Columns

Bill's rush to 'greatness'

Barbara Amiel January 29 2001
Columns

Bill's rush to 'greatness'

Barbara Amiel January 29 2001

Bill's rush to 'greatness'

Columns

Barbara Amiel

When President Clinton, a naughty Southern boy who oozes appeal and is the closest thing to Elvis I’ve ever met, gave me that two-handed handshake and told me he had heard “sooo much” about me, I was gone. Didn’t matter that he said the same damn thing to every woman introduced to him, it hit my midbrain. Sexual magic.

But Clinton couldn’t exist by allure alone—although it went one heck of a way with the female media. Conventional wisdom today seems to be that Clinton is responsible for steering the Democratic party to the right, promoting the cause of women by his cabinet appointments and fighting tenaciously for a just peace in the Middle East and anywhere else he looked. On the whole, the last month has been a misty-eyed farewell to a president who, according to The New York Times, just missed the “greatness inherent in his better self.”

In his rush to this just-missed “greatness,” he left us with some pretty awful things. The appointments of Madeleine Albright as secretary of state and Janet Reno as attorney general may possibly be the two worst appointments since Warren Harding’s secretary of the interior went to jail in the 1924Teapot Dome affair. To be fair, Albright wasn’t Clinton’s choice: his advisory panel unanimously recommended against her, but she was Hillary’s choice and Mrs. Clinton prevailed.

Albright was an undistinguished academic who, in my single encounter with her, seemed to view her European “contact group” as a club specially constituted for her to meet exciting people. More in-depth interviews demonstrated she had little understanding of her brief. Her trips to the Middle East to tell potentates in that region that Saddam Hussein was a bad chap, as if they didn’t know, were exceeded in irrelevance, if not in harm, by the trip she made to North Korea, bestowing an air of legitimacy on one of the vilest regimes on earth for no tangible benefit to the U.S. national interest.

Janet Reno used one of the most important offices in the free world to instigate a totally unnecessary action at Waco, Tex., that resulted in the incineration of dozens of children. On an inactive level, she stonewalled the investigation of the most serious aspect of Clinton’s presidency. Her refusal to name an independent counsel to look into the possibility that, in return for campaign donations, Clinton allowed permits for the sale to China of advanced defence-sensitive technology verges on the criminally negligent.

Luckily for Clinton the only hiccups that hit America were of his own making and far away. Clinton’s Sixties new-left, foreign policy brew was based on sentimental clichés rather than hard knowledge. Insofar as this yielded a foreign policy,

it was one that imposed a vague extrapolation of American culture on the world with little understanding or patience for how other cultures may differ. This gave us Richard Holbrooke’s Dayton mess in Bosnia, followed by the disastrous Rambouillet accord, courtesy of Albright—a deal no Yugoslav president good or bad could have signed. NATO’s first war followed in its wake, causing many casualties among both ethnic Albanians and Serbs, without changing the status quo in Kosovo and committing peacekeepers to an indefinite stay in the region.

Clinton’s disinterest in or ignorance of Indonesia has produced U.S. support for the mullahs coupled with antagonism towards its armed forces, which is the single uniting factor in that country. All that protected Clinton is the happy fact that most Americans don’t know where Indonesia is, and care less. If they ever grasped that far from exporting American values to the Far East, it is the Far East which has been exporting its values of crony capitalism to Washington, they might be less sanguine about the lack of investigation into foreign donations to the Clinton and Gore campaigns.

Striding towards his “greatness”—and keen to have a good CV for his next job—Clinton took credit for the dubious 1993 Middle East agreement at Oslo, with which he had nothing to do, and lately pursued a hands-on peace initiative in the region. Only his departure may save Israel, though to be fair Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak must shoulder major blame for the bloody fiasco in which Israel gives concession after concession for nothing but worldwide censure.

In his last weeks as president, Clinton signed on to the International Criminal Court, an idea that best illustrates how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We all would like to prosecute evil people but by now we ought to have learned how politicized these insidious efforts are. In addition, Clinton signed bills designating millions of acres of land conservation areas, making them useless for any economic purpose and without compensation to their owners.

In egressu veritas we see the real Bill. America’s first babyboomer president always re-emerged in true new-left clothes and never more so than in his last weeks when he could rule by executive decree with no accountability. What differentiated him from Al Gore was one quality: while Gore as an actor failed at every turn, Clinton excelled as a performer. If John Travolta and Clinton had auditioned for the lead in Primary Colors, Clinton would have got the part in spite of Travolta’s brilliant performance.

Clinton just chased the wrong award. It was not the Nobel Peace Prize he should have sought, but the Oscar. He would have had my vote.