Madeleine Albright, who fled the Nazis as a child in her native Czechoslovakia during World War Two then rose to become the first female U.S. secretary of state and, in her later years, a pop culture feminist icon, died yesterday at the age of 84.
Her family announced her death on Twitter and said she died of cancer.
Albright served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993-1997 in U.S. President Bill Clinton’s administration. He then nominated her to become the first female secretary of state and she served in that role from 1997-2001.
She was a tough-talking diplomat in an administration that hesitated to involve itself in the two biggest foreign policy crises of the 1990s – the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“The impact that she has had on this building is felt every single day in just about every single corridor,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said of Albright.
She once upset a Pentagon chief by asking why the military maintained more than 1 million men and women under arms if they never used them.
The plain-spoken Albright took a tough line on a 1996 incident where Cuban jet fighters downed two unarmed U.S.-based planes, saying: “This is not cojones, this is cowardice,” using a Spanish vulgarity meaning “testicles.”
While at the United Nations, she pressed for a tougher line against the Serbs in Bosnia after Bosnian Serb military forces laid siege to the capital Sarajevo.
During Clinton’s first term, many of his administration’s top foreign policy experts did not want to get involved because they vividly remembered how the United States became bogged down in Vietnam.