Presidential Oral Histories

James Rubin, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

About this Interview

Rubin discusses his early experiences on Senator Joe Biden’s staff, especially with the lead-up to Kosovo before the William J. Clinton presidential campaign. He was also the communications director for Madeleine Albright in her role as UN Ambassador, becoming a close associate over the years. Topics discussed include Albright’s role with the UN Secretariat and the payment of U.S. dues to the UN, Clinton’s second term and Albright’s domestic travel to promote the work of the UN, her travel to the Women’s Conference in China, his role in her becoming Secretary of State, and concludes with the reasoning behind her 1996 press conference, which concluded with the line: “This is not cojones; this is cowardice,” causing international notoriety.

Presidential Oral Histories |

James Rubin, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Transcript

Riley

This is the James Rubin interview as a part of the Bill Clinton Presidential History Project. We’re doing this in New York in your residence and we’re grateful for the time and for the courtesies of coming here. The one thing that we always do at the beginning is to note that we’ve had a conversation before the tape started running about the fundamental ground rule, which is that these discussions are completely confidential. You’re the only person in the room who is free to leave the room and discuss what we talk about.

I’m proud to say that we have an unblemished record of maintaining these confidences through the course of the project. We say that as an inducement for you. Your audience is not the two of us sitting here today but will be generations of scholars and students and practitioners down the road who will want to come back and understand the Clinton Presidency in a way that you can tell us about that nobody else can. So with that as the preface, we normally begin by asking some simple biographical questions.

You grew up in New York, is that correct?

Rubin

Yes, I was born in Manhattan, grew up as a child in the suburbs in Larchmont, New York, graduated from high school there, and then went first to Boston and ended up graduating from Columbia University, so New York has been my main home and center and base. Then after graduate school I moved pretty much straight to Washington and the world of think tanks, first with the Arms Control Association. That was basically because when I was in college, graduate school, Ronald Reagan was President, and rightly or wrongly, many of us thought he was going to blow up the world.

I became energized and politicized by that, and I didn’t choose to implement that new feeling through protesting, I chose to respond basically through research and knowledge and developed quite a deep knowledge in a short time about nuclear weapons, about missiles, about antimissile systems, about treaties, about U.S.-Russian—then Soviet—relations and all that went with that. So for four years or so I was sort of a one-stop phone call for journalists and congressional staff people and others about treaties and missiles and that sort of thing.

Riley

Your Democratic Party affiliation, was that—?

Rubin

Pretty much always.

Riley

Your family was involved in politics?

Rubin

No, not at all. My father was in international trade and was involved in specialty publications related to the Olympics and other sports. I would say that we were a typical, suburban, liberal family, so although we weren’t political, it was sort of liberal and expected to be liberal, and the intellectual milieu in which I grew up was pretty Democratic, although there were Republicans. I was the only member of my family who ended up in politics, really. My sister is a journalist, so to an extent she is, but certainly my parents were not.

Riley

When did you first go to Washington?

Rubin

In 1984. I started as an intern for a professor of mine at Columbia. It was between ’83 and ’84. His name was Morton Halperin. He was writing a book and I was his intern, he was my professor. Then the next year after graduate school I got my first job as a researcher for a study on arms control. That turned into a research analyst for the Arms Control Association, which was a semi-bipartisan arms control think tank of the day. It is bipartisan in the sense that some of the [Richard] Nixon Republicans were the founders and chairmen and key board members. Those Nixon Republicans were angry at the Reagan Republicans for undermining all the treaties they had built up, so combining with Democrats they had this sort of bipartisan aura, although there weren’t too many Nixon Republicans left in the Reagan administration.

Strong

You were at Dupont Circle, up the street from Brookings?

Ruin

Part of that scene, right.

Riley

But then moved to Capitol Hill.

Rubin

In the course of the briefing of members of Congress or journalists or experts about the two or three things I was really intensely knowledgeable about, one of which was the offensive strategic arms of the Russians—the Soviets—and the United States, and what would happen if the SALT II [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] limits were eliminated. That was something that the Reagan administration in 1986 I believe decided to do.

Senator [Joseph] Biden was very active on SALT II in the SALT II hearings in the ’70s and early ’80s. So he followed that. He was essentially going to pursue an initiative to insist that those limits be upheld. His top aide called me and I helped him formulate and understand the details of that, in the course of which I met Senator Biden and stayed very in touch with that staff. Then he arranged for me to be hired as a consultant to the Foreign Relations Committee for the IMF [International Monetary Fund] treaty in 1988, the next year. When he had the funds available on the Foreign Relations Committee after that in ’89, he hired me and I stayed there for four years, through ’93.

Riley

Had you been involved in the ’88 campaign at all?

Rubin

His? Biden’s? No. At that point I was involved only as someone who would get a phone call from the Presidential campaign saying, “Exactly how many nuclear weapons are there in the—according to the best public sources?” I do believe Madeleine Albright in the [Michael] Dukakis ’88 period called me once to ask me that question, although she can’t remember it particularly, but I think it happened. So that was more the role that I would have had, just as a think tank reference point for people on the campaign.

Riley

[To Strong] Anything from that period?

Strong

No.

Riley

Moving on ahead to ’92, you said that Madeleine Albright doesn’t recall this—but you remember it—did any kind of enduring relationship with Albright start at that point, or is it later?

Rubin

It started later, in the ’91, ’92 period. I met her through the course, I believe, of her work on East European public attitudes and Russian public attitudes. Senator Biden was the chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, and that was my principal function along with John Rich, another committee staffer. So in the course of my work, I came across her quite naturally.

I cannot remember whether she testified, but if she didn’t testify to that committee, at least her work was presented to us and through us to the Senator. We clicked very quickly, as policy types and Democrats might. She began to invite me to some of the events that she was famous for. I wasn’t at that time invited to the big ones, because I was only—I guess I would have been 31 years old at the time, and people 10 or 20 years older than me tended to be the people who would go to the famous Georgetown dinners that she would have. But I think I might have gotten invited to one.

I remember it was a big deal for me at the time to be invited to the big Madeleine Albright Georgetown dinner, but our real connection evolved over Bosnia, which I traveled to very early on in the oversight of the subcommittee on Europe. I took a trip to all the capitals of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 as the war between Croatia and Serbia was going on.

Strong

Was that with Biden, or with other staff?

Rubin

First with the staffer, Peter Galbraith, and Biden had the responsibility for that area as the subcommittee chairman. So I don’t know how the trip came about. I remember being intrigued by the story of this war in Europe. I had gradually during that period added new subject matter to my portfolio of expertise, which included the Gulf War and nonproliferation and then began to include the fall of the [Berlin] Wall, because that was the issue of the day, ’89, ’90, ’91. So Poland and Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, U.S. aid to the newly democratic countries. All of that stuff began to fall in front of me and I gradually began to absorb more and more about it. It hadn’t been what I had studied or considered myself an expert on to the extent that was appropriate.

So now this thing was happening. Everything else was peaceful; this was warlike. I was intrigued. It was Peter Galbraith’s idea for the trip and he brought me along. I remember he teasingly quizzed me on the capitals of all the six republics on the plane going over there. It took me a long time to get them right.

Strong

Did spelling count? [laughter]

Rubin

Didn’t even need spelling. It was tough at the time. So that’s how new to the former Yugoslavia I was. But I think when I got there and saw what was going on and began to internalize the idea that this was happening in Europe, in the West, people were killing each other in those numbers and that intensely in the West, it had quite a dramatic impact on me.

Riley

Do you remember how long you were in the region?

Rubin

A couple of weeks. The odd thing was that this time there was very little policy interest on the part of the U.S. government. I say that because two staff members were met at the Presidential level in every republic. The President of every republic met with us because they were all interested in America and the fact that two staff guys were treated to Presidential visits, Presidential courtesies, Presidential facilitation, is, I think, the clearest possible indicator that nobody else was paying attention to this. The Assistant Secretary for Europe had basically, as I recall, kind of given up after [James Addison III] Baker had his famous, “We have no dog in this fight” in ’89. Then the U.S. government just shut down in terms of active involvement, so the presence of two Democratic staffers was seen as a big deal to them. They met with us. Obviously that contributed to my seizing on this issue, because I was getting quite an education in ten days, two weeks.

I came back quite moved, really. It became my primary passion for many years after that, culminating in probably the Kosovo war almost ten years later.

Riley

Do you have any specific recollections of any of the people that you met over there?

Rubin

Oh, yes. I remember that trip pretty well. We met with [Slobodan] Miloševi?. He was quite impressive—and confusing—because he knew enormous numbers of details and I didn’t at the time. I had sort of been guided to believe he was the bad guy by the newspapers and various people, but he was really, really smart and smooth. I always put him in the context of a mob boss kind of smooth. He had a certain charisma as a result.

[Franjo] Tudjman was the Croatian President, and I remember reacting very badly and having a bit of a bitter exchange with him, even though I was just a staff guy. I was pretty spunky back then. He had been someone who had written about the exaggerated accounts of Croatia killing Jews in World War II and the numbers were wildly exaggerated. He was sort of the Croatian equivalent of a Holocaust denier. I remember challenging him on that and it created quite a rant and a moment in the meeting.

I remember meeting the head of the Bosnia—The war had not started at that time in Bosnia. We spent a lot of time with [Alija] Izetbegovi? and some of the journalists and top media people. They in a way were the opposition. I remember them all talking about how they expected this thing to happen. They all just knew there was going to be a war there. It didn’t really start for another year, but they just didn’t seem to know how to stop it. I remember that very vividly, this top journalist telling us there was going to be a war and he was going to have to leave the country. He was a radio talk show person. I remember we talked about whether he could have a hunger strike over the radio, whether that might appeal to people there.

I remember crossing—The Serbs took us across the front lines to the city of Dubrovnik, which had just been shelled, and we saw all the refugees huddled in hotels that were bombed out and the bombing and results of the city of Dubrovnik. We had to be transferred at sea from the Serbs to the Croats. We had driven across the coast of Montenegro where the Serb army had just swept through and destroyed all of these houses in this incredible line of destruction. That was my first war zone, as my friends liked to tell me when I got back. It was true; it was.

I remember meeting a José [Cutileiro] or some name like that who was European Union’s guy on the ground. He was one of the officials who was torn apart by what he was doing and seeing and watching. I remember him basically telling me, “It is up to you to get America to care about this, and to get the government to care about this.” I was awed by that. “Only you—If you get your people to care and they get the President to care, that is the only way this thing can be stopped.”

I remember being quite taken, as one who had grown up in a post-Vietnam milieu and arms control mentality, feeling the first stirrings of justified uses of force. Up until that time, when I was a boy, by the time I was conscious it was already lost so to speak, or certainly it was deemed lost in the place that I grew up. That may not be true in Tennessee and Mississippi and other places, but in Larchmont, New York, it was lost by 1970. So that was what I was taught.

Then the Reagan experience made me more scared of war, because it was political thermonuclear war that was going to incinerate the planet. But now I was seeing something different, which was people trying to defend themselves against aggression. I remember advocating in a memo, which I probably could dig out in a deep box somewhere, the idea of sending some sort of signal to Miloševi? by the deployment of American ships, not actually to use them but just to reroute them near Dubrovnik to send a signal to Miloševi? not to do this again. They basically had these firing positions over the city and they just shelled and nobody could do anything about it. That was an unusual position for me to take, given that I was hired as an arms controller. Anyway, it was unusual. My circle didn’t naturally cotton to that, so to speak.

Strong

Was Galbraith at that time the senior staff Democratic—?

Rubin

Senator Biden didn’t like Peter Galbraith, so he didn’t listen to him. He worked for Senator [Claiborne] Pell, to be candid about it.

Strong

When you returned from a trip like that, did you write up a report for this committee or—?

Rubin

Interestingly, I think we did write a report, but I’m not sure it ever—see, Peter had become very famous at that time as the guy who had gone to the Kurdish areas, and I was very wary of him because he had pissed people off by making himself the news, which was highly unusual for a Senate staffer. So I was wary of doing something wrong. I was 31 years old and I didn’t grow up with a famous father and think that it was normal or appropriate for the staff person to be the center of attention. So I remember being very wary of getting caught up in Peter’s projects and Peter’s ego and grandiosity.

Strong

Is that the trip on which Bosnia became his next project?

Rubin

I suspect that both of us were pretty seized by that, and I think later he took Senator [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan there. Then I took Senator Biden there. But what I’m trying to communicate is that Peter and I were not a great team.

Riley

Sure.

Rubin

He worked for a different Senator, essentially. Those staffs were driven with awful fiefdoms and jealousies. There was camaraderie in extremis, but it was not daily. Peter was a Pell person. Although I was very close to some of the Pell people, I wasn’t close to others. What I remember about it is that I was sort of scared to get my name on one of Peter’s reports because I was worried that Biden wouldn’t like it, that he would be mad at me for being like Peter. So it may be that that report never was published, but I can’t remember. If it was, I may have taken my name off it, because I was afraid of that.

Strong

After a trip like that, would Biden sit down and want to talk to you?

Rubin

I gave him a written memo and then, as I wrote a trip report to him about this trip, which I did again when I went to Bosnia myself again the next year—In 1992 I went again. I think partially with Peter—That’s where we had a bit of a falling out and he sort of went his way and I went my way.

Riley

Was that over personal issues, or was it over interpretation, stylistic maybe?

Rubin

I think it was very stylistic. In fact, I don’t mind saying it, to get it down. I can X it out later. But basically I was furious with him for, in my opinion, leading the—We met with Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of the Kosovar Albanians, in ’92. I felt that Peter was, in a grandiose way, leading these people to believe the Democrats were about to come into power and save their butts. I thought that was the most irresponsible thing I’d ever seen happen in my professional life. I knew that Peter didn’t have particularly strong contacts with the Clinton people. Although I felt he might be right, I thought it was irresponsible in the extreme to have them act on the basis of some staff guy’s guess and put their people at risk. I think I said that to him and he didn’t like that very much, as you can imagine. That’s sort of what broke us down. I was very angry about that.

Strong

So during the whole 1992 Presidential cycle you’re a professional staffer on Capitol Hill paying attention to what’s going on, but in no way a participant.

Rubin

In the campaign?

Strong

In the campaign.

Rubin

That’s basically right, except to the extent that in that period I was talking to some of the people who were part of the expert group, people like Madeleine Albright, Jim Woolsey, and others. By ’92 I was advocating the use of force in Bosnia. I guess I went on for a long time about the first trip, but the second trip was even more dramatic because I went into Bosnia during the shelling of Biha? and became even more committed to the idea of at least lifting the arms embargo and/or using air power.

I shared those views with, obviously, Senator Biden, who still was not quite ready to engage, but he did hold hearings, which he refers to in his book if you get a copy of that, and how his engagement evolved. He credits me with sensitizing him to the issue and then taking him to the region in ’93 in the springtime. But in ’92 he wasn’t quite ready. He did a few things in the Senate; I don’t want to minimize that. He just didn’t travel there. So I think we passed, under his leadership, with Senator [Robert] Dole and Senator [Joseph] Lieberman, the first congressional legislation putting the Congress on record in favor of lifting the arms embargo. It was not mandatory, but it basically said to the President, “We want to do this and we want to set aside money for it.” But we couldn’t make him lift the arms embargo, because we didn’t do that. But it was the first legislation indicating congressional support for that. Senator Biden did that with my being the staff person, helping him with that.

Riley

Does this become pretty much your exclusive issue later in ’91 and ’92?

Rubin

Obviously I did other things, if there was a hearing, but yes, this is what I did.

Riley

Were you tracking the Presidential campaign? Did you have a preferred candidate?

Rubin

As I recall it back then, I was sort of a Mario Cuomo guy in the brief period where it looked like he might run. When he didn’t run, I was pretty deflated. I knew George Stephanopoulos from Columbia actually, originally, and later. He had just joined the Clinton campaign as a sort of deputy campaign manager early on. He called me, or I called him when he left. We used to play squash and things like that. To be very frank, I wasn’t naturally attracted to Clinton in his initial incarnation. He was a politician I learned to love, but I didn’t start out that way.

Riley

Too conservative?

Rubin

A regional thing.

Riley

My accent probably gives me away.

Rubin

It’s just—

Riley

You said you were from New York. It makes sense for you to find a southern Governor—

Rubin

Since I was so impressed with Cuomo, everyone else to me seemed inauthentic by comparison.

Riley

Absolutely. Did you know anybody who was giving him foreign policy advice? You said you know Stephanopoulos, and I’m assuming that wasn’t his portfolio.

Rubin

I vaguely knew Nancy Soderberg as one of several—The staff people in the Democrats tended to know each other. We knew each other, though we had never worked on anything together. Biden and [Edward M.] Kennedy didn’t do anything in the foreign policy world together. So my contact with her was limited. It was more Madeleine Albright that I knew. All this time when I would come back from Bosnia—One time I think she arranged for me to speak to a group of experts through her Center for National Policy. So I was telling her everything that I learned and everything that I thought and everything I believed in quite some detail; Jim Woolsey, as well. They were both hawkish on Bosnia.

So at that stage I felt as if my way of doing the right thing vis-à-vis the campaign was to tell Madeleine Albright and Jim Woolsey everything I knew and thought. I wrote things for them, little memos, telling them what I knew and what I thought, what was happening, what was going to happen, what one could be for and against and that sort of thing.

Riley

But you didn’t do anything during the general election period either.

Strong

Did Biden have a stance on humanitarian intervention?

Rubin

Yes, by then. He was, throughout the ’92 period—I got caught in ’91. By ’92, I went again, came back, and now he was seized with it. He was one of the first Senate voices advocating candidate Clinton and President [George H. W.] Bush to do something about this. He had big arguments with Larry Eagleburger in ’92 about lifting the arms embargo. So he became a television voice, a Senate floor voice. As I said, past the first legislation, began to have a view as to what should be done, with the view being, at a minimum, to stop undermining the ability of the Bosnian government to defend itself. A consensus could be reached on that in the Senate, and he was the leader of that consensus.

Riley

During the transition period did you have ongoing contacts with him?

Rubin

It’s funny when you think about it, but basically no. I was obviously scrambling like every other 32-year-old who wanted to work in government, but I didn’t have all that much success.

Riley

George wasn’t playing squash with you still?

Rubin

He had risen to greater heights. He only hung out with Presidents and Senators and I was just a lowly guy. I’m teasing when I say that, but it was natural. He was a pretty busy fellow. He was trying to do about 14 jobs for President Clinton, which is what I think partially drove him crazy. Let’s take a break.

[BREAK]

Rubin

I was a staff guy at that time.

Riley

This is during the transition period.

Rubin

Yes. The people that I talked to were journalists, fellow staff guys. There were about six or seven Americans who were in a trench essentially in their passion and their intensity about Bosnia.

Riley

Right.

Rubin

There was a woman who worked for Bob Dole named Mira Baratta. There was a fellow named David Phillips who was connected to Haris Silajdži?, the Foreign Minister of Bosnia. My friend, John Rich, who also worked with me, was involved, probably not as full-time as me, but also of the same view. That’s what I did. I was just obsessed. I traveled there, I talked to people. I think that’s where I first came into contact or knew about my wife. John Rich was much older than me, so he was invited to a dinner at Sidney Blumenthal’s house with Bruce Lindsey, who I had never heard of in my life. Sidney said Bruce Lindsey was close to the Clintons. So John went and tried to interest Bruce Lindsey and others in Bosnia. Dead silence. He didn’t know about it, wasn’t interested in it. Not impolite, but just no reaction. So I think that I concluded that the only vehicle for change was Madeleine Albright and Jim Woolsey. That’s why I keep coming back to it. They were the two senior people associated with Clinton who I knew shared my view.

Although this may sound unlikely, given the subsequent arc of my career, I didn’t care much about jobs at that time. I cared more about Bosnia. So I was just thinking about where could I get this done.

Strong

I want to ask about that. If that’s your posture, are you having lots of conversations with journalists, and are you interested in how the story is being portrayed and played?

Rubin

Yes, very much.

Strong

How much of that activity is supervised by anyone on the committee or—

Rubin

None.

Strong

No one?

Rubin

I think Biden hired me with the knowledge that I was very close to a lot of the Washington journalists and I had become someone who most of the key reporters on the major newspapers, magazines, and television outlets came to about arms control. One of the things that appealed to him about me was that I could help him thrive in that environment. We never really quite talked about it. He saw it—The way I would put it, it was an unspoken understanding that I was to never get him in any trouble, but I was to do whatever I needed to do to make sure that when he had something to say the way was open through my connections with journalists. So since he was in favor of intervention in Bosnia by ’92, what I was doing was consistent with his position. If he was against it, I wouldn’t have been doing it, or even be working there anymore, frankly. So that’s the context in which I was operating. But the specifics were rarely discussed.

Unlike some issues, this really didn’t have a classified component to it. Frankly, you learned more from the media and the ten key journalists who were in Sarajevo than you ever learned from any CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] briefing. So there wasn’t a classification issue of contact with journalists. So that’s mostly what I was focused on, obsessed with. I might have even been single-minded about it. That’s not to say that I didn’t want a job in the government. I don’t want to be self-deceiving. But I stayed with Biden until May of 1993, or April. I didn’t jump in right away. I wasn’t part of the first wave. I was part of what you might call the one-and- a-half wave, not the second wave. I did speak to Strobe Talbott, whom I knew as a journalist, and Madeleine and Woolsey and others about wanting to work in the government.

In fact, I remember one of my favorite quotes of Strobe Talbott’s, which kind of stuck with me, that I was too young to be an Assistant Secretary, too good to be a Special Assistant, but I wasn’t the right breed to be a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.

Strong

The last one I don’t understand. What’s the right breed for that job?

Rubin

I didn’t ask him that. It could have been taken as an anti-Semitic comment; it could have been just Strobe’s funny way of talking as meaning I was too activist and too engaged and Type A for that. I don’t know, but it stuck with me. I don’t think Strobe is an anti-Semite; that is not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that it had a pretty sharp edge to it. I say that to show that I wasn’t not seeking a job. I was, but I had spoken to Madeleine Albright and gotten a positive reaction from her as part of our two-year relationship that was strengthening rather than weakening. I helped her with her confirmation hearings, which occurred in late January. By then I think I had gotten a sense that she might offer me a job, but it wasn’t entirely clear what.

She had limited flexibility as to what people she could hire. She had already picked a team of a chief of staff and Deputy Ambassador of [Karl] Rick Inderfurth and this Lieutenant Colonel Mike Sheehan and a guy named Peter Fromuth of Georgetown. So she had a coterie of people. I wasn’t that close to her at that time. It wasn’t a sure thing, but I had a good feeling about it because she and I clicked and she was going to get a big Ambassador job. But there was a limit to how many people she could bring in, and she clearly had a team organized that didn’t include me. So I was—“scrambling” would be too strong a word, but I was not sure I was going to get a job in the new government at all.

Meanwhile, I was so obsessed with Bosnia that I just think that somehow I was conflicted as to what I wanted to do anyway, because at that time in the spring of ’93, Biden finally went to Sarajevo and had a quite dramatic trip.

Riley

You went with him?

Rubin

I set that whole trip up for him and we went to Belgrade to see Miloševi?, to Sarajevo, to Croatia. There’s a trip report about it for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by him. That report I worked on very closely with John Rich. My name is mentioned as a staff person. But that report fit my natural understanding of the right pattern at the time as compared to the Galbraith stuff. I had done lots of report writing and wrote thousands of pages of congressional material about the CFE [Conventional Armed Forces in Europe] Treaty and other things—I was the staff guy responsible for the CFE Treaty in 1991, I guess it would have been, ’90 or ’91.

Biden was given that treaty to work on. So I’m just comparing it to the Galbraith thing. So anyway, then I guess in March, we went to Bosnia and Biden met with [Warren] Christopher, presented his report in favor of “lift and strike,” then met with the President. I went to the Christopher meeting; I didn’t go to the meeting with the President.

Around that time, coincident with that, the signals were getting better and better from Madeleine Albright that she was going to try to find a place for me. Then I guess she found one. I think Biden was pretty unhappy about it, unhappy that she had not called him first to ask if it was OK. He thought that that was bad form. They always had a—This I probably will X out—but they always had an unusual relationship, because substantively and politically it was identical, but personally it was never quite right.

Strong

Did Bosnia play a role in the confirmation hearings that were taking place for Christopher and the rest of the—?

Rubin

Yes, I believe that would be the subject that Biden quizzed Christopher about. Then there was a dramatic hearing in the spring, in which he really whaled on, not Christopher directly, but through Christopher to the Europeans. This was the time when the Europeans were adopting what people like me thought of as an immoral attitude: of not caring about these people because they were Muslims in our view. So he was pretty tough on the subject.

As a fellow Democrat, it had been a while since there had been a Democratic President, so I don’t think he publicly assailed Christopher, certainly not to his face publicly, but maybe said things when Christopher wasn’t present that might have been more critical. So it was tricky, because at that time Christopher seemed to have the right instincts and seemed to be supportive of what the campaign rhetoric would suggest, which was the use of air strikes. But as you know, that died a quick death in the first few months of the Clinton administration. Senator Biden, for one, wasn’t very happy about that, and I was particularly unhappy about it. So that was a tricky relationship.

By then Madeleine Albright had already had a memo leaked that was in favor of bombing. I had nothing to do with that memo. I wasn’t working there then, but it was consistent with everything that she and I had talked about for the year before. So I was like, Yes, go Madeleine. I think that made me feel very good about working for her. I was quite intense at this time. I think I felt a certain pride that I was going to work with the person who had the only identified view that was consistent with mine and my friends, and the people I respected and cared about. So I felt like I was going to go fight the good fight with Madeleine Albright on Bosnia. That’s kind of what I thought I was doing when I entered the government.

Riley

Did you get the sense that Madeleine’s ongoing relationship with Biden was continuing to be problematic for her?

Rubin

I’m just fast-forwarding about seven years, because, you know, there wasn’t any obvious thing. There are probably two people on the planet who would know what I’m talking about, and I’m one of them. But what I’m saying is, on the surface, none of this really crystallized until seven or eight years later. I always wondered whether that initial poaching of me was something that pissed him off enough for him to have a chip on his shoulder about Madeleine and her not having the sensitivity to realize that she should have called him. But that didn’t manifest itself for many, many years.

Riley

And there wasn’t any related history between those two—

Rubin

Not that I’m aware of.

Riley

That you’re aware of that might have been—

Rubin

No, it’s really a tiny aside, but it is mostly interesting to me.

Strong

And you didn’t hesitate at all when you heard that this opportunity was coming?

Rubin

No, it was the government and because it was Madeleine Albright it was the good guys. No, I’d worked for Biden for four years by then, and the natural course of a Washington career would suggest that this was the move to take. So I told him about it. He was a pretty good sport about it. He understood what I was doing but he wasn’t—He didn’t throw me a big party, let’s put it that way. [laughter] There were others that he did. I always thought that it was a sensitive—Maybe I didn’t handle it right. I have no idea. I went with his sort of half blessing.

Riley

And the only job that you were offered was that? That was the only one that was in the mix as far as you know?

Rubin

There were other little nibbles, but in terms of a real job offer, that was the only one.

Riley

And it involved moving to New York.

Rubin

Which I was thrilled about. I didn’t see it as a problem. A single man in New York in 1992, ’93—I guess I still had a relationship at the time, but it was fading out. Yes, I was thrilled to move to New York.

Riley

What did you find when you got—She already had an operation set up by the time you came on board, right? Tell us.

Rubin

She had a Foreign Service operation that had been in place for several months, I guess, beginning in the transition period, when she was the transition person for the NSC [National Security Council]. Rick Inderfurth was her Deputy. He went over with her to be the Deputy Ambassador and got the perfect portfolio. Rick Inderfurth had the perfect job on paper, in that he had the peacekeeping portfolio, the Security Council portfolio, and the deputies committee portfolio. He didn’t have to do any of the work that the UN [United Nations]—that some people don’t like, that is, management and economic and social council and other things. He had the perfect pick of the litter, so to speak.

Riley

Right.

Rubin

So that was thought to be way above my pay grade at the time. Her chief of staff was a woman named Frances Zwenig, who worked for John Kerry on the Vietnam committee, the one they did about POWs [prisoners of war]. She had the whole Foreign Service support system, and I was made the spokesman, the communications director. It was a little vague. But even there, it was a Foreign Service, USIA [U.S. Information Agency] person who was there. It wasn’t clear to me on the first day where I fit in. I believe that the chief of staff, Frances Zwenig, didn’t like me very much, didn’t really want Madeleine to hire me. I’m told she argued against it. So she didn’t make it welcoming for me. She didn’t give me the perks and authority that she could have if she had liked. So I had to win those things, day after day, in daily, brutal, bureaucratic warfare.

Strong

Was there a speechwriter on her staff?

Rubin

Bill Woodward was hired around the same time as me for the Washington office. So by this time she had a Washington office that consisted of Elaine Shocas, David Scheffer. It’s important to mention him because he was the real substantive person writing memos for Madeleine, sitting behind her in the principals committee meetings, and he was a lawyer who is now a professor—Have you done him yet?

Riley

No.

Rubin

So that was all in place. I had no substantive responsibility; it was all taken by the time I got there. That isn’t the way it ended up, but that was true when it started.

Riley

As you’re getting acclimated to this position, one of the key questions is trying to figure out the relationship of the UN delegation to the other foreign policy principals. Tell us how well you’re getting along, what that role is. Do you feel marooned up here in New York?

Rubin

You have to give me some guidance here. You’ve done all those other people already?

Riley

All of them would be an overstatement, but we’ve done a fair number of them, yes.

Rubin

How frank have they been?

Riley

I get the sense on these questions they’re being pretty frank.

Rubin

I’m not asking you to tell me who told you what. I need to know this so that I can—

Riley

The answer is that I’m asking a completely open-ended question, unguided by any response that I picked up from any other interview.

Rubin

I’d like to make a suggestion.

Riley

Sure.

Rubin

I’d like to put this aside for a second and call Madeleine overnight and find out what she’s saying, because I don’t want to be the first person to put out all the dirty laundry, because there’s always dirty laundry.

Riley

I understand that.

Rubin

Remember, I’m not a principal. I’m a staff person.

Riley

Exactly, but you’re in a position to help us—

Rubin

I know it all, but that’s their privilege.

Riley

Let me put it this way. I sat down across from one of the principals who said, “I’m going to tell you exactly what I know and it’s going to be unvarnished, but I’m going to sit on it for a very long time before it comes out.” This was not Madeleine. So we’re getting some portraits from some of the other players where they feel that they’re giving us the history very much with the bark off.

Rubin

That’s the kind of answer I was looking for. because I don’t feel it is my—I’m derivative in this—

Riley

But this is not a legal proceeding. [laughter]

Rubin

This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in government. I’m trying to figure out who is saying what, if they want to defend themselves, if they want to get ahead of the curve.

Strong

We were talking earlier today. We’re not Bob Woodward; we’re not anything like that. In fact, we’re prohibited from writing about anything we hear. We can only use the material later on.

Riley

The public material that comes out. The other thing is, Jamie, I’m also proscribed from making any identifiable reference in a subsequent interview to anything somebody tells me.

Rubin

Other than the generic one you just made.

Riley

Absolutely. The prohibition about speaking out of school is, if anything, more acute in the family than it is outside. I couldn’t violate your confidences to Woolsey, whom I have not interviewed yet. We’re working on scheduling. I couldn’t go into Woolsey’s interview and say, “Well, Jamie

Rubin
told us this.”

 

Rubin

But you could say—

Riley

“We’ve heard this; what is your reaction to that?” That was my reaction to your question. I’m not asking this because I have any—

Rubin

I could talk for 20 hours about that.

Strong

The political scientists and historians need to know about the culture people are working in, the relationships that develop. Again, we don’t need all the dirty laundry and we’re not really asking for it. However, our agenda is we want scholars to do a better job writing about the Clinton Presidency when they get hold of this volume.

Rubin

In how many years will this become available?

Riley

The earliest it would become available—the cleared materials—would probably be sometime late next year, because we’re getting close to the end.

Rubin

I’m just going to be very frank with you. I’m younger than these other people. I aspire to other jobs and I don’t want to be thought of as a tale-teller.

Riley

Under those circumstances then, you should feel free to put as long an embargo on this as you like. You own your words.

Rubin

I’m just trying to understand how to proceed.

Riley

Absolutely. I would hope we can have a discussion, and I think really the more important question is not so much what goes on the tape, but what you would feel free to clear.

Rubin

To let you use. I didn’t write a book.

Riley

I noticed that.

Rubin

I did write an episode, a Kosovo episode. I felt like I could write candidly about our allies, which I did, and it irritated a few of them. But I didn’t want to write candidly about the inside administration scoop. So I figured if I’m not going to write that, there’s no point in writing a book, so I didn’t write a book. I could have turned that Kosovo article into a book probably, but I felt like I got the gist of it and the guts of it out there and it was cleared. Madeleine was happy to have it ,and she took some things out.

Riley

Let me make one other point.

Rubin

I’m just trying to understand how to proceed. Let me try to answer it intellectually first and personally second. The job of the UN Ambassador is very undefined. It depends on the people and the person and the people in the principals committee and the individual UN Ambassador and the President’s relationship with the UN Ambassador. In this particular case, Madeleine Albright was given all the possible tools to make her as powerful a UN Ambassador as possible, as a Cabinet member and a member of the principals committee.

Riley

Do you know if she had to wrest that from the President or was that something—

Rubin

I think she worked it when she was in the NSC transition. Rick Inderfurth I know worked to be the Deputy Ambassador and on the deputies committee. I think Ambassadors had previously been part of the inner circle, certainly in the case of Jeane Kirkpatrick. But the Deputy being on the deputies committee gave another level of involvement of the UN Ambassador. Then her number two for that was David Scheffer, and he was given a role in the interagency meetings below the deputies committee. So she had Rick I think and she had wired this so that on paper they had a bigger role. That was consistent with President Clinton’s position about the United Nations going into the administration.

He had talked about having the United States adopt policies that gave greater influence to the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy than the previous administration. So it was highly consistent with that to do these things bureaucratically.

Riley

I’m trying to remember. Madeleine’s appointment was in the original foreign policy group.

Rubin

She was right away.

Riley

So she would have had a period during the transition when she could style this to suit her purposes.

Rubin

I don’t know, you’d have to ask Rick that, but my recollection is that they winked at me a lot when I made this point. So they wisely helped organize the system to give meaning to the President’s own words to make the UN Ambassador have a bigger role. Obviously the President made her a Cabinet member. So he was showing that as well through that designation. The key to me though, more important, was the principals committee, because the Cabinet, in my impression, didn’t make a lot of decisions or discuss issues. It was more of a team meeting.

So on paper she had a fair degree of influence. Certainly she had a very prominent role publicly by design of the White House, who saw her as an effective advocate publicly. That fit nicely with my job, because I was her communications director, among other things. It became a normal thing to have three members of the administration speaking publicly together as a team: the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the UN Ambassador and/or the National Security Advisor. In the case of Tony Lake, he didn’t like to do television. That was lucky for Madeleine because that meant when the first slot was the Secretary of State, the second was the Secretary of Defense, and the third fell to her. In a different administration, it might fall to the National Security Advisor.

I don’t think there has been a UN Ambassador like Madeleine in recent times who had as prominent a role, from the beginning, as a public articulator of President Clinton’s foreign policy. So it made my job a lot more fun than it might otherwise have been. I say that because it was fun, but I think in all candor, there was a bit of a gap between what the public perceived as her role internally and the realities, which were a function of her being quite respectful and subservient to Warren Christopher and having a bad personal relationship with Tony Lake, although she agreed with him more than she agreed with Christopher. But Christopher treated her fairly respectfully as his sort of second, while Tony Lake treated her, by my understanding, rather disdainfully as an unnecessary further voice either coming from New York or around the table. They used to start doing those TV things, which began back in ’93.

So the irony was that she had the power on paper and the irony was that she agreed more, particularly in the Balkans, with Tony Lake and yet with the more cautious Warren Christopher she had a more polite and friendly and respectful relationship, even though he was much more cautious than she was on policy. That’s my summary.

Riley

This is very helpful and not explosive, if you were afraid of that.

Rubin

No, I wasn’t.

Riley

Where should I be digging?

Rubin

I’m not trying to be coy with you. I think that goes a little far but not very far and that’s as far as I’m comfortable going.

Riley

I understand that. The only comment that I was going to make earlier is remember we’ve been doing this for other administrations. This is a generic problem for everybody, how do you coordinate a group of disparate actors. Jeane Kirkpatrick we didn’t interview in this context. We didn’t really have a chance to frame questions about the differences between New York and Washington. Is there anything more you want to say on that?

Rubin

What would happen, as I recall—Again my information was derivative; I wasn’t in principals meetings. In the early days I was not an influential advisor to Madeleine Albright. I was the press, someone she seemed to have an especially nice relationship with, and thought was smart. But my primary interaction with her was with regard to the media. That meant that I was busy, because she was busy with media, but it took a long time for me to develop the kind of confidences and complicity that we developed over time.

In the beginning I tended to hear things or surmise things or deduce things. What I deduced in the early period was that because of the role of a UN Ambassador, she tended to be the one who always had to say, “Well, the French are not going to like this,” or “The British are not going to like this,” or “The Russians won’t let us do this,” or “The Chinese will say this.” She found the people in Washington being gratuitously disdainful of that, and acting as if they were negotiating this it would be really easy: It’s only because you’re not that good at this that it is so hard. No one actually ever came out and said those words, but that was the overall impression, which tended to make it difficult to exploit the advantage of being both the policy maker and a policy implementer, which is what the UN Ambassador’s job was at the time.

Many of the issues that got the Clinton administration in a lot of trouble in the first couple of years were UN issues—Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia. North Korea was more successful, but was a problem in the early days. Obviously Rwanda in ’94. The memorably unsuccessful policies were UN-centric, certainly Somalia was and Bosnia was. So the point I guess I’m making is that she was in a difficult position.

Our impression in New York was that the White House wanted to have the UN take the burden off the United States for all these things, yet were wholly unrealistic about what the UN could or would do. There was often a sense from New York that these people didn’t understand that we were the United Nations. There isn’t something called the United Nations that is separate and apart from the United States. It will only succeed to the extent to which the United States is involving itself, unless you believe that European diplomats and Asian and African diplomats are going to solve all these problems for you or that other countries are going to pick up all these burdens.

Washington at that time was very oriented toward domestic politics. While the Clinton administration had very long reach, its grasp was considerably less long in terms of willingness to back these things up with resources, be they diplomatic, economic, or more. So you get these anomalies where Sandy [Samuel] Berger particularly, and Tony Lake I guess, would be— Madeleine would express to me frustration that they were kind of expecting the UN to do something. Or when the Somalia raid failed it was Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s fault. It only came out later that it was a U.S. operation.

The Clinton administration in the early days of the failure of “Black Hawk Down” [1993 Battle of Mogadishu] and all that stuff, the October raid, were being disingenuous in suggesting that somehow this was a UN thing, when the failed part in particular was an American military operation. Yet the White House itself, through its spokespeople, were often the ones calling it a UN thing. That put Madeleine in a difficult position, because the White House line was clearly trying to shift blame to the United Nations. As the point person in the place where the UN and the U.S. meet, she knew this was disingenuous.

Riley

Was it viewed as her role, though, that she would have to take one for the team?

Rubin

Often, they didn’t also want to discredit her. They wanted her to be saying the same things. It wasn’t so much that they wanted her to go down with the sinking UN, but they wanted her to participate in the disingenuousness, which was well understood in New York. The reporters and the officials there understood the disingenuousness of this. So it was particularly hard to say black was white in front of them, particularly with regard to the Somalia raid.

Strong

I’d like to come back in a few minutes and ask some more questions about Somalia, but I want to start with just a few process questions. Are Albright’s speeches being cleared in the Department of State?

Rubin

Yes, Madeleine was religious about clearance, to the extent that I was involved with Bill Woodward, her speechwriter in Washington, and a guy named Peter Fromuth in New York. It was a matter of frustration that she was so religious about it. We would come up with what we thought were better formulations, and they would basically be watered down by Washington. Occasionally we could sneak some good formulations through, but very rarely. When push came to shove, she would almost always accede to even what I considered lower-ranking officials’ views in Washington.

Strong

What were your communications from the UN with the press operation at the Department of State or at the White House, what lines to take?

Rubin

They created a daily conference call at noon, which I was on; and Mike McCurry, the spokesman; and Dee Dee Myers and others at the White House.

Riley

Mike at State?

Rubin

Yes. I was on those calls every day. That helped make sure that Madeleine, who would walk in front of the cameras often, and stop and say something—She was very aggressive in ensuring that her words had been cleared—was staying with the cleared public line, which was a frustration to me, because if you were going to say the exact same words that had been cleared in Washington, that means you’re not going to say anything newsworthy.

Strong

Now in those conversations are you receiving the line for the day, or are you contributing to the conversation?

Rubin

Contributing, to an extent. I mean I’m—both. On the conference call it would be where I could, at my level, push the thing a little bit toward something I thought was better or avoid something I thought was bad. But I’m just trying to say when push came to shove, if anything ever became a debate, she was on the cautious side. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be.

Strong

What preparations would be made for a Sunday news show appearance?

Rubin

There would be conference calls, usually on a Saturday and then again right before them, Sunday morning. That would be Christopher, Berger or Lake, Madeleine, I don’t really remember Les Aspin on those calls. Maybe I don’t remember. I remember more [William] Perry, but that just could be because I’ve forgotten and it was so short that he was around.

Strong

So it’s those principals talking to each other about—

Rubin

And then someone from the White House communication shop posing the questions to them that they would expect to get. Then talking through that and then us listening to make sure we got it right. Then I would help her, remind her that on this one Perry said this or on this thing Christopher said that, or one of the communications people said something. So when she went into those, which are very difficult interviews, that she was as close as possible to that line. I think she was widely deemed to be the best at that.

Strong

The best at staying in line or the best at delivering effectively?

Rubin

Both. Most people would say that she was the best at something on TV. Lake didn’t do it very often and she was better on television than Warren Christopher for obvious reasons.

Strong

She was actually better than some people who were higher up on the scale than Warren Christopher.

Rubin

Yes, she was good at TV; that’s the point I’m making. So she did those things really well. That meant that they always wanted her to go on, which made my job more fun because I was involved more and more with White House–generated public appearances.

Strong

Again, to the extent that there is tension or contest, it had more to do with policy meetings and less to do with those coordinating activities on message, is that fair?

Rubin

Except with Christopher’s people, who could never quite get over the idea that she was better than the Secretary of State on TV. So they would try—They couldn’t yell at Madeleine, so they’d yell at me. Somehow it was always my fault that she was getting good press, and that was bad, because often the press was comparing. I could never quite figure out how to fix that. One, most of it happened without me having anything to do with it; and two, if I wanted her to shine it was natural for them to compare. But Tom Donilon in particular used to try and come down on me every couple of weeks in some aggressive way and I just had to learn how to take it.

Riley

Did you know Tom from Biden?

Rubin

A little bit. I think Tom had a conflicted attitude toward me. He thought I was good at what I was doing, so good that he tried to hire me to replace Mike McCurry in ’95, which Strobe Talbott blocked. You can see I’ve developed a warm fondness for Strobe Talbott. [laughter] So Tom wanted me to replace Mike McCurry as the State Department’s spokesman in ’95. He said it was all wired. I had a meeting with Christopher the next day and then pssst. That night Strobe blocked it. They had a big fight and Strobe won and put Nick Burns in the job.

Tom thought I was good at it, but also recognized that Madeleine’s success too often came at the expense of Christopher, and he obviously wasn’t happy about that. So I don’t envy him in having to figure out how to manage that. Standard stuff.

Strong

Did media organizations assign good people to the United Nations?

Rubin

I think that there was a wave in the late ’80s, early ’90s, where it started to get better and better and then it sort of would drift off, depending on events. With the Gulf War won, the UN sort of came into its own and better and better people were assigned there, more and more people assigned there. But then as things would happen in’93, the UN would talk but not act and people began to again see it as a talking shop. It would ebb and flow.

Riley

That brings me to a corollary question, which is what were you finding out about the operations of the UN? You came in as a kind of liberal internationalist who I presume would have had a favorable attitude toward the United Nations. Did that survive very long once you started there?

Rubin

No. I mean I did have that attitude going in. Yes, I did come in as a liberal internationalist. I came in as someone who had worked with Senator Biden on various initiatives in favor of a UN peacekeeping force, a “standing peacekeeping force” I think he wrote, we wrote—I helped draft such an op-ed for him. But then that was my intellectual view. With the United States less willing to do things, you had two choices: either you just did less stuff, or you had others help you. I was an activist internationally who would prefer to see things done than not done, and so therefore tended to want to find ways to do burden sharing and get others to be involved. I think that died in the combination from one side of Somalia and the other side of Bosnia.

Somalia from the side that although it was a U.S. operation that failed in Somalia, it is also true that Boutros Boutros-Ghali egged us on because he hated [Farah] Aidid for his own reasons as Egyptian Foreign Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, or State. He had the second job, not the number one job in Egypt. So he had an attitude against, a view that was anti-Aidid, rather than being a restraining influence on the United States activities in Somalia, when he could have tended to be more militaristic vis-à-vis the Somalian problem, which ended in disaster. And yet on Bosnia he was the least supportive of military action and was a genuine hurdle that had to be overcome, and ultimately made irrelevant by ’95, to make it work. So in my view he took the wrong position both times.

Somalia I didn’t understand, didn’t know anything about, generally had the view that I wanted the United States to succeed and saw Boutros-Ghali as a negative influence by pushing us to do more. And on Bosnia, where I knew a lot about it, thought a lot about it, cared a lot about it, he was single-handedly responsible for delaying a forceful response from the West. Not more responsible than the British and French governments, but equally reluctant and thus equally guilty in my view at the time. So I guess I had an intellectual view that was shown to be impractical under those circumstances and I cared more about the practical than the intellectual and gradually lost my enthusiasm for an active UN role.

I began over time to essentially view the UN through the lens of the Security Council rather than the lens of the Secretariat and believed that where we go wrong is when we think that the UN has an implementing arm of its own. It doesn’t really, not in the security area. When we try to lay off things on that implementing arm, we tend to make mistakes. But when we use the Security Council as a validator, endorser, supporter of global action, and a way to enlist support of others, then it can play a very positive role.

My experience in that ’93 period of Boutros-Ghali steering us wrong in both cases—although I’m realistic that it wasn’t his fault in Somalia, because I said that earlier. I know what happened, but he wasn’t a help. There was a tendency in Washington to overblame him. He deserved modest blame. So that result was, I think Madeleine’s and my views evolved at the same time and coincidentally.

Part of the reason I had trouble with other people in New York—Frances Zwenig, her chief of staff; and Rick to an extent; and some of the Foreign Service people—is because that view is what culminated in the decision to oppose Boutros-Ghali. It culminated in “OK, we want the UN to work, but this is the wrong guy to make the UN work.” It was a well-intentioned effort to make the U.S. and the UN work better together by having the right person there who wasn’t steering us away from doing something we ought to be doing and encouraging us to do things we shouldn’t be doing and generally adopting more of the “general” part of the Secretary General, rather than the “secretary” part of the Secretary General, which led us more comfortably to Kofi Annan, although I would agree at the end he was certainly more than a secretary.

But I think I was probably the only one in New York or Washington who really—I mean they eventually went along because they saw Madeleine was going that way and the President went that way. But I think I was pretty much alone thinking that we ought to go against the world and throw out Boutros-Ghali. I would say that was the time that she and I developed our most firm policy role, because I was actually given the portfolio in the U.S. mission to the UN as the person to have “secret consultations” with one individual at the State Department and one at the White House and nobody else in the whole government was supposed to know about it.

As I used to put it at the time, it was the kind of information that was so easy to leak because it didn’t seem like national security was going to drop over it. It was a personnel matter, which everybody loved to talk about. So you had to pay extra care, and it worked pretty well. It never leaked. We were working on that for 18 months before it came out—again, when we chose to have it come out. It did teach me the lesson that when you really, really want something to be a secret, it can be done.

Riley

But you have to structure it right.

Rubin

There were six people. I don’t know whether those other people told anybody, but I was very tight-lipped about it. Nobody else worked on it. There’s no paper. There was one copy of a document that I wrote that was sent to Christopher’s office, directly to his fax and lifted out of it. Jim Steinberg picked it up, read it, edited it, I changed it, and Christopher then read it.

Riley

You mentioned no paper. We discussed before we came on tape and I told you I was going to ask you to repeat that because it is important for us. You said you didn’t keep paper.

Rubin

Yes, I never took notes, really. I had a running pad for use on that day that I would throw out, meaning that I would take down on a yellow pad what the White House line on some issue was on some issue for public usage and then read off my pad to Madeleine if I could. But these things were so fluid and fast that I tended to remember it more than I used the written version. I didn’t take any notes through pretty much my whole time in government. That’s largely because I came in at the very time that the whole Josh Steiner and George Stephanopoulos scandal evolved. The things that I knew about that wouldn’t be on paper were the very sensitive types of things that could get you in trouble anyway. So I had a double reason not to keep those.

Riley

Let me ask you, just out of curiosity. I’m terribly forgetful and I have here, even in this notebook, scrawled all kinds of things down because I won’t remember them. Is there a loss of efficiency in not being able to rely on notes, or do you just train yourself so well that you can get by without having a written crutch? I’m just wondering if there’s a loss of effectiveness when you have to keep everything in your head.

Rubin

I don’t know. I think it’s a double-edged sword. It also allows you to respond instantly to something that would take three minutes for someone else to find in their notebook. For me, personally, I have a pretty good memory, so being able to just blurt out what was said an hour before served me well in government. It is also particularly useful for the person who has to answer questions in front of the press, because you can’t really look at your notes and you have to remember—at the UN there are 20 different subjects the U.S. is engaged in on any given day. So having that memory allowed me to be fluent in all those issues.

Now would I have been more effective had I been more precise in my wordings? I think the problems that I ran into in government tended not to be from mistakes of that kind, but I probably would have been better had I had a speedy writing relationship with memories and all of that. I’m sure I could have done my job better if I wrote certain things down, but it was easier not to, and it also fit with the presumption of how I was to behave. There were people who took notes from the different regional expertise. So it wasn’t as if there was a ban on notes in the government. People were always taking notes. I just didn’t.

Strong

I want to ask for your guidance. We can’t cover everything that happens in the UN when Albright is there. Which of the various issues are the ones people really should delve into? Should it be Somalia or Rwanda or the continuing arc on Bosnia? Which of those stories is going to tell us the most about her ambassadorship? Or maybe there is another we should pay attention to?

Rubin

I would say the two are Bosnia and Boutros.

[BREAK]

Rubin

I’d like to start with Boutros because I think that is the one where I have the unique knowledge and where Madeleine Albright’s unique skills came to the fore and other issues were not fully UN-centric. If you’re going to talk about Somalia or Bosnia, policy was made in Washington, not New York. Those issues played out in New York, but I think the one where I’m the most value-added is Boutros-Ghali.

Strong

OK.

Rubin

Let me just tell you what I remember, and then you can pose questions about that.

Riley

Great.

Rubin

Very early on it became apparent that while Madeleine and Boutros-Ghali had a very charmed and charming personal interaction, that he had a very grandiose view of his role as compared to say someone like [Javier] Pérez de Cuéllar, the person who preceded him. He did not see himself as a behind-the-scenes diplomat, facilitating discussions and managing sensitive diplomacy to get a hostage out or to be the good offices between two countries. He saw himself as a global policy maker.

Although there were many in the administration who wanted the United Nations to have a greater role in international affairs, there was a limit to that, and he was regularly exceeding those limits. There were people in the government, in the State Department, certainly in the outside community, who were supportive of him doing that, but I think the center of gravity shifted fairly quickly to the view that he was more of a problem than a help on crucial issues. Bosnia and Somalia, as I indicated earlier, were particular examples of that, but it happened every day. He had a whole coterie of advisors who treated him like a head of state of a major country. He thought his protocol was equal to the President’s. He allowed that sense to emerge in the Secretariat, that he should be treated that way.

He wanted very much to deal with Capitol Hill directly. He thought he could resolve the anti-UN attitudes in Congress by meeting these people. We thought that the worst thing that could happen would be if a Senator or a Congressman smelled what we smelled every day, that here was a guy who thought that the UN had a separate and distinct identity and power apart from the member states. It would be a disaster for congressional support for the UN. We thought that Congress came to understand and appreciate the UN only in the context of it being a burden-sharing organization and not in the context of it being a separate entity making decisions or imposing its will on nation states. That was totally counter to what nearly every single member of Congress thought the UN’s role was. The more that they got exposed to Boutros the more they might perceive that, because he had an exaggerated idea of the role of the United Nations.

So he was very bitter that Madeleine discouraged him from meeting with members of Congress, but we did so to save the UN, not to interfere with his work. We did so out of a principled view that he was the worst advocate for the United Nations, not the best, as he saw himself. He took on the position of being the keyholder to American use of military power and promoted that idea. He easily could have refused it and thrown it back to the member states, as he ultimately did when the issue got too hot for him. He should never have allowed himself to be perceived as a block on the use of military power. But he relished that role. At least to us it seemed like he did.

So any time the issue of the UN Secretary General being a requirement, a prerequisite, for the use of military power came up, we thought that was really bad for congressional support for the United Nations, and yet he didn’t understand that. He didn’t have a fundamental understanding of how to promote the United Nations in the United States. Madeleine Albright did. She went around the country after Newt [Newton] Gingrich was elected as Speaker of the House, with the Republican majority attacking the UN, and she tried to rebuild support for it by explaining what it was and what it wasn’t. We thought that Boutros-Ghali symbolized what it shouldn’t be and not what it should be.

That was the core of it. The people around the Secretary General and some diplomats from other countries envisaged the UN role more grandiosely than the United States did, even the Democrats. So we were hyperconscious of that when the U.S. support for the UN was at its low point in 1995, when Congress was threatening more or less to defenestrate, if that’s the right word, the United Nations, to never pay its bills, to never support peacekeeping operations, to never see it as a validator or an arbiter of international activities. We were desperate to save the UN from itself, in a sense.

Boutros-Ghali and Madeleine had this very friendly—When they did their private dinners and they talked about all the problems in the world, Madeleine would come back from these dinners and have this dual reaction. On the one hand how smart he really was about many things, and how much he knew about the world, and yet how blind he was to his own failings. How much of his core thinking grew out of an anti-imperialist, Egyptian mentality that was, in our view, old think, based on an era of European intervention in the affairs of the Arab world that we thought was not analogous to America’s role in the Arab world. Obviously some thought it analogous, but we thought that it was a wrong-headed approach.

So his core views about the role of the United Nations vis-à-vis the United States, and his world views that were anti-imperialist at their core, were anathema to us. That was the root of the problem. People tried to say it was personal, that somehow Madeleine and he didn’t get along, or they tried to say that somehow this was my effort to give his head to Jesse Helms as an appeasement technique for Jesse Helms, but as you can see from the way I’m talking about this, we believed this. Those of us who wanted to save the UN really believed that he was the worst example of a UN Secretariat run amuck. That was the ultimate reason for replacing him. It was an extremely unpopular thing to do in the world. The United States ended up alone, with even the British supporting him.

It was no fun to be at the UN being the only person who was against Boutros-Ghali at the Security Council. We didn’t do this out of any sense of making ourselves popular.

Jesse Helms’s attitude toward the UN wasn’t affected all that much by Boutros-Ghali. It was fun for him and Bob Dole to make fun of his name, but their core of opposition to the UN didn’t change very much until much later, and I think was partly a result of having Kofi Annan there.

Our approach was fully vindicated the day that Richard Holbrooke and Madeleine and others were able to execute the deal that paid back our dues. We argued that if you want us to pay our dues, and get Congress to let us pay our dues, we have to have a different Secretary General. People made fun of us for that; they attacked us for that. Some people in the administration didn’t like it very much. They thought it was a needlessly provocative act. But in the end, the logic that underlay that decision was proven true by the ultimate agreement reached in the second Clinton term, where Richard Holbrooke used some heroic diplomacy, Madeleine helped with the women’s groups, and the whole structure of the compromise that included language on the UN population fund, and this whole set of activities and peacekeeping, that got wrapped up in the repayment of the dues. But it worked.

The proof of a policy, despite all of the screaming and yelling and phony arguments and talking points and diplomatic crap, was in the paying of the dues. It worked. By getting rid of Boutros- Ghali we restored a normalcy to the United States’ relationship with the UN that I acknowledge didn’t become fully normal until there was a Republican President, who wasn’t as vulnerable to attack from the right in Congress and who normalized the payment of dues and the operations there. But we turned it around by making it possible in the second Clinton term for the UN dues to be repaid, and then they kept it on an even keel for subsequent years. That was the core issue; everything else was smoke and mirrors and fires and twigs and whatever you want to call it.

Executing that was one of the more exciting diplomatic things I’ve ever been involved in. It required enormous secrecy for the first year, and frankly Madeleine took the counterintuitive position from the normal UN Ambassadors, who would tend not to advocate that sort of thing. Initially neither Christopher nor the President were advocates of this. They were neutral and were persuaded by her and the group of people that she helped assemble to make the case, which included me and Jim Steinberg and Richard Clarke, the later famous antiterrorism guy. The first memo that I wrote for Madeleine, which she endorsed and edited and had me change many different things, proposed that our preferred option for replacement would be Kofi Annan, but we could never admit that, didn’t admit it.

So in terms of policy execution and policy goals in a tricky thing like this, it was an A-, with the minus being that there were some scratchy parts at the end that perhaps could have been done differently. But in terms of getting what we wanted and pulling it off, we did it.

Strong

In private, did the British and our other European allies have reservations about Boutros-Ghali?

Rubin

Yes, they all did in their own way. The French were most supportive of him. The British recognized his failings and weaknesses, others did as well. But remember, we were the only country in the UN that has this particular view of the United Nations. The European countries differ with us in their sense of the relative importance of the United Nations. Even the British have a much greater bipartisan commitment to participation in the UN. Frankly, they both see the merit of UN diplomacy, but also want the UN to be as strong as possible because they have a permanent seat on the Security Council and it allows them to operate far in excess of their relative power in the international system. So they have an interest in maximizing the strength of the United Nations so that they can maximize their own strength. We were always aware that we and the British, our closest allies on every subject, had a slightly different view of the United Nations.

Strong

When and how did Madeleine Albright sell President Clinton on this decision?

Rubin

I contributed to a couple of articles—I was authorized to help the writers write them. The one I remember best was in the Washington Post. The guy’s name escapes me, but for a while there he was the bureau chief for the Washington Post in ’96. So in terms of basic facts, that’s in there. I can’t remember the date that it all started, except to say that it was roughly a year in advance of the announcement of our veto in the spring of ’96, I think. She and I had begun to talk about this a year or two in advance, as early as ’94 probably. And probably it was inflamed by a number of things that he did in that period.

We had the sense two years out that we probably didn’t want him to have another term. Every time he made a decision it would further secure in our minds the sense that this was the right policy. I would say a year out she had her first conversation with Christopher. Christopher asked for a memo explaining and laying out the reasons for the recommendation. She asked me to write that. Consulting with Jim Steinberg and Dick Clarke and Mike Sheehan at the NSC, I wrote the memo for her. She had some changes, I changed it. Christopher read it, agreed to it. Then she and Christopher went to see the President.

I would guess that these dates are all in those articles, six months before it was announced, something like that. But that was the only piece of paper related to it. It was supposed to be just in Christopher’s hands and our hands. It wasn’t circulated or in any way shown around. I don’t know what Christopher did. I can’t be sure he didn’t circulate it, but we didn’t.

Clinton was reluctant. He knew it would cause a big fight. He knew [Jacques] Chirac really wanted to protect Boutros. He knew that [Hosni] Mubarak really wanted to protect Boutros. He recognized very quickly and very wisely that people were going to be really angry at him, including [Nelson] Mandela and other people he respected. But he understood the logic of this. This is a very Clintonian logic, that you protect your principles by sacrificing tactically. It was classic Clinton politics. You maintain the American support for the UN by making sure that the worst advocate who would tend to alienate your opposition the most is not the symbol of the United Nations.

Riley

Did you have any portfolio for doing any marketing of the idea with people outside the United States?

Rubin

Yes. We had a whole plan. We basically set it in motion with a series of calls by Christopher and the President. We went straight to capitals. We didn’t really bother with New York right away. I can’t remember the exact sequencing. I have that memo somewhere. I should probably try to find it. I’m sure the White House has it.

Riley

It would be in the papers. The other thing is, if you happen to encounter documents—

Rubin

That would be the only document. I think I asked someone. I took nothing with me. I never classified the document because I wrote it myself and I never classified it, so I took it with me, I think, somewhere. I had it somewhere, but that would be the only one.

Riley

You could put it as an appendix to the transcript and treat it with the same degree of protection.

Rubin

I don’t know where the thing is. In any event, there was a whole diplomatic game plan set forth for pulling the trigger. We knew once we told anybody this would go boom, around like wildfire. So we tried to sequence it so that the right people were told first and that the fallout would be minimized. But the biggest mistake we made was that Christopher and his advisors thought that the best way to go forward and make it public was for Christopher to speak to the New York Times diplomatic correspondent, Steve Erlanger, and put it out to the public in that way. I personally think that needlessly alienated a whole group of people here in New York and didn’t give Madeleine a chance to pave the ground.

The way to have done it would have been to spend a day making all your calls, all day, swearing people to secrecy and explaining the logic and the rationale the way that I just did it, and the next day it is in the newspaper. But Madeleine was on the road. She was traveling on a domestic trip selling the UN in California, I think. She couldn’t get everybody on the phone in New York, all of her colleagues. I think that caused needless aggravation in New York. Christopher and his people didn’t give that much weight.

Riley

To somebody who is coming at this subject completely new, what were the arguments in favor of leaving him where he was? You make a compelling case that he was the institution’s own worst enemy.

Rubin

First of all, one of the first rules in diplomacy is don’t make needless enemies. In the end, Boutros’s power wasn’t that great. So while he was an irritation and a problem, it was a manageable problem. Why should you alienate your friends and allies around the world over a personnel decision? You already had him on Libya sanctions; you already had the Cuba situation and the U.S. not paying its dues. That was making the rest of the world frustrated with the United States. Why make it worse by a personnel decision? If you recognized that the UN Secretary’s role in the end was so limited, then you shouldn’t feel like you should risk so many—The costs were too great for the relative gains would be the counterargument.

Strong

Did Clinton speak at the UN once a year?

Rubin

Yes. The General Assembly, plus occasionally there would be other events, but basically it was just once a year, in the fall.

Strong

Did he spend time with the Secretary General when he did that?

Rubin

Yes, short amounts of time. He didn’t develop a particular fondness for him. He doesn’t dislike people easily and Boutros was diplomatic and put on his maximal charms.

Strong

What does this story tell us about Madeleine Albright?

Rubin

She was a tough diplomat. Boutros wrote in his book how this came as a total shock to him, that Madeleine never tipped her hand. She was America’s Ambassador to the UN, not the UN Representative to the United States. She really understood her role as promoting American interests at the United Nations and was prepared to take a lot of heat with her immediate colleagues to achieve what she believed in. She was able to never tip her hand or let on to Boutros-Ghali what was coming. That required an enormous degree of discipline and care and diplomacy in its finest form. Remember, diplomats are serving their country’s interests. If he smelled too early that this was coming, he could have made our lives more difficult.

I think it showed that she was a political Ambassador in the best sense of the word, that she understood the UN’s pros and cons in Washington as well as she did in New York. A lot of the final implementation took place when I had left the UN mission to go to the reelection campaign of President Clinton in July through November. That was when the toughest period was. She used to tease me about that, how I got her into this mess and she was taking all the shit and I was down in Washington. It was only half teasing; the rest was serious. What else does it tell us about Madeleine? I think I’ve said what I can think of.

Riley

Were there any wrinkles whatsoever in the designation of a replacement?

Rubin

Yes. There were blocked votes and several ballots. It took quite a while of balloting to remove the French objections to Kofi Annan, which weren’t real. They liked him fine. I remember one of the funny parts. About a year before, or nine months beforehand, we knew that one of the requirements of a Secretary General was that they speak French. That’s a sine qua non for the French. So there was a dinner party at Richard Holbrooke’s house and Kofi Annan was there. We discovered that I was sitting next to Kofi Annan’s wife. I had the task of without ever letting on why to figure out whether he spoke French from his wife. I think I found out yes. There were other ways to find out, but it was one of the things that we did.

Wrinkles. As I said, the premature revelation by a day perhaps of the U.S. decision was a wrinkle that there was a disagreement between the folks in Washington and us about how to go about it. I think their view was that it was more important to lock in stone the decision by putting out the decision than to worry about some of the consequences. We thought that both were manageable.

There were some difficult moments with the Organization of African Unity, but I was gone by then. I was at the Clinton reelection campaign. Then the whole idea of letting Kofi Annan come forward naturally—The way we did that was to say that we were open and certainly would prefer that the Africans get a second term, that previous Secretary Generals had served two terms. The Africans were arguing that they were going to lose. Because Boutros-Ghali was technically an African as an Egyptian, they were going to lose their second term. So we said we’d be thrilled to have an African.

Then there were some really not particularly well-qualified Africans who were put forward, and Kofi Annan naturally came to the top of the list.

Riley

Did Mandela play a role in this?

Rubin

Mandela I believe was convinced by Boutros-Ghali to be his advocate. I think that Boutros-Ghali felt that he had Mandela in his pocket and that Mandela would turn President Clinton around. The tenacity of President Clinton was that he found a way to maintain an incredibly close relationship with Nelson Mandela and yet not say yes to him on this subject. That would be a very effective quality of President Clinton. I at that time had very little contact with President Clinton. Before the Presidential reelection campaign, I had been in a room in a corner when he greeted some people and had never been introduced to him other than in the most pro forma way as sort of a hanger-on in the corner.

The first time I ever came into contact with him was on the reelection campaign, when I was charged with preparing the dossier on Bob Dole’s weaknesses in foreign affairs. I was allowed to present to him in a group for about what was supposed to be 20 minutes. It lasted about 5-1/2 before everybody started interrupting, jumping in, and I lost the floor.

Riley

Was that commonplace?

Rubin

I guess. It was my only experience. I was not privy to those meetings. I had never been part of one. That was my only real contact with him. Then later, in debate prep for debates with Bob Dole, I had another contact with him and had a few moments to speak, a very few.

Riley

We’ll want to talk about that later. Is Mandela a case by himself as somebody who had a personal relationship with the President who had a gravity you had to be aware of when you were working on these issues, or were there others in the international community who also had a relationship with the President that made it somewhat more complicated for you?

Rubin

I can’t remember precisely, but we were aware, and in the memo we laid out those issues. Mandela was one we identified, Chirac was one we identified, and others. I can’t remember any beyond those two whom we identified as problems that were going to arise if we made this decision. But we were well aware of Mubarak, Mandela, and Chirac. We understood very well that there was a fear of policy risks going off-track where the Secretary of State and the UN Ambassador ruled or the policy could have been shaved or mitigated. [interruption]

Where were we?

Strong

I was going to suggest we go to Bosnia.

Riley

Was there anything else about the Secretary General business that we ought to attend to before we get there?

Rubin

No, I think I gave you the gist of it.

Riley

Then let’s do Bosnia.

Rubin

This is such a big subject, I don’t really know where to start.

Strong

Let me ask one question that sometimes helps in starting. Is there a good account of the Bosnia decision making that you’ve read for the early Clinton years?

Rubin

Well, the Dayton History Project, the front section of that.

Strong

OK.

Rubin

Although it is quite skewed toward Dayton and misses a lot of the drama of ’93 and ’94 where things were going badly, I’m a particular fan of the Dayton History Project because in a footnote it identifies something I wrote as the first policy paper that triggered the change in policy in 1995. So you can imagine I kind of like that. What happened is that at a low moment Madeleine asked me, and I had been part of this ongoing discussion with her about the disaster of our Bosnia policy for two years and nobody had been able to change it. Some felt it was worse than others. Some obviously didn’t think it was so bad, or we wouldn’t have done it.

At a crucial moment, she was going to go to a principals committee meeting and she said to me, OK, what would we do if we were going to change it? I sat at a computer—It was the first thing I ever wrote for her of a policy nature, and wrote out these five principles that should guide us on one piece of paper. She read from them at a meeting and used them and it had a galvanizing effect on the interagency process.

Suddenly, within a day, I got all these phone calls from people all over the government asking for a copy of this paper Madeleine had. The people who normally provided her this paperwork, like David Scheffer and Rick, didn’t even know what it was because I had written it for her. So I gave out a couple of copies and basically it said that we had to stop making the presence of UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force] a pillar of our policy because so long as UNPROFOR was a pillar of our policy, the British and French could veto the use of air power, justifiably veto it, because it was their troops on the ground that would potentially suffer retaliation.

The paper made the point that until we tell the British and French that our commitment to help pull them out is time limited, they are in the catbird seat on this policy. Now Richard Holbrooke and some of the others—and again, I wasn’t part of the inner circle in those days—Their account tends to focus on the presentation to the President that he is going to have to send in ground troops anyway to pull them out and that he had already signed off on that when he signed off on the operational plan to help evacuate UNPROFOR. I never understood why that was so crucial a factor in the decision making, but that’s the way all the histories are written.

My view was that we reached a point at which everybody hated the policy, everybody now, and the things that Madeleine had been saying for a year or two, suddenly the same things sounded so much more brilliant because they answered the dilemma. So she and Tony Lake teamed up together to change this. I guess Lake’s version would be that he allowed her to be the promoter so that he could make the final compromise. I don’t know. I wasn’t in the room. But I know that the piece of paper and the subsequent memo that she submitted to the President are also reflected in the Dayton History Project.

Clinton, at some point when he realized that policy was going to hell and the ideas that Madeleine and Tony Lake were pushing were starting to win the argument for the first time, in ’95 in the spring-summer period, asked for Lake, Christopher, Madeleine, and the Pentagon, Perry, to write him memos to read over the weekend or something. I wrote Madeleine’s first draft. She changed many things. I edited it per her instructions. It was not so much an operational execution paper but a paper that argued for a change in policy.

The change in policy was to tell the Europeans that this is what we were going to do, and when they responded with their traditional argument that you can’t do this because we have troops on the ground and you want the troops on the ground, is for the first time to say, “We don’t want the troops on the ground anymore; we’re prepared to see UNPROFOR go away. If you want us to help you, extract them; that has to be done within the next six months.” I believe that shock value is what made the Europeans realize that America had just changed policy. Everything else was sort of similar, but that was the change. But that’s just my personal perspective. Every other account puts a lot more emphasis on Clinton realizing that he had to help extract UNPROFOR.

The only way for us to take charge of the policy was to eliminate the European veto, and that was the thrust of Madeleine’s arguments. So I would be interested—I don’t know what happened at those meetings and what drove Clinton. I’ve seen Tony Lake’s version was put out by Bob Woodward in his book. I don’t know. I may be deluding myself into thinking that this had more of a value than it did, but I do remember and was proud of the fact that the Dayton History Project recognized that this paper—and I don’t think I was even interviewed for it. I had this role that wasn’t in the chart, so I don’t know what changed, how it changed, what the real dynamics were in the White House. I’ve seen all these things where Clinton is getting really mad and says, “This is enough.” Al Gore sees the picture of the woman in the newspaper and all that stuff—So that’s certainly true, but how do you change the policy? What do you do?

When Lake goes on the mission, what’s different about this mission than Christopher’s mission? The difference is that we don’t care. We’re not going to let them veto the policy. How do you show that? It has to be that you say that UNPROFOR can go away. That’s the logic, but I don’t know the ins and outs of that. I know that Madeleine was driving the anti–status quo for some time. I know that she came back from a meeting with the President, who said, “And I agree with the arguments in Madeleine’s memo,” after he read it. But she didn’t really tell me everything that happened in the meeting. So I don’t know if there were other things going on, the extraction plan’s effect, and all that other stuff. I just don’t know.

Strong

Why were the Europeans incapable of developing an effective policy?

Rubin

Because they didn’t want to use force against the Serbs. They basically didn’t care. The British have a very patronizing attitude toward most non-Westerners. They like drawing lines on maps. I don’t think they were anti-Muslim in any prejudiced sense, but I think they just didn’t care. They figured these crazy Balkan types are going to kill each other and we want to manage the problem. That’s what we do, we middle-sized powers.

Riley

I want to ask a different question.

Rubin

The French were deeply contradictory. At some moment they would seem to recognize the whole thing and then not in the implementation because of UNPROFOR. It always came back to the ground troops. That’s why for me the way to cut the Gordian knot was to eliminate our support for UNPROFOR. Until we were prepared to utter that sentence to the Europeans, they didn’t believe our policy had changed. They heard us before, bombing and for this and for that, but in the end we had to cede to them the right to control things on the ground because they had troops on the ground. You had a question.

Riley

My question was about—Bob is a foreign affairs specialist, I’m not. But the lift part of lift and strike—At one point you’ve embraced this.

Rubin

Personally.

Riley

Personally, as a recommendation.

Rubin

I remember there was a vote. Finally we acceded to the Bosnian request to just have a vote on it in the UN, even though we knew we’d be vetoed or lose.

Riley

Right.

Rubin

I remember having a lot of—U.S. diplomacy normally doesn’t like to lose votes, so we don’t put things forward if we think we’re going to lose. It took a year of the Bosnians saying, “We want the world to see that they’re blocking us from defending ourselves, and we don’t care if we lose.” At some point Congress is pushing for the lift. Biden and Dole, Biden and Lieberman, Dole and Lieberman, some other—they’re all pushing lift, lift, lift. So the congressional desire for lift, combined with the Bosnian desire for lift, led us to say, “OK, let’s let them vote, and then Congress will see that it ain’t our fault.”

So we let them vote. I remember Madeleine having her hand out—That was pretty early on—and the British Representative having his hand down. He’s sitting behind her. It was in the New York Times. She kept that picture on her refrigerator for quite some time because she felt it symbolized her opposition to what was going on. Then I remember having a lot of fun—Anytime anything important happened on Bosnia, she allowed me to jump over the whole bureaucracy that normally supported her. That was the issue where I was allowed to play. So I remember we had fun in the General Assembly lining up votes for a similar resolution that passed but was meaningless.

Strong

At what point do we learn that the Bosnians are getting some arms and help?

Rubin

I don’t know anything about that stuff. I know there was the whole Croatia-Iran supposedly covert operation. I’d love to know what the facts were. It’s not clear to me that the U.S. did as much as everybody thinks we did. My impression from Madeleine—Tony Lake always acted like he knew some secret, but my impression is that there were less covert operations there than meet the eye. A lot of people were writing as if this were planned, but I sensed it was more by omission than commission.

Strong

Was Albright getting regular CIA briefings?

Rubin

Yes, I think she got all that stuff, but covert operations—I don’t know what access she would have had. Certainly she had all the daily information and analysis, but to what extent she was getting information about covert operations, I don’t know.

Riley

The contacts that you had on the Hill, were they of any benefit to you or the Ambassador?

Rubin

I was very reluctant to cross the line. I was happy to work as hard as I could inside the government to achieve what I wanted. I never would—If I could have any influence, I tended not to denounce people who were saying things in opposition to government policy like Bob Dole and others and was sort of secretly pleased with it, but I never did anything about it. Occasionally maybe I would run into such people and we would exchange knowing conspiratorial words, but it was meaningless. I know that one of the guys who worked with me for a while, named John Menzies, was my deputy and he ended up as the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia. He was doing more of that sort of thing. He was a USIA officer. He was more directly talking to Dole staff and doing things like that. But I didn’t tell on him or anything. I just didn’t do anything about it.

Riley

Did your office have a congressional liaison shop?

Rubin

Yes. But that would have been done according to Christopher’s UN Bosnia policy. I do remember having some fun once. The New York press office had a task that one of the permanent bureaucracy executed, which was to get the New York Times at 12 o’clock—This was pre-Internet—and cut it up and fax it to Warren Christopher wherever he was in the world, to get the first available copy of the New York Times because he wanted to read it and his people wanted to read it and there wasn’t an Internet in 1993. The guy who used to do this had been doing it for years. I used to rearrange the pages so I always put some massive disaster in Bosnia or some denouncing of our policy by John Burns or op-ed at the top. That was my little act of—I don’t even know what you would call it—but that was my slight act of disobedience.

Strong

To what extent is the sequence of issues that came before the administration important? Was it harder to do something about Rwanda because of Somalia? Was it easier to do something later on about Bosnia because of Rwanda? Should people be paying attention to those arcs?

Rubin

Yes, there’s no question about that. Somalia demoralized the activists in the administration. The lesson—

Riley

Which activists?

Rubin

Madeleine and others who wanted to do things abroad.

Strong

The “liberal interventionists,” they’re sometimes called.

Rubin

Yes, the ones who wanted to see American engagement in problem areas, because we had tried to engage in a problem area and it was a disaster. So we were deterred by Somalia, especially the White House post-Somalia paralysis created by Somalia and all of the sort of military Clinton problems—gays in the military, the salute, the heckling of the President, and all that stuff that went on in the first year made it hard to be an advocate of the use of military power. So the truth about Rwanda from my perspective—again I didn’t have much of a role—I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about it and never really knew the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi until well afterward. It was as someone who had observed how elite opinion had screamed for action in Bosnia. There was no screaming on Rwanda.

As far as I recall there were no op-eds, no New Republic editorials, no columnists, nobody of significance attacking us for doing nothing about Rwanda because liberal internationalists were scared of Africa after Somalia. The reaction was, “Well, let’s just hope to do something on Bosnia.” It’s hard enough as it is. I don’t remember any pressure. I remember pressure from UN journalists who had bought into the idea that passing a resolution and sending peacekeepers was tantamount to acquiescing in genocide. But there was no American elite opinion coming at us about it the way there was in Bosnia. There were no pages to rearrange in the New York Times to put the columnist who was advocating action at the top. There were no such columnists on Rwanda.

So to the extent there was pressure, it came from New Zealand, whose Ambassador decided to really play out the horror of Rwanda in the Security Council and make it all very emotional. New Zealand wasn’t, of course, offering to send any troops, even a small contingent relative to their size, so I was quite cynical about the New Zealand Ambassador. I thought this was fine if New Zealand was backing this up with a proportional-sized troop contingent; then he had a right to speak. Just as we didn’t have a really good leg to stand on in Bosnia until we were prepared to take risks, I thought it was PR [public relations] for the New Zealand Ambassador to spin up the journalists into thinking that passing a resolution was going to translate into sending a peacekeeping force.

We ultimately did pass a peacekeeping resolution, but there were no peacekeepers to send until after it was over and the French went in unilaterally and we endorsed that.

So I had conflicting views during Rwanda. I had to defend U.S. policy. I hated it. I thought it was stupid to not just let the resolution pass and then show these people that that’s not going to fix anything. But I also was stung myself by Somalia, so I wasn’t about to go outside the channels and make a case for Rwanda.

On Bosnia I felt I could do that because I had some knowledge and experience and a relationship with Madeleine that was long-standing on Bosnia. But Rwanda just happened. I didn’t even know the place existed. I’m exaggerating, but it was just another African country on the list of peacekeeping operations until one day I got a call from the New York Times foreign editor asking me to get the Dutch or the Belgians to help evacuate their correspondent, so I dutifully found the Belgian Representative and said, “This New York Times reporter is stuck in Kigali. Can you get them on the convoy that’s leaving?” In the following three or four weeks we talked about Rwanda a lot, but the first few weeks were to evacuate everybody, and the next few weeks were about our peacekeeping resolution that had no peacekeepers. It was a classic—

We had decided as a matter of principle to help save the UN to not support resolutions that were meaningless, toothless. So I developed a little bit of righteous indignation with some critics who were insisting that we pass this resolution by saying, “So what? We’ll pass it and nothing will happen.” But I also knew that there was something horrible going on, and why should we look like we’re to blame? That just seemed stupid to me. So I fed into Madeleine—

Riley

We being the UN, or we being the United States?

Rubin

The U.S. So I fed into Madeleine’s anger with Washington. Her instructions were to oppose the peacekeeping operation because it wasn’t going to pass our criteria for realism. I was there when she had screaming matches with Susan Rice and Tony Lake and Richard Clarke and other people, and eventually they acquiesced in letting us pass the thing. Given we passed so many resolutions that were toothless, it really wasn’t the problem. The problem was Rwanda, not the habit of passing toothless resolutions. That seemed like a small—We called it a “green- eyeshade point” rather than a point that mattered.

So I hated defending it. I remember being in with like a hundred journalists from all over the world trying to explain this at the UN. To be totally honest about it, I don’t think I comprehended the scope of the massacre particularly well. It wasn’t until afterward—I remember starting to read in the newspapers about the story that really affected me. Some white woman who lived in Rwanda her whole life fled and said how she had a driver who was a Tutsi and a gardener who was a Hutu and she thought that they were all just friends; they were Rwandans. They seemed to hang out together as far as she knew. Then one day her gardener killed her driver because he was a Tutsi. She knew that she didn’t understand this place at all. That affected me a lot, but I was slow to understand it.

Certainly there was zero discussion by any serious country or any serious person in our country to intervene. I do get somewhat self-righteous about the fact that everybody who now asks you about Rwanda wasn’t writing about Rwanda at the time, didn’t know where Rwanda was on the map at the time, and didn’t spend any of their available newsprint or TV time or moral indignation on saying anything about it at the time. Now they ask you this all-knowing question: “How could you have not done anything about Rwanda?” I know that there were no op-eds. I’d love somebody to prove that someday. I’ve never had the time to go back and study the media around that month, but my job was to be aware of that sort of thing.

Strong

That has been the issue in the Foreign Affairs piece, in the Atlantic Monthly piece. There have been several that try and trace the timeline and ask the question, When could senior policy makers reasonably be expected to understand the scale? That’s contested.

Rubin

So when is it—?

Strong

It is consistent with what you are saying.

Riley

In the other interviews that we conducted with senior foreign policy officials, this almost always come up. Haiti becomes an issue partly because Randall Robinson is on a hunger strike—

Rubin

I’ll get back to that because that is important. I remember Haiti very well because Madeleine had a pretty important role and did something unprecedented, which was to get the United Nations to authorize the United States to invade a small Caribbean nation, which at the time seemed quite remarkable. But the thing I remember about it, to get to your sequencing question, is I remember turning to Mike Sheehan as Madeleine was building up her head of steam on this, working with Tony Lake again as the activists, despite their personal problems.

Mike Sheehan ended up being a counterterrorism czar and all that kind of stuff, but at the time he did peacekeeping for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. I remember Mike and I had the view that we needed to win one, that we’d had a failure in Somalia, we had a failure in Rwanda, we had a failure, if I’m getting my timing correct, in Bosnia, and we were looking pretty lame. And we had the failure in Haiti with the boat being turned around. Mike and I—It was a very political point, but it was a geostrategic point at the same time, because we needed to restore some deterrence to the United States. We needed to get people again to think that we could succeed, even if it was a tiny Caribbean nation. That’s a start. So that was my reason for egging Madeleine on on Haiti.

That was the beginning, because then there was the Iraq-Kuwait thing in ’94. Then there were the ships, Taiwan, and by the time the second term rolled around, and Bosnia in ’95, Clinton had figured out how to do this stuff. First Haiti, if I have my chronology correct. Then Kuwait in ’94. I think Kuwait in ’94 is after Haiti, but I don’t remember precisely. I think it is. So first you do Haiti; it works. Saddam Hussein in ’94 as he’s trying to scare the Kuwaitis. Then you turn around the Europeans on Bosnia, and suddenly the U.S. is starting to look like it knows how to do business and we’re recovering from this hole we were in. Then the big one was the Chinese and the aircraft carriers, which I had nothing to do with and I don’t think Madeleine had anything to do with, frankly, although she might have done things that she never told me about. So by the time ’96 was done, you felt, OK, we know how to do coercive diplomacy and marry force and diplomacy. I think the ultimate example of that was Kosovo.

Strong

I want to stick with Rwanda for just a minute and ask the broad question that a historian or political scientist might be interested in. I think your account does conform with many of the others that you can already read. Is an issue not an issue if it doesn’t have traction in the international media? We’re accustomed to thinking of the CNN [cable news network] effect the other way: Show some alarming pictures and people will rush around and do something. But I wonder if there are no pictures—

Rubin

It doesn’t happen.

Strong

If it isn’t being talked about, then there can’t be a policy?

Rubin

I think that’s taking it to the other extreme. I think it’s hard to generate backing, traction, enthusiasm for doing something with a high cost in the absence of public or congressional or allied intensity unless you already believe something. The Taiwan case is an example where it wasn’t in the media particularly. They were doing all this stuff, as far as I could tell, quite secretly. They thought there wasn’t a lot of international attention to the Chinese intimidation of Taiwan. It suddenly sort of burst on the scene. An aircraft carrier was—You don’t want to take it too far. But in terms of doing something that is hard without high-level—You have to ask the question what makes an issue an issue, as you said. I guess an issue is an issue when intelligence or public information comes to the attention of a policy maker.

I suspect there are issues in which policy makers do things that are difficult before it becomes a public issue on the expectation that it will once it is known or on the understanding that it really, really matters. So Taiwan and China might be an example of that. It really, really matters that the Taiwanese never get the notion that we’re going to save them, and it really, really matters that the Chinese don’t think that we won’t come save them. Those kinds of things matter, because if you don’t have the duality, you have the potential for war. So acting very early to prevent either of those things, the Taiwanese being sure we’ll save them, or the Chinese being sure we won’t, is something you have to do. I think people at the top understand that. That might not require public information. That might all be done as the result of private information and still be a hard decision.

Riley

I have something completely off this, but I know we’re running short of time and I wanted to make sure I got to it before we quit. There’s one name that hasn’t come up who was on the evidence an important foreign policy maker early—Colin Powell.

Rubin

Right, I didn’t bring that up.

Riley

Where was he in this and how were his relations with—

Rubin

Madeleine told me almost immediately about the famous exchange she had with him about Bosnia. It happened either a few weeks before—Neither of you happen to remember when it happened, do you?

Riley

He was gone—

Rubin

In the summer, but it happened in the spring or earlier, February—I think it happened very early on, January, February, March, and I wasn’t there yet. But she was quick to tell me about it once I came on board and developed confidence with her. She was, I thought, quite brave about it all, because he was the most influential, intimidating presence on the scene to this new crew that hadn’t been around for 12 years. The world had changed and he was a national hero. So for her to stand up to the General in front of all the boys couldn’t have been that easy, but she did it and that’s one of the reasons why she was so admirable. But it came up for us because he escaped blame for Somalia when he was as involved as anybody, as culpable as anybody, if not more so, given his position. Yet he skated out of it and let Aspin take the fall.

It wasn’t until the Armed Services Committee did their report a year or two later that everyone noticed that Colin Powell was as guilty as everyone else. I think that infuriated—Because Colin Powell was the symbol of everything I was against from the moment I became conscious of the intensity of this foreign policy debate.

I remember him writing an op-ed in ’92 when Bush was President, dripping with sarcasm and arrogance, directed at me, “Those voices who think we can—” It was about air drops. He was against air drops, humanitarian aid, to the people in Srebrenica. He didn’t want to send aircraft over the skies to drop food and medicine to these people because he saw it as a slippery slope to ground troops. I hated that. I thought it was contemptible. I was always working behind the scenes to undermine Colin Powell for that reason. I thought it was the worst kind of bureaucratic timidity that didn’t reflect American values and anything that I believed in. It started with that, air drops. I think about that now. It’s hard to put yourself back in 1992 when Colin Powell was stopping us from doing anything because of— [interruption]

Riley

Do we need to stop?

Rubin

I’m fine, because I’m getting into this. [laughter]

It was an intimidating influence. What was I then, 32, 33 years old? And he was a great American hero, smooth as silk. When I read in his book how many hours he practiced his briefing for the Gulf War I, the famous press briefing—He spent three days practicing it. He was a salesman in many respects, and he was really good at it. He was smart and compelling. But what he was selling from that period was inaction, very effectively. I remember that op-ed, which it turns out he wrote on nobody’s authority as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to try to stem the tide of those advocating doing something in Bosnia.

I remember Madeleine had a sort of running intellectual debate with him, which started in that meeting and continued on for some time. It reached its sort of happy conclusion with a David Remnick article in the New Yorker about a dinner party at her house after Bosnia had worked. His book had just come out and I think the comment Madeleine had made was that it wasn’t a particularly good time for that book to finally come out, when the very essence of his strategic mission in life was proven incorrect. You could not use limited force; it had to be overwhelming or not at all. Of course this very mission is what he failed at in the Bush administration, which is a separate point. But the man’s whole life’s work was premised on the idea of never getting us into another Vietnam. That was the only single thread that tied his entire career together. And when it came time for him to stop it, he did nothing of significance.

Strong

Is that the central intellectual question of American foreign policy in the 1990s: when and how to use force?

Rubin

I think so. Certainly there are a lot of other things about American foreign policy that are important to figure out after the end of the Cold War about our place and our values and bipolarity versus unipolarity versus multipolarity and all of those things, but they all come together in this question about the use of force and how you use force and peacekeeping and criteria and Bosnia and Somalia. These are the first test cases for what you do when you have no constraint of the Cold War on American power and how much the Vietnam syndrome of casualties, which wasn’t really fixed until 9/11—

From the end of the Cold War until 9/11 was this period where the American people had a continuingly broad vision of what you could accomplish in the world, but a rather narrow view of what tools we should use to do that. That was frustrating for those of us who wanted to engage but felt like the tools were not available. It wasn’t until 9/11 that—It sounds crass and cruel and heartless—the country learned how to accept casualties. After Somalia it was the low point. That’s the world in which I suddenly arrived in the summer of ’93. I’m just learning where my desk is and Somalia happens. That made my government experience the first couple of years extremely confusing, but it straightened itself out per the sequence that we mentioned earlier.

Strong

I think people would agree with that sequence or the change that took place in the Clinton administration. By the time the second term begins, they do.

Rubin

Yes, it’s pretty accepted.

Strong

Yes, it’s accepted. What explains that learning curve?

Rubin

It’s above my pay grade. It’s the President.

Strong

It’s the President—

Rubin

I’ve read all the accounts, and everybody has their own opinions, but it was not something that I observed. I derivatively surmised it, but I don’t have any primary information because I never had access to the President throughout the whole—

Strong

But you served someone who had a relatively consistent position all the way through.

Rubin

Correct, and it began to feel less lonely as the years went by. But even as late as Kosovo there were big, big fights. In my article I referred to one where she had to convince Sandy Berger that it was worth threatening force in Kosovo first, before it even got to the President. But by the time it did, he wasn’t resistant. Now whether Sandy was resisting on his behalf or on Sandy’s assumption of how he would resist, I don’t know. That’s why I don’t feel like I have primary information. But it felt less lonely. In the second term I didn’t feel out of sync at all.

She was Secretary of State—Clinton had gone through this series of events—I remember in the first term hearing a lot of very senior people always complaining about Clinton personally, “He did this and then he did that, and he pulled the rug out from under us.” I never heard any of that in the second term, really. Even Monica [Lewinsky], we’ll get to that. I just never saw evidence of the Monica distraction or the Monica weakness. Maybe I internalized the Monica weakness versus the Republicans and just accepted it. But in terms of hearing—I remember going into a room just by accident in ’94 where Strobe Talbott and Tom Donilon and Tony were all waiting by the phone for some decision on Haiti. They were pretty tough on old Clinton about whether he was going to wimp out and things like that. I thought, Whoa! Because I lived in New York, I wasn’t exposed to this kind of thing all the time.

The point I’m making is not to be mean to them or to be rude. It’s just that that kind of discussion never happened in the second term except to the extent of a question as to whether Lewinsky had weakened him. But I never saw evidence of it.

Riley

I think that’s a good place to stop.

March 11, 2008

Riley

There were a couple of things that I had wanted to ask you about. One—and this relates back to the first term—was whether you recall any specific meetings after the ’94 midterms dealing with retargeting U.S. foreign policy or how you were going to deal with the existence of an opposition Congress?

Rubin

Yes, I remember, after the loss to Gingrich was absorbed, that the President got together with some group of top people and said that there are three categories of things: There are things that we can agree with them on; there are things that we can negotiate with them on; and there are things that we have to say, “Hell no,” to. He gave instructions to the team to that effect, particularly with regard to the support for the United Nations.

As a result of that, Madeleine either was asked or decided to make a real effort in the coming year to travel around the United States to explain why the United Nations was of benefit to the United States. She at that point began to do a lot more domestic travel in defense of the U.S. involvement with the United Nations. That came out of this mandate from the President, along the lines I just suggested. It was designed to be a very hard-nosed defense—That it serves our national security interest in the following ways. Where we disagree it doesn’t have a negative impact on us—with a high emphasis on our ability to veto anything that could conceivably damage our interests.

They had created, they the Republicans, a false image of a United Nations that was separate and apart from the member states that could somehow affect our interests domestically or internationally. During those trips Madeleine began to talk about the black helicopters landing on your lawn furniture, which was her sort of funny way of debunking this myth that existed that somehow in parts of the United States the UN had its own force and was this evil entity. A lot of time was spent on that, man hours, women hours, in the post-Gingrich period.

Strong

Would you typically have made those trips with her?

Rubin

Almost every one, yes.

Riley

On these trips are you picking up signals that confirm people’s general interpretation of what was going on with the election in ’94, that this was a turning inward or a turning against the administration?

Rubin

Yes, there was a lot of effort out of the NSC to explain that the implication of the Gingrich Contract was isolationism. In its broadest sense, what we had to fight against was isolationism. Then, specifically with regard to the United Nations, the idea that the UN could hurt us. So that was the broad thrust of our response.

Riley

An important turning point after this is the Oklahoma City bombing. That’s where conventional wisdom is that a lot of this turned. Does that comport with your—?

Rubin

Yes, but it wasn’t something I was involved with. I think we all recognized that the President handled that with great skill and that it helped restore the relevance of the Presidency and some things like that that were being called into question, the battle with Congress and Newt Gingrich complaining about not entering the front entrance. We felt as if they were starting to look bad and that Clinton’s whole political strategy was oriented toward letting them destroy themselves with their own ideas and their own behavior. Yes, I think we sensed that things were getting better, because it also coincided, as I said in the last discussion, with this better management of international crisis.

Strong

Just one or two questions. There was probably not a typical day working at the United Nations, but in your work, how much of the day was spent with care and feeding of the media people you were interacting with? How much was spent working with the rest of the UN delegation staff? You already mentioned that there was a daily conference call to coordinate message. Were there other regular features to your workload?

Rubin

Days were obviously very different, but if there was something big happening in the world that had a UN component, as the Cuban thing was later an example of in ’96, that would mean me having an enormous amount of contact with Washington, either in the State Department or the White House or both. I tended to approach both of them both seeking guidance about how to talk about something and ensuring that Madeleine’s level of public exposure was acceptable. I obviously wanted her to do as much as possible, provided they were the right kind of interviews or appearances, but she had given me a very strong mandate not to do something that the White House was wary of. So that was the hardest part of my job, no question, to balance the desire as a communications person for Madeleine to get her on the TV and do it in a way that was consistent with policy guidance and didn’t irritate her colleagues too much.

Strong

I have a related question. If there was a story in the newspaper about Madeleine Albright that referred to some unnamed source in the administration, and you were not the unnamed source, did you always know who it was? Or could you read those stories and know where it came from?

Rubin

Better than most. There were certainly times when I didn’t know where it was and I had suspicions, but I learned in that job that more often than not, you don’t know where real leaks come from, real sensitive information. But when it comes to interpretive things, you can usually guess pretty well. If it’s like a classic great scoop where the New York Times finds out about some secret program, my experience is that you’re usually wrong in your guesses. If it is one of those things that relates to an internal policy battle, you can usually guess pretty well. But knowing who talks to reporters on background, you know there were a lot of them that were authorized. A lot of them I did myself or I authorized someone else to do it, and I was thought to be pretty good at making sure that the unauthorized quotes were kept to a minimum, partly by flooding them with authorized stuff.

Riley

Most White Houses are very concerned about leaks, unauthorized.

Rubin

Right.

Riley

Did you get a sense, at least when you were in, whether leaks were something—

Rubin

It wasn’t until I got to the State Department that I really played in that world, because the really troublesome stories, from the White House perspective, tended to be State, Defense, within the NSC. They were in the policy-making process. As I said earlier, Madeleine was involved in that, but not the senior player, so it would have been unusual for her to be part of those stories or have her interests affected by those stories.

Strong

What was the press coverage like for the speculation about who would be Secretary of State in the second term?

Riley

I’m going to ask you to hold off, because there are a couple of things I want to get to before we get to that transition, including the fact that you have a campaign experience in ’96 that we want to explore. But let me just follow up in a couple of areas. What about terrorism at the UN? Historically that’s going to be important for people looking back. Was it something that you were particularly attentive to? I think the first World Trade Center bombing must have predated your service.

Rubin

Yes, I remember coming in seeing this was the entrance where they tried to do this or tried to do that, right? You had it in your book—expelling a Sudanese diplomat for that sort of thing. Since the goal of this is candor, this was an area where I didn’t have natural access to information. So if it was about Bosnia, I knew who to call and I would personally be comfortable talking to people about that sort of thing. But this was new to me, and Madeleine Albright was very goody-goody about classified information and security. She didn’t share as much with me as I know her colleagues shared with their aides, even when we were very close.

I know that she was extra careful about that sort of thing and I know that people at my level, in other situations—forget the UN now—this was her general attitude. She was really careful about that sort of thing, very goody-goody, if you take my meaning. So when that sort of thing came up, I was presented with a set of facts and information and it would have been unnatural for me to quiz people about the facts or the policy or the reasons. I was basically a functionary when it came to things like terrorism, as opposed to certain subjects that I was particularly familiar with or had the relationship with Madeleine Albright about. So on a thing like expelling a Sudanese diplomat, I just got the stuff from the security people. They told me what to say and I said it, and I refused comment on anything else. It was a flash in the pan that I considered myself a functionary.

Riley

That’s very helpful to figure out exactly—

Rubin

I would say at this time—I’ve thought about this a lot. The first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden—One funny episode that I should relate was from a journalist, before I got into the government in ’92, in the context of some Saudi rich guy who was a bad guy. When the Somalia effort failed, I remember being—Madeleine was asked by President Clinton—The team was asked to publish op-eds defending our Somalia policy. For whatever reason, her op-ed was going to be in the New York Times. I can’t remember. As we constructed the material we would use to argue for our position there, somebody told me something, this is October ’93, November ’93, December ’93, that I thought was a really good argument that was related to terrorists helping the Somalia rebels or whatever we called the Aidid people, and using the name Osama bin Laden.

So I thought, Great, this is a pretty good argument; it shows that this has a national security component too. It’s not just do-gooder stuff. Our speechwriter took it out, the guy who wrote the article, drafted it, whatever you want to say. I argued with him. He won the argument. I didn’t think about it again until many years later, when it became apparent that there was evidence to suggest that at least some people said, and it is unclear to me still what the facts are, but at least some people said that bin Laden sent people to help Aidid to weaken the United States. Again, I don’t know what the facts are today, but that is one of those things that people say is true and I first heard about it in ’93 in that way.

Riley

OK, just a couple more things. We talked about Colin Powell, but we didn’t talk about his successor.

Rubin

Shali [John Shalikashvili]. During this period there was a real bond that developed between Madeleine and Shalikashvili over several factors. Later it turned out that he also found something out about his parents that was less flattering than she found out about her parents, or certainly different. He and she had a real bond over this.

Riley

You said “during this period.”

Rubin

During the first term, when she was sent by the President on this Presidential mission with Shalikashvili to eastern Europe, to Poland, I can’t remember whether it was Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic at that time, and Hungary. The Hungarian on the trip was a guy named Charles Gati. So they had this Czech, and I guess Shali had the Polish account for some reason, I can’t remember his roots precisely. They really bonded over that and that gave them a chance— They spent a week together—the top woman, the top military guy, and our staffs—traveling together, eating together, living together, drinking together. Bonding is a fair summary.

It was extremely helpful, because she felt for the first time she could have constructive conversations with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about issues in between war and peace—in the general peacekeeping, peace operations—where she wasn’t getting the Powell doctrine spit back to her of all or nothing. She wasn’t getting looked down upon and patronized by Powell.

Riley

To your knowledge, she didn’t have any input with regard to the choice of Powell’s successor.

Rubin

Not to my knowledge.

Riley

It probably would have been unusual.

Rubin

I never heard about it.

Riley

Did you go to Beijing for the Women’s Conference? We have to ask you about that.

Rubin

Good, because that will prepare me for my interview. That is a question.

Riley

Excellent.

Rubin

Again, it is important to put in perspective the fact that—Do you know when it was? Ninety-five?

Riley

I think it was late ’94. Let me check the timeline.

Rubin

I can’t remember if it was ’94 or ’95.

Riley

You’re right, September ’95.

Rubin

At this time I was two years into my work there and I had developed a very good relationship with Madeleine Albright, but not yet the relationship I ended up with. It was the middle of the evolution. When Madeleine was with her Cabinet colleagues or with the President or the Vice President or the First Lady, for good or ill, she felt that her staff shouldn’t be around. Although Madeleine Albright treated me in general probably better than any boss has ever treated a subordinate, it was in this area that she felt most uncomfortable. So I was not in the room a lot or I was particularly not told things or had to surmise or guess things or pester her or something to get my usual sense of what was going on.

The trip to the Women’s Conference, I had some friends on Hillary’s staff and—

Riley

Who were these?

Rubin

There was a woman named Kelly Craighead, traveling-chief-of-staff-type person, sort of what this Huma [Abedin] does for Hillary, that type of thing. I had more contact with Hillary than I had ever had with people at that level on that trip because we were all on the same plane. It was pretty exciting for me. I saw more things in action than I usually did. I don’t think I had any real role in the speech, but I was shown it and asked my opinion about parts of it, which was not a normal thing for me to be doing. So I remember that.

I remember the whole run-up was an area where I wasn’t my usual assertive self, because I kept thinking—I used to tease Madeleine, “When it comes to this women’s stuff, I’m afraid of sticking my toe into the wrong puddle. I’ll just do what you want me to do.” Even if I questioned things or asked questions or intervened, I did it with that sort of a humorous intro. There were some odd parts of the whole Women’s Conference, the delegation, who’s there, how the nongovernmental organizations’ conference nearby took place. There were all these issues.

I remember, for example, in this area, one of the funniest nights was Madeleine called me up out of a restaurant at 11 o’clock at night, saying that she was just told that she was going to be on CNN and she turned on Larry King and there she was raising her hand in the General Assembly and apparently the headline said, “Votes in favor of the Man-Boy Love Association.” This turned out to be a group that was part of another group, that was part of another group that was part of observers to the United Nations, and the right wing had convinced the reporters that by voting for NGO [nongovernmental organization] participation, we were supporting the North American Man-Boy Love Association, which advocated sex between men and boys. “What the hell is going on?!” We sort of half-laughed about it, but it wasn’t really very funny, either.

There were a lot of issues like that that arose in the Women’s Conference

transsexuals, I don’t know, all this gender stuff. I tended to be afraid of it and thought I would just get in trouble. There were a lot of other people who were eager to participate, so I hung back a lot, except when it came to the issue of China, where I felt that the issue of human rights was a salient thing in and of itself.

I remember the trip. Whether Hillary was going to go was a top-level issue for many weeks beforehand and was a decision that didn’t get made until the very end, and was hotly contested at the highest levels of government. For a variety of reasons, the human rights groups and anti- Chinese people coalesced around the idea, and anti–women’s rights people coalesced around the idea of Hillary not going. There weren’t too many advocates of Hillary going in the bureaucracy other than Madeleine, and I guess Hillary in the end. I don’t know how that decision was ultimately made. So that was all very dramatic inside. I didn’t understand it, I wasn’t privy to it, but I knew that it was hotly contested.

Then I watched them interact on the plane and I saw the creation of this speech and Hillary’s performance, which I think almost everybody agrees was, as it turns out, pitch-perfect and managed to promote lasting changes in the treatment of women around the world, defend people suffering from human rights in China, and yet not unsettle excessively the U.S.-China relationship, which was the balancing act that had to be achieved. There were a lot of funny stories from China, and that sort of thing, but others would be much better at telling you those things because I forgot them, people like Elaine Shocas and Madeleine herself and others.

There was this woman who saw the Chinese security guy suddenly appear on the TV screen, just strange things. Just imagine 10,000 Western women in China. It was unusual. That’s what I remember about it.

Strong

For Hillary’s success, is that principally a story about the speechwriting?

Rubin

The delivery. She had the full interagency team there of Chinese experts and those who had an interest in China. There was a lot of tension because of the desire to not unsettle the relationship with China by some and the desires of others to promote human rights and the desire of a third group to promote women’s rights. Threading the needle between these three interagency forces was tricky enough, then delivering the speech and the manner in which she treated people over the days that she was there. There were panel discussions and other things she participated in. All-in-all, I don’t remember anybody thinking that she had done anything other than a great job.

Strong

On those three issues, or issue groups that were in play, would Madeleine Albright have been on the same page as—

Rubin

Hillary? Yes, by and large I would think so. She tended to be someone who was outspoken about human rights and women’s rights. Although she recognized the value of a strong relationship with China, I think she thought the China hands tended to be worrywarts.

Strong

Do you know if she lobbied for Hillary to go?

Rubin

I would guess yes, but I don’t know.

Strong

If Hillary had not gone, would she have been the senior American on the trip?

Rubin

Probably. But I know she wanted Hillary to go. I don’t know whether she lobbied to it.

Riley

Before then, did they have a relationship to speak of, to your knowledge?

Rubin

I don’t know.

Riley

Let me ask you this general question. You made reference to this. In the press accounts, it is clear that by the time you leave the White House you had what was perceived as a very close relationship with Madeleine Albright.

Rubin

Right.

Riley

How do you account for that? From the outside some people click, some people don’t click.

Rubin

People wrote all sorts of psychobabble about it, mother-son and stuff like that. I guess the way I would say it is I was very hardworking and filling myself daily with facts and opinions and attitudes, and I think pretty good at judging the pendulum of conventional opinion, how it would swing, particularly elite opinion. That kind of thing interested her. I think that I was single and she was a workaholic beyond what most people were and really wanted to work from the moment she got up in the morning until she went to sleep at one or two in the morning, and had very little time—wasn’t interested in hobbies or sports and had her family time—her kids were out of the house. She likes to have people around her and is very good at making those people feel like they’re part of her extended family in a most positive way.

I think in the UN period, she knew that I had very good connections in Washington and knew how to play the Washington game from my time on the Hill. She was very welcoming to having younger people around her. As a professor, her students really liked her. I was trying to suck up all that government experience could be, so I never tired of talking about it, thinking about it. She was very intent on being sure she was in sync with Washington. She didn’t want to be one of those UN Ambassadors thought of as “going native,” and she counted on me to help prevent that.

The others around her—I think part of the reason that I ended up closer and closer, is that the others around her did kind of go native. They wouldn’t admit it that way, but they became increasingly pro-UN and I ended where I started, except for losing a little bit of my enthusiasm. So I think she saw me partly as a political compass for Washington, not that she didn’t have one herself and couldn’t guide herself, but I was another, one of the few people that she could communicate that kind of thing to as it related to herself.

Obviously you want to get to the Secretary of State business. The truth is that the first time, in ’93 or ’94, that the issue arose of whether Christopher might leave or be fired or whatever and the list of alternatives was mentioned and she wasn’t on the list, she made it very clear to me— This is in public articles—that she didn’t like that. So I took that as a mandate to try and make sure that she was on the list, without any clear instructions or any clear way to know how to do that, but just to think about it all the time and see if there were ways to move her into that category in the minds of people who write that sort of thing.

Riley

How did you go about doing that?

Rubin

Well, that’s a long story.

Riley

You already said you’d do another one if we needed it. It’s a fascinating question.

Strong

For someone in the positions you held, this is the story. There’s partly the story of relations with the principals, partly the story of relations with others in government, but ultimately, you’re a unique source for relations with the media.

Rubin

Right. Well, the truth was it wasn’t just a function of the media. The media don’t write things unless people they trust think things. So to get things in the media is not just a question of talking to the press; it is a question of knowing how the media think and who they will regard as validators and sources and how they think.

Strong

You were in the Rolodex as a source for facts about arms control. It’s a different list when they’re looking for political judgments.

Rubin

But it evolved. When I did the Foreign Relations Committee, basically your average State Department reporter, especially on Bosnia, I knew personally from my work at the Foreign Relations Committee, because I was trying to agitate for action on Bosnia. So I knew the State Department press corps for that reason, at least most of them. I had two constituencies. The one constituency was the UN media that covered her in New York, and another constituency was the State Department press corps in this, let’s call it “grander plan.” Without being self- aggrandizing, I think I had developed a lot of credibility with these reporters because I had been a credible, authoritative, knowledgeable person about things they covered for many, many years. First arms control, the fall of communism, Bosnia in my lower-ranking roles, but still unusual contacts with the media.

This is a very sensitive subject for the reason that others, particularly Richard Holbrooke, have talked about my role in getting Madeleine this job. While I like to think I helped, I also know that part of the reason they say that is because they have to have a reason they got beat out. There’s no question that Madeleine had a complicated relationship with Richard Holbrooke and others. Part of that was they did not respect her that much and they respected me in my own minor way. So it became convenient, I think, for a lot of people to say that. I’d like to think there was truth to it, because I’m proud of having helped Madeleine become Secretary of State, but if I’m trying to be as honest as I can for the purpose of history, I don’t want to exaggerate it either, and I don’t know how much of a role I played.

Riley

My question was one of mechanically how would you go about—

Rubin

That’s what I get paid the big bucks for. [laughter]

Riley

From the outside—Part of what you said is fascinating because I’m not sure—My primary focus has never been media and politics, but it indicates that there is a much more complicated role for a press person than I fully appreciated, which is that to get your side of the story out, you often have to work the sources that the media is covering as well as the reporters themselves. That’s not something that you hear a lot about.

Rubin

Let me separate these things. I had multiple roles. That was lucky for me, or I’m lucky because I work very hard and really beyond what I think people even think when you talk about people who work hard. I was alert to the interests of Madeleine Albright from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep every day, every day of the year, for 7-1/2 years.

Riley

Let’s stipulate for the record better for you sitting in this apartment under these circumstances, you’re doing OK.

Rubin

I’m not complaining.

Riley

I’m joking.

Rubin

So one role is the straightforward press role. That involves setting up interviews, making sure that Madeleine Albright has the latest facts and the latest guidance. Then there is a communications director role, which is figuring out which interviews you should do or shouldn’t do, figuring out how to marry speeches and interviews and meetings and storytelling in a way that creates a positive image for your principal. Those are not necessarily the same two things. The Foreign Service press officers don’t particularly care about the second thing. They care about being accurate and careful. But if you’re accurate and careful you don’t get covered, because you’re saying something so boring it’s not worth reporting. They don’t care about that. They don’t want to make a mistake, that’s their first mandate, “Do no harm.” So the second and the first are different roles. Then there is the policy advisor role that I played on certain issues.

Strong

Then there is this general political advisor.

Rubin

General political advisor as it relates to Washington and thus the next step in Madeleine’s career. So I don’t think I’m the normal press officer. I don’t think you should be surprised, because I’m not. Some do more or less of this scope of activities. I would say that I was at the far end of the continuum in this area. But I would say that, contrary to popular belief, to the extent that people talk about this at all, my positioning of Madeleine for the purpose of being Secretary of State was far more a matter of policy than a matter of personality than people think. You don’t get taken seriously by the media unless you’re a serious person.

Strong

Or not for long.

Rubin

Right. You don’t get on a list of Secretary of State wannabes or possibles unless you’re thought of as a serious person. So to be thought of as a serious person you have to be pushing an agenda of policy. Yes, you can exploit the fact that she’s a woman. You can exploit the fact that she’s good on television. You can exploit the fact that she’s funny or charming or a grandmother, or whatever. But that doesn’t last very long. So if there was any help that I provided in that area, it was well beyond that. She did that kind of stuff naturally.

The stuff that I helped with was, in many ways—I’m speculating, and I’d be interested what President Clinton had to say about it—I don’t think he would have chosen her for Secretary of State unless he had respected her long-standing, committed, and serious approach to Bosnia and found that the approach that she advocated from the beginning, forcefully and consistently, turned out to be the right one that worked when he finally adopted it. Others who didn’t push about that, or advocate that, weren’t on the list.

Strong

Of course on that issue, she and Holbrooke aren’t that far apart.

Rubin

Correct. But she’s on the list with Holbrooke because of what she does in this area, and on certain occasions did better than Richard Holbrooke. There are stories that he remains livid about, where he wanted to lift sanctions on Serbia before the Dayton Peace Talks. Madeleine Albright and Tony Lake insisted that sanctions lifting would come as a result of the Dayton Peace Talks, that kind of thing. So I think that had Madeleine Albright not developed a reputation for having a world view about how the United States should act in the post–Cold War world, she wouldn’t be on the list. Had she not developed a reputation for loyalty she wouldn’t be on the list. I think the reason she got the job is she came the closest to capturing all of those things, and was a woman. Had she failed any of those other tests, I don’t think she would have gotten the job.

Richard Holbrooke passed the intelligence test, the Bosnia test, the loyalty test. I don’t know. I doubt that Tony Lake and Warren Christopher and others told the President that this was a loyal guy. I just doubt that, I don’t know it.

Riley

Is there a temperament test?

Rubin

I call it the “room factor.” Who do you want to be in the room with all the time? Are they smart enough, do they have enough experience, and do you really want to hang around with them all the time? I think I intuitively understood all that without anybody telling me, because there’s no place you can learn that. You just have to know it. So I think what I tried to do through the media or through others was to show that she could meet all those tests and then her name would naturally be on the list. That’s the way I approached it.

Strong

Was there ever any conflict between the ambition side of managing, of serving someone like Madeleine Albright, and the policy side?

Rubin

Sometimes. There might be a marginal issue where you might piss off Washington and make people in New York happy and you chose to make the people in Washington satisfied rather than New York happy. I bet that came up from time to time, but not on anything major. For example, it is widely believed that Boutros-Ghali was a scalp she provided for Jesse Helms to become Secretary of State. I tried my hardest to communicate to you yesterday why that really wasn’t true, but everyone still believes it and will always believe it, just because people tend to believe things like that even though I don’t believe it to be true. That would be too important an issue to shave for ambitious purposes.

But are there a few smaller things? Probably. Not fight over 22 percent versus 21 percent dues with the Hill. Not fight with Jesse Helms every time he wouldn’t let an Ambassador through or did something. That sort of thing. Yes. She was aware of her political viability and I was aware of it. One didn’t want to needlessly undermine it. That’s the essence of being in the policy world. If you think that you’re shaving it more than you’re doing the right thing, you might as well not be here. Getting that balance right is what it means to do your job right. But to think that you can always be pure is as stupid as to think that you can always think of yourself only.

Riley

The last question I have about the UN period is the brothers-to-the-rescue episode in February of ’96. She has a fairly prominent public moment.

Rubin

Yes, I’ll try not to tell you things that are in the public record, because it’s a waste of all of our time. What I would add about it that isn’t in the public record is that Washington really made a decision that it was in America’s interest to have this come out in the UN context, that this was the best place to discredit the Cubans. So they pushed hard for a resolution. She got that. Then when they came up with ideas for how to promote the case, they wanted it done through the UN. That was clever policy on Washington’s part. They handed this transcript to us as a public device to show that Cuba knew what it was doing and shot these planes down on purpose. That was pretty exciting stuff to be able to release such a transcript.

So there are really two questions

One, how did she get such a big bang out of it, and the other is the famous quote. I’ve asked people about the quote and it’s funny; it is a classic Rashômon. Everybody has their own memory. All I can do is tell you my memory. Whether it is skewed by time, I don’t know. I just know what I remember.

I remember that Rick Inderfurth told me—because he was on the deputies committee, so he knew about the transcript. He told me that I was going to have a lot of fun with the transcript because it had cojones in there—the word. Madeleine and I were going to lunch somewhere and I got it at the last minute. All this is happening in real time. I would walk across the street and tell her she’s about to make a presentation to the Security Council, without her knowing about it until it, required an enormous amount of confidence that she had to have in me to do things because I told her, “Washington said to do this,” even if they were dramatic things.

I remember that I said we were going to have to do this and it just came. “Are you sure Washington wants me to do it?” “Yes.” All the transcripts and copies and things are being sent. Then you have to instantly become an expert in data points and where the thing is on the map, because all the reporters are going to say, “How do you know this is in international air space?” and all this stuff. All of this is happening in minutes, not hours. I remember we had time to have lunch in her office before she walked over to the Security Council for her first look at the transcript. So 45 minutes before she is going to go do this thing is her first look at it. I told her that Rick knew about this too, and she said, “So get Rick in here.”

We sat there and went over it. The way I remember it is that—Rick remembers it completely differently, just for your information, unless you’ve spoken to him. The way I remember it is that she had an immediate human reaction on reading it to say something to the effect that that is not a lot of courage to shoot down unarmed planes. Maybe she even used the word “cowardly.” The word “cowardice” was a device that people in our world used when you wanted to criticize someone in the most ultimate way; you called them a coward. That’s, for example, why on 9/11 they were called cowards even though they weren’t cowards; they were brave.

That’s the government’s ultimate criticism, to call somebody a coward. She had articulated the thought of them not being brave but being cowardly, but hadn’t used the word coward and had articulated the idea that it doesn’t take a lot of cojones, balls, nerves to do this. Then I remember adding coward to this. But Rick thinks he came up with it. I’m sure Madeleine doesn’t remember any of this, because that’s the nature of these things. I think she probably will remember that I did walk across the street—Once we had sort of agreed on the short form, I said it to her about 20 times walking across the street and made her say it to me about 20 times. Twenty is probably an exaggeration; maybe it was five.

Strong

This is a conscious strategy. This is going to be the news clip.

Rubin

And there’s one other crucial thing. Before we left, Madeleine naturally got nervous using the word cojones because it is a curse word in Spanish. When she was in that kind of situation, we relied on Elaine Shocas in Washington, who was her chief of staff and a close, close friend and very conscious of protocol and how a great woman publicly should present herself. Elaine was very adept and relied on for that, and she called Elaine and asked if she could use cojones. I remember thinking, Oh, no! Elaine, please don’t say no. I knew that this summed up our case and it was a great sound bite. Elaine signed off on it.

Riley

Does Elaine speak Spanish?

Rubin

No, but I think she knew the word cojones. I think people most people do. Maybe she does.

Riley

The question is, you can know curse words in another language without knowing—

Rubin

How it would sound to a Spanish person.

Riley

Exactly.

Rubin

I don’t think she does know that. I don’t think she speaks Spanish. Our position was that this was the word used in the transcript. We decided to hand out the transcript. So we had broken the taboo on using this word by deciding to release the transcript. In Washington they decided to include the word. That was Washington’s decision rather than to ex it out. Would they have done that if it said “fuck”? I doubt it. I think they decided you couldn’t change the transcript—That’s what it was—in any way because of fears that people would think we had doctored it. So the decision was to leave it as is. That was the reason, actually.

I guess the point is Bill Woodward, our speechwriter, I’m pretty sure was involved in drafting the statement, although I can’t be sure of that. It might be something that was done in Washington. But I was integrally involved in pulling together Woodward and Washington guidance and making sure that that phrase was in there. Then I helped her answer the questions, because for the first time she would be presented with technical data and would have to face a skeptical press corps on anything. So it was a little tricky making sure we had enough copies and making sure we could answer their questions.

I remember going through those questions with the Washington people earlier in the day and satisfying myself that we had gotten this right. But if they screwed up in Washington, I wouldn’t have known it. To be honest, it wasn’t at all comparable to a Colin Powell going over the details to make sure they were right. We took it as it was, more or less. We had no reason to believe that anyone would be making it up. This was obviously what had happened and we had proved it.

It was a pretty exciting moment. I knew it was a big newsy moment, both because releasing transcripts is exciting for reporters and the issue was a big issue and they all worked themselves in knots of various kinds trying to figure out how to use the word “cojones.” The New York Times had some really funny formulation and the CNN guy had a tough time figuring out how to do it. So it was sort of an exciting, fun day.

The other point about it was I knew that Washington cared about the Cubans. It was obvious from four years of policy making that Cuban-Americans’ views mattered to the Clinton White House. I wasn’t involved in it very much, but I was aware of them signing Helms-[Dan] Burton and things like that. I remember doing one thing. There were two banks of cameras, one outside the Security Council, and if something was really exciting, one at the front door. Normally you just walked in the front door and there are cameras by the Security Council. But I knew that the South Florida TV stations and the Hispanic media had decided this was a biggie and were parked by the front door. I made sure that she always stopped at that as well, which was an unnatural— She might more naturally have gone up to the other one. I always said to do both. I think that helped make sure that this had the maximum impact in South Florida.

That was sort of a political thing. Not in a bad way. These were Americans, they cared about this. Americans were killed by the Cubans. We were mad about it. It was cold-blooded murder. So I didn’t feel any—Even though I didn’t particularly like our Cuba policy, I felt like in this case the Cubans had behaved dastardly and killed innocent people. People would argue with that: “What are they doing flying around over Cuba?” They were unarmed planes shot. It was like basically shooting somebody in the back, so I felt that this was right to exploit and amplify.

Strong

Did you make the trip to Miami with Madeleine Albright?

Rubin

Yes. The only thing I would add to that is that it was a stunning moment to have her walk out onto a football field out of the dugout or the players’ area and have 50,000 people cheering for you when you’re a UN Ambassador. It’s highly unusual. Not until [Barack] Obama, I think, have you had crowds that big cheering for someone in the world of politics in America since George McGovern. That’s not to say Madeleine is more popular; it’s just that it was a really unusual event. She was a real rock star. You felt like you were walking onto the floor with one of the Beatles in 1968. I think she would have been inhuman if it didn’t really go to her head. I don’t think you could live through that and not be affected by it.

Riley

How did you end up moving to the campaign in ’96?

Rubin

Oddly enough it was Dick Morris who did that. Dick Morris had an assistant whom I went to school with and knew 20 years earlier, 15 years earlier. She brought us together at one point. Dick Morris was looking always for ideas, ways to find things out about government. I think he felt a lot of tension from the National Security Advisor’s office and not a lot of help. It was apparent to me through my friend Sidney Blumenthal, who was an advisor to Clinton, not yet formally but privately, that Dick Morris had access to the President and was an important player in policy making. So as part of my desire to do things and also to promote Madeleine Albright, I thought it was smart for me to get to know Dick Morris.

So I got to know him. I had dinner with him here. He occasionally called me on the phone. If you look at his book, he cites me as one of the people in the bureaucracy who talked to him. I told Madeleine I was doing it and I don’t think there was anything wrong with it. I didn’t tell him any secrets. I expressed my views about things. He asked my opinion about things. Then when he had a prominent role in the campaign, he wanted someone to take on the responsibility of foreign policy, and I think he proposed my name to Clinton and I was hired.

As it turned out, I barely worked with Dick Morris because he was out of there by the time I got there, practically. I basically only did one thing before the convention, a platform committee meeting a few weeks before that. When we got to the convention he was out. So the campaign— I had no contact with him as it turned out. I worked directly with Sandy Berger and Nancy Soderberg, who were at the White House.

Riley

Did Morris at any point during the period you were in ever call you with suggestions or recommendations for things for you to do up here?

Rubin

No, the reverse. It was more him trying to see where something he might come up with stood or whether it made sense, or what people might think about it, or how people would react to it. So it was the opposite.

Riley

Your recollection is that these things were pretty conventional ideas, or did he create any—

Rubin

The only one that I remember, there was the issue of the Iran sanctions bill we talked about, which was a publicly known issue of whether the President should support the bill or not. I think he tended to be someone who would talk wildly about bombing the Iranians over Khobar Towers, and I wasn’t too particular—I didn’t assist him in that because I thought that was a little extreme. You laugh, but that was a view that Richard Clarke believed, that we ought to retaliate against Iran. But I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it with Dick Morris.

Riley

Of course. The question obviously has a precedent, and that is that we do hear occasionally from people that Morris was engaged in cranking out some ideas to plant. There are even published accounts.

Rubin

Yes, but it wasn’t that direction with me, because the UN wouldn’t be a place where he would know enough to understand how to exploit it. It’s too complicated for a Washington figure to figure out that UN angle. But I think I had a total of two or three conversations with him at this time. If I were to reflect honestly, the only thing I didn’t argue against was the Iran sanctions bill. I thought it had merit, and Clinton ended up signing it.

Riley

After the convention then—?

Rubin

Then I worked basically directly with Sandy Berger. It was sort of an interesting campaign experience because Sandy Berger had managed to take charge of the foreign policy portfolio. It was clear that Tony Lake wasn’t going to be involved. Sandy was the Deputy. I developed a very good friendship that has lasted to this day with him as a result of that. That included the debate prep and hanging out and Chautauqua. We were in the Southwest somewhere, and we’ve been friends ever since. [interruption]

[BREAK]

Rubin

I had my first ten minutes with President Clinton in that meeting in the yellow Oval upstairs. Everybody was crowded around, like 20 people. For me that was pretty exciting stuff. I had never really sat in a meeting in which I was going to talk to the President of the United States about a matter of that level of significance, which was my portfolio of how Bob Dole was vulnerable in foreign policy, as part of the campaign and in preparation for the debates.

He said some very nice things about me when I was introduced, probably as a result of Dick Morris. As I said, I think I got through four or five minutes of my presentation and never got the floor again and it sort of meandered off into other things, but people—I remember Don Baer sort of patted me on the back and said I had done a good job because he smelled that I was nervous. Then that happened a couple more times in debate prep and I got to know a lot more of the White House people. I think it was clear when I left that Madeleine wasn’t happy but was expecting me to promote her cause in that environment, which I did.

Sandy Berger reminds me of something that I forgot. He reminded me recently that when the second debate happened in San Diego, my friend Kelly Craighead, who worked for Hillary, got me a ride back to Washington on Hillary’s plane. There were just four of us on the plane—Sandy Berger, Hillary Clinton, my friend Kelly, and me—and we spent quite a bit of time talking. The article in the New York Times magazine cover story on Madeleine had come out that was describing itself as a sort of audition for Madeleine’s Secretary of Stateship, referring to a trip that she and Madeleine had taken to eastern Europe—she the First Lady. That article is by Elaine Sciolino. I remember talking—Hillary asked me about it from the perspective of did I think it had helped her or hurt her.

I don’t remember what I said, particularly. It was a very intense—After a debate I would have been exhausted, but Sandy says that I promoted Madeleine’s cause directly to Hillary for 15 to 20 minutes. Nobody interrupted me, or if they did it was to ask me questions. I didn’t lose the floor, if you know what I mean. So I did in that case and I probably did in other cases. Then when the campaign ended, I managed to get Madeleine to hire me back, but I was in a sort of awkward position because I didn’t have my old job back. Someone else was doing it.

Riley

You had resigned rather than take a leave of absence?

Rubin

I did whatever I was told would be the safest bureaucratically. I think I just quit, lost my salary and everything and all that stuff. But then I remember they moved me up to Madeleine’s floor. I was sitting nearby. It was clear my status had been enhanced, but it wasn’t quite clear what I was going to do. Sandy Berger had given me to believe that he might get a big job and he wanted me to be available.

The week before she got the job it was clear that it was being discussed. I remember I got a chance to talk to her before she went down to meet with the President about it. It was a policy thing, where I said certain things that I thought would be good for her to say. But she was a little distant from me then, I think, because she was—I had been away. I don’t know if you would call it mad at me, or that I had lost my juice or whatever. It was tricky. I remember Elaine was very helpful in making sure that Madeleine embraced me again, because it was tricky.

Riley

Can I ask if some of the trickiness might have been a fear that you might have gone into somebody else’s camp?

Rubin

Perhaps something like that. I don’t know precisely. But I felt it.

Strong

I have a broad question to ask about that observation. How much of—I was going to say Washington politics, or how much of high-level government politics, flows from those personal relationships and their ups and downs? Again, that’s something that gets speculated about, or sometimes reported on. I think it is more speculation than reporting. We read constantly about changes in those relationships. How important are they, and should students of American history and government pay attention to them?

Rubin

I think that they’re very important in that friendships and alliances and suballiances and crossbureaucratic friendships make a huge difference, huge. But I’m not the perfect—You’d think I’d be the perfect judge of that, but I’m in that, that’s the world in which I operate. So I might delude myself into thinking that’s more important than it was. But in the world that I operate in, loyalty and all that goes with that is excruciatingly, extraordinarily, important. It affects people’s decisions about where they work, what they promote and what they do, and can affect the outcome of debates if you have the right set of personal relationships sometimes.

On the other hand, as I indicated, Madeleine Albright and Tony Lake had a bad personal relationship, but when it came time to do something about Bosnia, they teamed up, because Tony Lake saw that she could help him and she saw that he could help her. So it depends, like most things.

Riley

Madeleine’s appointment—Are you OK?

Rubin

I’m tiring. Let me just take a quick break here and figure out what’s going on.

[BREAK]

Riley

Let’s talk about the appointment as Secretary, because we’ve talked about it on and off already. In her book, Secretary Albright mentions that there were media reports that came out fairly close to the time when the announcement came out.

Rubin

And subsequently been admitted by John Harris to be George Stephanopoulos.

Riley

See, that piece I didn’t get.

Rubin

It’s in John Harris’s book. By then George was on the way out, but was still a useful source for journalists. John Harris, the reporter, always says he was struck by how this little offhand comment by George Stephanopoulos became the rallying point for women in the Democratic Party to promote Madeleine. I think that I can see why Harris would think that, but if you’re Madeleine Albright you don’t know who said that. You think it’s somebody more important than George. Clearly, even though George was on the outs, he was often familiar with Clinton’s thinking, and may have known something.

I remember when that thing came out that I was quite upset, not as upset as Madeleine, but close, and Elaine Shocas and I and others talked about it a lot. Elaine very wisely said this is good because it will provoke an outpouring of support for Madeleine from prominent women. The phrase “second tier,” which George Stephanopoulos probably didn’t mean in a demeaning way, but—

Strong

There were two lists.

Rubin

In a short list, longer list way. But it was one of those phrases that galvanized women and I believe had a significant impact on their motivation to go to Clinton or to people next to Clinton or to Hillary or whatever, to be frustrated and angry by this, and I think therefore was a lucky break for us. I remember doing what I could as part of that effort. But again, by then my relationship was a little sticky.

I was clearly part of the inner circle and treated that way by Elaine, but I think I tended to respond to that more in the intellectual circles and tried to make the case that George Mitchell or Sam Nunn wouldn’t be an activist because I think they were in the first tier and would be minimalists in foreign policy. So I tried to make the case that those who wanted an active, engaged America wouldn’t want a minimalist lawyer type like Nunn or Mitchell. So that was my approach, what I contributed while Elaine and others did the women’s stuff.

Riley

Do you have any follow-ups on this?

Strong

There wasn’t any real question that Albright’s performance at the UN hadn’t fully qualified her?

Rubin

No, I think that her critics tended to be in the liberal wing of the pro-UN world who thought that she had undermined the United Nations by being so strident against Boutros and not the UN’s person in Washington, but Washington’s person in the UN. There were those who didn’t like that on the left, but they tended not to be prominent. Anyone who was prominent thought that she had done a good job at the UN and had done enough of a good job to make this plausible and possible and justified. But again, my involvement in this period had been to highlight her achievements and talk about her thinking and why she would be—why things might have been different if someone like her had been at the helm at the beginning. Again, we were in this period where we all understood that the first three years hadn’t gone that well. It was only the last year and a half that had gone well. I made that point.

At one point I was told Christopher was very angry with me, especially when she became Secretary of State and all these unflattering comparisons were made. I went out of my way to avoid criticizing Christopher directly and rather promoted Madeleine. It was inevitable that there was blowback on Christopher, but he was a dignified gentleman about the whole thing and introduced her at her confirmation hearing and that sort of thing.

Strong

What role did you play in the confirmation hearings?

Rubin

Prepping. When we did the murder boards, I was brought in, as I had been all along when she spoke. It became the normal thing that testifying to Congress was deemed the equivalent of a public event. So I was considered by Madeleine the person she wanted to give her the final advice as to how to handle a question and answer on any sensitive subject. So the murder board ran on. First it was educational, but when it came time to actually prepare the questions and answers, Elaine and Madeleine wanted me there to pose alternatives to the answers that others proposed or summarize or synthesize.

Riley

Were there any areas that you were concerned about as being especially vulnerable at the time, or anything that—?

Rubin

There were a few things that were part of the classic, I guess. I can’t remember anymore, but there were some standard vulnerability-type things related to bad peacekeeping operations or Somalia or something like that. Somalia I guess was high on the list.

Riley

You mentioned yesterday that you and Strobe Talbott had been at cross purposes. What was the origin of that?

Rubin

I was thinking about that as I said it. If Strobe were here, we’d be very friendly and I actually respect him. After I’d been spokesman for a while, he wrote me a note. He obviously knew that I knew that he and blah, blah, blah. When Madeleine became Secretary of State, he argued against me being the spokesman. Even after I so obviously was part of her orbit and relied on by her and close to her, he argued for a classic Foreign Service officer-spokesman job. So a year after, he wrote me a note, saying, “I caught the Jamie Rubin show on C-SPAN last night and you’re actually really good at this,” or something like that.

I don’t really think that he had a grudge against me or didn’t think that I was smart or doesn’t like me, but the circumstances in which I found myself tended to cause him to act in a way that was contrary to my personal interest. But I tried not to take it personally. I don’t really think the “wrong breed” quote was anti-Semitic. I think it was just weird Strobe language. He’s got this weird style. So I don’t see myself as having a feud with Strobe Talbott. On the contrary, look, I think he probably sees—and he saw me as—He used to call us the “Mad-alumni.” I think he thought he was above all that, someone having a coterie of people.

Strong

Did Albright think of other assignments for you other than the one you ended up getting?

Rubin

Not really. Initially she thought for sure she wanted me to be continuing in the role I played to help her, advise her, and brief her and all that, but she wasn’t sure whether I should do the actual spokesman job. In the previous administration, those had been separated between Tom Donilon and Mike McCurry, who was just the spokesman, and Donilon was Assistant Secretary. The difference this time is she had Elaine Shocas, who took up half of Donilon’s portfolio as chief of staff. So it just was a different configuration. I think Elaine was a strong advocate of my being the spokesman, and obviously Madeleine was in the end.

But our relationship was odd in the sense that she never—I had to fight for certain things. I had to fight to be the spokesman. She wasn’t 100 percent sure. I had to fight to get an office near her on the seventh floor. She at first wanted me down with the press office, but Elaine saw the value of that. Then I think as the years went by, Madeleine saw the value of it and was glad that I was around. I’m just saying, to be honest, those were the facts.

Riley

The proximity was important to you as a signal of your closeness?

Rubin

The proximity because I could jump in and out—I could do three jobs that way. If I were down on the sixth floor it would have been harder. I could sort of run press and run in and out of her office as she was getting briefed and get to every meeting easily. It had a certain symbolic importance as well, and the offices were much nicer.

Strong

We usually wrap up these interviews by asking long-term questions about the administration, the President’s reputation, and we’re almost out of time. Maybe the thing to end with is how do you think over time Albright’s Ambassadorship at the UN is going to be regarded?

Rubin

I think unfortunately the history will probably focus on it as a stepping-stone to the Secretary of Stateship and focus on the Boutros-Ghali episode, and those will be the two—I’m not saying that this is what I want, but I’m saying this is what I’m predicting, and will focus on those two things. Perhaps an example of the schizophrenia in U.S. attitudes toward the United Nations, or tough love, or complicated—the duality, or some word like that. But I think stepping- stone to Secretary of State and the coming down to earth of exaggerated notions of what the UN could and couldn’t do. Because it’s definitely true that in ’91, ’92, and ’93 there were these ideas out there of a UN army and a United Nations that could really play a prominent and effective role in international affairs that were brought back to earth by Somalia and Bosnia.

Riley

We’ve got you in the Secretary of State’s office, so we have an easy place to begin next time.

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