Mad About the "Madam Secretary"

Morning after morning and evening after evening, the wrecking crews of the TV news have their brass knuckles out for the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and the war on terrorism. The starting point of any conversation is the assumption that at best, we've made no progress at all, and at worst, everything the president has done has only made terrorists stronger.

So where was this frenzy of "accountability" during the eight years of the Clinton administration, where every foreign policy failure, every diplomatic vacillation and empty military gesture, was greeted with either a hallelujah chorus or a defensive group chant of "how dare those Republican haters question our brilliant leader?"

All those bad memories returned when former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the rounds to promote her new book "Madam Secretary." The inquiries about the Clinton record were very limp and apologetic; the tributes to her pioneer status were fulsome; and the nasty or haughty things she said to interviewers went largely unchallenged.

NBC's Katie Couric was the warmest, preceding the "Today" interview with a taped piece claiming that Albright "defined her foreign goals from Day One" and earned a reputation for "tough talk" at the United Nations. (Saddam Hussein surely quaked in his boots.) She asked Albright to remember how she was mobbed with fans on an Amtrak train to New York after being named the Secretary of State. "You must have felt like a rock star," cooed Katie.

It went downhill from there. Couric brought up the Middle East, "in such disarray and it is so discouraging." Albright tenderly recounted how hard she and Clinton had worked to give Yasser Arafat the best deal they could create for him, and denounced the Bush team for not continuing that coddling campaign. Couric suggested "they're now very engaged." Amazingly, Albright replied: "Well, but two and a half years was lost and thousands of people died."

Now why on Earth would Madeleine Albright lay thousands of deaths at the White House door over its supposed lack of engagement (read: agreement with Clinton) on Israel? If the game were linking deaths to a lack of presidential "engagement," Couric should have asked: then wouldn't it be fair to say Clinton failed to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica? Or the wholesale slaughter in Rwanda? But Katie was silent.

Albright even claimed that attempts to expel or even assassinate Yasser Arafat show Bush failure: "You know he is now the center of attention, he's throwing kisses at people." But no one threw more kisses at Yasser Arafat than the Clinton team, which invited him into our presidential home more than any other foreign leader. But Couric didn't ask about that, or about the Clinton record on al-Qaeda. She stuck to an anti-Bush script: "Iraq....What went wrong?"

CBS's "Early Show" also failed to challenge Albright with evidence from recent books questioning the effectiveness of Clinton anti-terror policy. Harry Smith could only ask like a pal: "In your most quiet private moments, have you ever thought 'This is the diplomatic do-over that I want back'?..if I could have the opportunity to take one more crack at it, what would it be?" Cocky Albright gave no examples, and had no September 11 regrets: "I think I had a pretty good run."

Time magazine had more bouquets for Albright, swooning that there was "hardly a hint of score-settling" in her memoir, and remarking on her collection of "pins that make political statements." Time's J.F.O. McAllister did ask if there was "neglect" by the Clintonites on the terror threat, but that was just the exception to the rule. He also inquired: "Bush's foreign policy started as 'Anything But Clinton' in almost every area - the Middle East, North Korea, China. Now events have pushed it back much closer to your approach. Do you ever succumb to schadenfreude?" Albright replied she couldn't delight in another's misfortune: "No, I'm much too kind and generous a person."

Not every interview was supine. On "Meet the Press," NBC's Tim Russert read from Richard Miniter's "Losing Bin Laden." On "Late Edition," CNN's Wolf Blitzer brought up the conservative argument that if the Democrats were in power, "Saddam Hussein would die of old age before he were removed." Albright's answer: "Well, that might not have been bad either." After all the mass graves and children's prisons and horror stories, after all the revelations of Saddam sheltering terrorists and paying off suicide bombers, a continuation of all that "might not have been bad"? Thank God she's gone.

Whoever said it was the liberals who were the idealists and the humanitarians? They may parade their generous natures and good intentions, but their foreign policy legacies are atrocious. No wonder reporters want to ignore them.