Students Receive Albright Politely
By Barton Gellman
Just before Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright came to call, as campus police swept demonstrators out of view, an aide to the president of Tennessee State University briefed some 200 handpicked honor students inside.
"Let's give the opposite impression that was given at Ohio State University," Everette Freeman told the assembled undergraduates, referring to the rowdy dissent that greeted President Clinton's national security team Wednesday at a televised "town meeting" on Iraq. "When she comes in, stand up, give a big round of applause, let her know she's welcome, and remain applauding like mad."
And so they did. Freeman had put his finger on his distinguished guest's chief concern to sweep up Wednesday's political debris. Tennessee State, and later the University of South Carolina, obliged in style. The students asked plenty of questions, but their skepticism was invariably polite.
Albright twice used the opportunity to make an analogy used by President George Bush in 1990, but not until now by any member of the Clinton administration. "I don't think the world has seen in a long time, except maybe Hitler, someone as evil as Saddam Hussein," she said.
Repeating the administration's goal of containing the Iraqi leader and diminishing his nonconventional weapons and the threat to his neighbors, Albright said "there is no plan to use ground forces."
"Nor do we ever intend to shed American blood for purposes that are not achievable," she added.
Responding to a question asking her to disclose "the worst scenario" that could result from U.S. military intervention, Albright said it was "that Saddam could manage to break out of the box we have kept him in for seven years."
"If the world had been firmer with Hitler earlier," she added, "then chances are we might not have needed to send Americans to Europe in the second World War."
Asked what the assembled undergraduates should think about the fact that Clinton, "an anti-war student," is "getting ready to send some troops to Iraq," Albright responded: "We are talking about using military force, but we are not talking about a war. That is an important distinction."
It was difficult to measure how much Albright's return to the academy had moved minds here or elsewhere.
"There's something that tells me that the longer they go, the selling job is getting harder," Republican pollster Robert Teeter said in an interview. "There's a long pattern of public opinion being against military action before it happens and strongly in favor afterward. But there's a peculiar pattern as if this long week of selling is raising more questions than it's answering."
Speaking to reporters aboard her plane, Albright objected to the idea that she and her Cabinet colleagues were engaged in "sales pitches."
"What we are doing is explaining our policy to the American people," she said. "Ultimately we are not going to consult opinion polls. The president is commander-in- chief and he will make the decision in terms of our national interests."
To whatever effect, Albright had a long day of good news images, from the 282nd Army Band playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" as she landed in Columbia, S.C., to an inspirational telephone call whose timing, aides insisted, was a coincidence.
Just as her lecture wound down this morning, someone handed her a telephone with Cammi Granato, captain of the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's Olympic hockey team, on the line. Beaming broadly, Albright brought the phone close to the microphone so that students, reporters and television crews could hear.
"I am here to congratulate you on behalf of all Americans, especially young American women," Albright said. "I am the mother of a goalie who was on the women's team at Dartmouth. I just can't tell you how proud we are."
At the University of South Carolina, a festive throng cheered Albright outside the Belk Auditorium after she strolled along a sun-drenched campus path swept clean of ordinary students. Radios in the hands of campus police crackled with reports of "uncooperative demonstrators" being penned off elsewhere.
The first student question inside was "what it felt like to be a woman when you dealt with nations who don't have the same sorts of policies of equal rights as we have," an opportunity to recount a favorite story.
In her first meeting with Persian Gulf emirates, she said, they covered the major subjects of foreign policy and then she declared, "You may notice that I don't exactly look like my predecessors, and this has been great. Next time we'll talk about women's rights."
The campus audience laughed appreciatively.
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