Suddenly, The World Turns Cold For Secretary Albright

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright opened her first year in office to rave reviews. She charmed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse A. Helms (R-N.C.) and ended years of foreign-affairs budget cuts. She outflanked Defense Secretary William S. Cohen to keep GIs in Bosnia. She paved the way for NATO enlargement.

But the honeymoon is over. Since October, when it mended fences with China, the Clinton Administration has had little but setbacks. The collapse of fast-track trade legislation, Asia's financial meltdown, Middle East disarray, and a resurgent Russia made for a rotten end to 1997. This year could be worse, as Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein continues to defy U.N. weapons inspectors and tensions rise between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.

Albright is getting some of the blame for the missteps--and the absence of policies to turn the tide--although such hot-button issues as trade and China are not her direct responsibility. Detractors slam her lack of attentiveness at key times to issues such as Iraq. Her relentless travel--logging 185,000 miles to visit 52 countries in a year--draws barbs, too. "She looks more like she's campaigning around the globe than managing issues," gripes Senator Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.).

LONE WOLF. But managing the issues is no cakewalk. Many events are outside Albright's control. Sanctions against Iran and Cuba, which cause friction with the European Union, are driven by U.S. domestic politics. Israeli domestic politics have torpedoed the Middle East peace process. Besides, America's post-cold-war status as the only superpower is creating a paradox for Albright: The U.S. can't consistently turn its primacy into global clout. "You have a lot less influence when people don't need you to protect them," says Paul Wolfowitz, dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

A big surprise for Albright has been a newly assertive Russia, which is exploiting splits among Western allies to pursue its own economic and diplomatic agenda. Moscow's planned sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Greek Cypriots, for example, has deepened the age-old rift between Greece and Turkey. The U.S. couldn't even find the muscle to persuade the EU to accept Turkey's membership bid.

Russia is a growing obstacle to dealing with Iraq. It even wants economic sanctions lifted so Baghdad can repay Rus-sian debt. Despite her stint as U.N. ambassador, Albright hasn't succeeded in rallying support behind tough moves to force Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions. "Increasingly, the U.S. finds itself isolated in international [bodies]," says Chas. W. Freeman Jr., president of the Middle East Policy Council.

WOES MULTIPLY. The U.S. may end up alone on Iran policy. Albright must decide whether to slap sanctions on Russia's Gazprom and France's Total for their part in a $2 billion natural-gas project in Iran. Doing nothing would undermine U.S. credibility. But imposing sanctions would alienate Iranian moderates, who are seeking an opening to Washington, as well as the EU and Russia.

Meanwhile, the Administration is struggling to follow up the summit with China. Preparations for a new summit in Beijing are going so slowly that no date has yet been set for it. Beijing's concessions to gain membership of the World Trade Organization remain inadequate. China hasn't signed a global human-rights pact as promised. And it won't tighten missile export controls until the U.S. stops arms sales to Taiwan.

As the bad news piles up, Albright is in danger of losing her star status. If she is to escape that fate, she needs to chalk up some big wins--as well as air miles--in 1998.

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