PW: What prompted you to write your memoirs [Madam Secretary ]?

Madeleine Albright: I think that there is a historical duty of people in high-level posts to write down their experiences. And I'm an academic, so I saw it as even more necessary in order to record history. Also, as the first woman Secretary of State, I thought that it was important to tell the female story and to put together my life story with the facts of the policies.

PW: How did your background as a refugee affect the way you approached your career and the policy decisions you made?

MA: There is no doubt in my mind that having been a witness, even at an early age, to World War II and then to see the kind of dislocation and disruption that was created by the Communists taking over—that clearly I had an approach and an attitude about what needed to be done to avoid those kinds of things. My main theme was that I wanted to show that when America was actively involved it was a positive, and when we stayed to the side it was a negative.

PW: How would you defend humanitarian action given its failures in places like Somalia, Rwanda and the Balkans?

MA: The question always was whether humanitarian intervention, looking at it purely from the perspective of your own country, is in your national interest. I believe that Americans care about what is happening inside some other country, whether people are being tortured or their limbs hacked off. So I always said that it was in our national interest to care. The world doesn't seem to be quite organized to do it properly. But I think that if one believes what I said initially, then it behooves us to begin to try to figure out a system which would make it possible.

PW: What role do you think the U.N. should have in relation to U.S. military engagements?

MA: There were times that we didn't use the U.N., Kosovo being always the prime example, but we did in fact operate with NATO. We had a consensus of 18 other countries and therefore it was not an attempt to eschew multilateral action. I never believed that it was essential for the U.N. to okay activity by NATO. I did believe and do believe that it is better to try to act in conjunction with others than to act alone. I think the role of the U.N. is very important generally to the world. It's the one international forum that exists. It's imperfect, but it's essential.

PW: Your account shows how close you were to a Middle East peace deal. But neither side was willing to make the hard choices. What do you think it will take?

MA: I wish I knew. I think what it ultimately takes are leaders who can be synchronized enough to take the difficult step. In our time it looked as though Barak was ready to take a lot of the steps and Arafat just was not prepared to make a decision. It was a lot to expect Arafat to be able to make decisions about the holy places on his own. He needed Arab help. But if one were to balance it, it's more Arafat's fault that things didn't happen.

PW: What recommendations on foreign policy would you have for the Democratic presidential contenders?

MA: The message we need to deliver is that the U.S. needs to be engaged actively and positively throughout the world, as a country that is respected and not just feared.