplomats and civil servants agreed that Africa had benefited from his campaigns against AIDS and poverty, his hectoring against military coups, his championing of peacekeeping missions, and his remarkable doctrine asserting that the UN has the right to trump sovereignty and cross any border to stop a government from abusing its peoples...

Defaming Kofi Annan
September 10, 2006
I was applying some last touches to my biography of Kofi Annan on August 10th when I was surprised to read an ad by the Anti-Defamation League on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. The ad had a simple and stark message. It said: "UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: How many more Israeli civilians must die before you condemn Hezbollah? And when will you extend condolences to Israeli victims." It was signed by the Anti-Defamation League’s national chair, Barbara B. Balser, and by its national director, Abraham H. Foxman. The accusations were scathing. The source, moreover, was dispiriting for any admirer of the Secretary-General...

Bolton and History
March 24, 2005
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, she proclaimed that he would serve in the tradition of our best ambassadors “with the strongest voices.” She cited Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jean Kirkpatrick as the models. But the Bolton nomination hardly fits any historical tradition. It is a defiance of history...

Unidentified Sources
February 5, 2005
While covering French President Francois Mitterrand on a trip to Martinique in the 1980s, we in the press corps were told he would meet us in his hotel suite for a conversation “à bâtons rompus.” That French idiom — literally “with broken sticks” — meant that the discussion could shift from one subject to another and that Mitterrand would be less formal and more open than usual. But the aides cautioned, his replies would be “off” — a new French journalistic expression that is an abbreviated form of the English “off the record.” In short, Mitterrand could not be quoted...

Inaugural Fog
January 31, 2005
I have finally read the complete text of our 43rd President’s Second Inaugural Address. Although I had not seen the ceremony on television, I had tried to read the speech a couple of times the day after but found it impossible to penetrate the fog of glitter that enveloped his words. I was put off, I think, by the gnawing conviction that I must be reading the valedictory speech of some high school senior. The words were highfalutin, the themes were lofty, and the concoction bore no relation to the world around us. Each paragraph vanished in my mind as I tried the next. So I gave up...

Bitter Returns
November 3, 2004
In 1952, the first time I ever voted, I cast my ballot for Adlai Stevenson. Since then my presidential choice, always a Democrat, has lost more often than not. But no loss has been as dispiriting and bitter as this one. It is hard to take. The Iraq adventure is a catastrophic failure, launched on arrogance and faith, managed with ham hands and closed minds. The cost has been awful. Yet the know-nothings who launched and managed it have received a resounding endorsement. Bush and his ideologues will face no accounting for failure and stupidity...

Removing Tyrants
October 4, 2004
More than 30 years ago, during the dark days of the despicable Idi Amin, I would yearn for some way for the world to rid itself of tyrants. As a foreign correspondent covering Africa for the Los Angeles Times, the injustice of it all would torment me. Why should innocent people be forced to endure the terror and poverty inflicted upon them by the cruel whims of Idi Amin? Why should they be condemned because of their accidental birth in an unwieldy country put together by European colonial pooh-bahs in the 19th century? Could not some international entity like the United Nations be empowered to pluck him away?

The Chaos of Iraq
June 7, 2004
So much wonderful critique of the Bushites, the foolish war, the botched occupation and the torture scandal has come forth recently (especially the articles by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, the daily news coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the extraordinary book of James Mann on Bush’s Vulcans) that there is no need to add comment. But I would like to summarize a little...

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge
May 7, 2004
A case can be made that the American and British invasion of Iraq a little more than a year ago enhanced the moral force and international standing of the United Nations. The Security Council, after all, had refused to be bullied. Most of its members, even the weak ones, had stood up to the United States and made it clear they would not pass a resolution authorizing the invasion. The American failure to obtain UN authorization galvanized demonstrations throughout Europe and elsewhere against the invasion. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the United States had no right to topple a tyrant, no matter how evil and dangerous, if the UN did not agree. The UN was clearly the world’s only anointed keeper of peace and war...

Fact-checking and The Da Vinci Code
December 23, 2003
The editors of Doubleday, headquartered at 1745 Broadway in New York, would surely have raised their eyebrows and grabbed their red pencils if a best-selling novelist had submitted a manuscript that placed the Empire State Building on Central Park West, the United Nations on Broadway and Yankee Stadium on Fifth Avenue. Yet Doubleday has published a novel - number one on the best-selling lists for a good many weeks - rife with so much confusion about the sites of Paris that it is hard not to wince. This might be excusable if Paris played a minor role in the book. But the main setting of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is Paris. Someone should have supplied him with a map...

Democracy: One Man, One Vote, Once
November 14, 2003
More than 40 years ago, I sat in the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in Ibadan and marveled at how well the British colonial government had implanted its democratic parliamentary system into this new African country. An African page in blue knee breeches and red stockings walked into the chamber carrying a mace. “The Speak-uh,” he cried. The Speaker, a tall African in white wig and black robes, entered, strode across the chamber and sat in his enormous chair. The page carefully put the mace on its stand on the table below the Speaker and saluted him...

Dismantling the Art of the Irascible Doctor Barnes
November 14, 2003
Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the patent medicine man who amassed the greatest private collection of paintings in America during the first half of the 20th century, behaved so outlandishly that it was always hard to write about his hoard of art without writing an awful lot about him. Now that his collection is in dire danger of losing its special and wonderful character by moving to a cold modern museum in downtown Philadelphia, he and his wishes have few defenders...

A Few Memories of Benny Carter
August 13, 2003
Both John Wilson in the New York Times and Jon Thurber in the Los Angeles Times wrote ample and thoughtful obituaries of Benny Carter after he died July 12 at the age of 95, and there is no need here for me to try to embellish their accounts of his long and incredibly versatile musical career. But I have a few memories of Benny as a gentle and gracious man, and I would like to set them down. Wilson and Thurber caught this side of him a little, but it was overwhelmed, of course, by their first-rate accounts of his greatness as a musician, composer, arranger and bandleader...

Depressing Thoughts on Our Victory
April 29, 2003
Those of us who opposed the war were probably right. Iraq posed no danger to Americans. It had few, if any, prohibited weapons ready to strike. No link with terrorism was ever proven. No doubt Saddam Hussein was a despicable tyrant but we have always tolerated - and still do - a globe full of them. But none of this really matters. We might as well, like Lear, rail at the wind and storms. History belongs to the victors. Only they can gloat...

Badgering the United Nations
March 2, 2003
The United Nations has been castigated by critics for weeks as a toothless organization loaded with appeasers and weasels, as a throwback to the League of Nations, as a cracked body tottering on the brink of irrelevance. George F. Will, the erudite conservative columnist, even suggested it was heading the way of the medieval Hanseatic League. Yet the current Iraq crisis may actually prove one of the UN's finest hours...

A Frightening Performance on Iraq
October 16, 2002
We have seen a frightening performance in the last few weeks. President George W. Bush has shown us the ease with which a relentless and obsessed president, wielding simplistic language, exaggerating dangers, distorting history, invoking patriotism, churning fear and nightmarish memories, can smother debate and take almost all of us along for his ride...

Some Tentative Reflections on the War in Afghanistan
January 14, 2002
To make cold sense out of the events of last year, I have been trying to order some of my thoughts. The situation is so complex that it spawns at least a dozen issues: 1. The destruction of the World Trade Center was a despicable, incredible act that can not be justified in any way. Americans have the right to feel fury and contempt for the perpetrators and those who gloat over their deed. Their deed was so foul that I turn away from the television screen whenever the events of September 11th are replayed. I feel too drained, at least so far, to spend time at Ground Zero when in New York...
(click aquí para versión en español)

Traces of the French in Hanoi
November 25, 2001
There was a time -- romantic in French history -- when French Indochina with its capital of Hanoi shimmered as one of the jewels of the French colonial empire. Thousands of French administrators and teachers and merchants and police lived in Hanoi. The brightest and richest Vietnamese studied at elite French schools there. French law, French bureaucracy and French communications dominated life in the colony. And a visitor could taste a little bit of France and its elegance in the best hotels and restaurants...

Kofi Annan and the Nobel Peace Prize
October 30, 2001
Kofi Annan, soft in speech, clear and plain in meaning, scrupulously honest with words, is the second United Nations Secretary-General to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee in Oslo awarded the prize posthumously to Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 for his leadership in the bloody Congo crisis that took his life. There can hardly be two statesmen of molds so different. And the mood and power of the U.N. then and now contrast as much as the personalities of the two men...

Rhetoric and War
September 25, 2001
An all-out American war against terrorism is unprecedented. But much of the rhetoric by our politicians has a familiar ring. The president says we are in a "crusade" against "a new kind of evil" and that each nation must decide whether "you are with us or you are with the terrorists." ... These words echo from the past in an eerie way. I heard these kind of arguments from American politicians and diplomats often as a foreign and Washington correspondent for more than 30 years during the Cold War...

The Hidden Bush
August 10, 2001
I have been reading No Ordinary Time lately, Doris Kearns Goodwin's marvelous history of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II. There are so many reminders of my childhood, so many names of long forgotten officials like War Production Board chief Donald Nelson that we used to memorize from My Weekly Reader. Goodwin describes the remarkable ability of President Roosevelt to unify the nation and mold public opinion...

Reflections on the Election of George W. Bush
December 18, 2000
I'm hesitant about adding to the cacophony over the elections, but I do have a few reflections. These bear no hallmark of objectivity. I do not like the strutting George W. Bush and can not conceive of him growing into greatness à la Truman. What if? I have toyed with this a lot. What if Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and his henchlady Katherine Harris had announced from the beginning that, in view of the closeness of the machine recount, they had ordered a hand recount of all the votes of Florida...

Reflections on Pierre Trudeau
October 5, 2000
Pierre Trudeau, who died last week, was well served by an engaging obituary in the New York Times written by Mike Kaufman, who covered Canada a couple of decades ago while I covered it for the Los Angeles Times. Trudeau was prime minister then and his style, pronouncements, policies and antics dominated our stories in those days. Mike's obituary delineates Trudeau's greatness as a leader, his dominance in elections, his sophistication and wit, and his mastery of both French and English Canadian cultures. The admiring account was written with care and superb craftsmanship...

The Star-Crossed Basques
March 15, 2000
I spent a few days in Bilbao a year or so ago and found the Basques more optimistic than ever before about peace and prosperity in their little nub of Spain. It was easy to share that optimism. Not only did the glorious Guggenheim Museum of Frank Gehry now hover over a once-nondescript city. But a truce declared by ETA, the murderous Basque separatist movement, was holding...

The Return of Otis
November 12, 1999
The moment brims with high drama. Riding his motorcycle through the Ojai Valley, Otis Chandler, now 71, suddenly knows he must break years of silence about the fate of his Los Angeles Times. The moment has finally come to speak out and berate the stupidity of the people who now run the paper he loves...

The Revenge of Boutros Boutros-Ghali
July 21, 1999
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, has just published Unvanquished: A U.S. - U.N. Saga, his memoir of five years in office, and the account amounts to what the French would call un réglement de compte: his revenge against Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. As U.N. ambassador in 1996, she cast the veto that overrode the affirmative votes of all 14 other members of the Security Council, preventing Boutros from a second term...

Madeleine
June 14, 1999
I have just finished reading Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth Century Odyssey by Michael Dobbs, the second Albright biography that I have read in a year. The other was Seasons of Her Life by Ann Blackman. That's a lot of biography for a secretary of state in office. I don't believe anyone ever wrote one about Warren Christopher, and I haven't heard of any publishing house hawking a Christopher bio now that he's out of office. But Madeline Albright is a secretary of state with pizzazz, sort of like a rock star...

Madeleine's War?
April 11, 1999
The backbiting and ass-covering erupted in Washington soon after the bombs began pounding Yugoslavia in March. The rush to escape and stamp blame was clear evidence that something had gone awry. The powers in the capital had obviously hoped and expected Slobodan Milosevic to put up no more than a show of resistance before signing with shaking hands any damn paper we would set before him. His defiance and the terrible fury hurled at the Kosovo Albanians surprised President Clinton and his foreign policy mavens. No matter how loud NATO and Washington may trumpet victory at the end, there is no doubt that a grievous miscalculation occurred at the beginning. And most people are blaming Secretary of State Madeleine Albright...

Words, Words, Words
February 9, 1999
In Washington a few weeks ago, David Howard, a white gay man serving as the city's ombudsman, bemoaned the paucity of his budget. "I will have to be niggardly with this fund," he told coworkers, "because it's not going to be a lot of money." One of his listeners was shocked by the sound of the word and spread the news quickly that Howard had used an expression rooted in the hated epithet nigger. Blacks, who make up a majority of the capital's population, expressed their alarm and dismay...

Some Reflections on Impeachment
January 1, 1999
I covered the House of Representatives for the Associated Press for a year or so during the 1960s and left with profound respect and affection for what is really a unique American institution. For years as a foreign correspondent I would extol the genius of our House against the lap dog role played by Houses in the parliamentary system used by democratic countries in Europe and former British dominions like Canada...

Impasse in Iraq
December 11, 1998
The American impasse on Iraq derives from two American faults: sound-bite thinking and too much empty bombast. For almost a decade, American policy towards Saddam Hussein has been based on the assumption that he can't last very long. This has produced a lot of threats and blather without too much thought about what would happen if someone didn't rescue us from our threats...

The Monica Affair
September 28, 1998
Since I usually write about foreign affairs, I have not covered much of the Monica story. I did have to whip out color on the first day she showed up at the federal courthouse to testify in secret before the grand jury. The frenzy of the photographers and the glee of the television performers and the gawks of the tourists made the story feel even more unwholesome than usual...

Some Reflections on the Congo
May 23, 1997
In the "good old days" of the late 1960s, when Zaire was known as the Congo and its leader did not yet call himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga (the all-conquering warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake), the United States proudly had the huge, unwieldy, volatile country wrapped around its little finger...

The Pizzazz of Madeleine Albright
April 27, 1997
When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright showed up for a breakfast session with the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times recently (an event carried live on C-Span television), she began by chiding the reporters: "It is a sign of my undying affection for the Los Angeles Times that I'm here, but I don't know why I came, because you're the only paper in the United States that did not put my picture on the front page, my brilliant performance throwing out the ball..."

Saints and Presidents: A Commentary on Julius Nyerere
December 17, 1996
At a Korea University conference in Seoul a few months ago, I was placed next to Julius Nyerere of Tanzania at dinner. For those of us who covered Africa more than a quarter of a century ago, Nyerere was like a saint. Incorruptible, frank, good-humored, intellectual, he could charm the most suspicious and doubtful questioners into following the flow of his logic as he expounded the need in Africa for socialism, one-party democracy, self-reliance, non-alignment...

Getting Rid of Boutros-Ghali
October 18, 1996
In the 1970s, when Kurt Waldheim was Secretary-General, reporters at the United Nations used to call him The Headwaiter. "He always stood there," recalled Don Shannon, the U.N. correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in those days, "as if he were wringing his hands on a towel, asking what he could do for the powerful countries." That kind of a scene would warm the hearts of American officials these days...

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