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Madeleine Albright Out of Power

“Perhaps you recognize me,” she said to speed the process. “I’m Madeleine Albright, and I used to be secretary of state.” She got a blank stare, until the receptionist said: “Colin Powell is secretary of state.” Yes, she explained, she was Powell’s predecessor.

“So,” the receptionist said flatly, “that means you are unemployed.”

In reality she was overemployed. She started her own consulting firm, one of those peculiar Washington businesses that capitalize on their ability to contact an Egyptian or Chinese minister to cut through a problem, or anticipate a geopolitical crisis. She teaches a popular course on statecraft at Georgetown University, and has organized a group of former foreign ministers, which she informally calls “Madeleine and Her Exes”; they represent an Establishment that hasn’t existed since the late 1990s, but still try to exercise some influence at the edges.

And she writes books — lots of books. There was a memoir of her time in the Clinton administration, “Madam Secretary,” and “Prague Winter,” the fascinating story of growing up a Czech refugee and ending up in Denver, where her father was a professor (whose star student was Condoleezza Rice, the second woman to serve as secretary of state). More recently, she has written books warning about the revival of fascism, and about her signature pins.

And with books, of course, come the vicissitudes of book tours, including the time that a booksellers’ convention scheduled her to speak about her memoir about managing the post-Soviet world “right after the author of ‘Time to Pee!,’ a manual on potty training.” Going with the theme, she spoke on the similarities of managing allies and adversaries to negotiating with 2-year-olds.

But there are more telling moments that resonate in the current political moment, including her self-doubts as she campaigned in the primaries for Hillary Clinton in 2008, and watched as former colleagues disparaged her candidate in favor of Barack Obama. “Shame on them, I sniffed,” she writes, “but then there I was on national television accusing Obama of being naïve for advocating direct talks with the leaders of Iran. I had negotiated with North Korea, for Pete’s sake.” So, of course, did Donald Trump. Neither of them got very far.

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