March 14, 2003

How Lucky We Are He

How Lucky We Are He Wasn't President On 9/11

Thoughts on Iraq strategy from the former President. He must have been jealous that Jimmy Carter got so much attention in last Sunday's NYT. Remember, by the way, that former Presidents are commonly supposed to extend the courtesy of exercising a statesman-like restraint by not criticizing publicly the policies of their successors. No surprise that Clinton would ignore such Presidential mores--discretion and restraint were never his strong suits--except when answering interrogatories from the Office of the Independent Counsel.

But what really gets me is Clinton's gall at commenting on Dubya's Iraq strategy given Clinton's own amateurish foreign policy record. I won't comment extensively on this now. But remember, for instance, the fiasco that was our Bosnia policy for three long years until Dick Holbrooke, virtually single-handedly, pulled off the Dayton Accords. Clinton had artificially raised expectations in Sarajevo during the '92 campaign that the Yankee cavalry was going to swoop in and assist beleaguered Bosniaks--or at least lift the arms embargo on Bosnia and use NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing cities like Sarajevo. Instead, we had three long years of inaction with 200,000 dead and over 4 million displaced. There were also Carter-like displays of impotence as in Somalia. Not to mention the asleep at the switch quality of our efforts to bring UBL to task during that period--with erroneous targets blown up in Khartoum and ineffective pinprick attacks in the Afghan hinterlands.

If Bill Clinton had been in the Oval Office on 9/11, the first question I would have had was whether Clinton realized, when those Towers crumbled that Tuesday morning in Manhattan, that a major conflict had just begun? Would he have instinctually understood the paradigm shift, that we were now in a new epoch, with greater perils on the horizon that would require decades long attention? Or would he be pursuing silly actions similar to turning down, as he did in 1996, offers from the Sudanese to turn over UBL because of legalistic considerations regarding the strength of our case against him?

Another question, even if Clinton immediately and as effectively as Dubya had issued concrete ultimatums to the Taliban and gotten the Pakistanis and other crucial actors on board, is how the conflict would have been prosecuted? I fear we might still be on the outskirts of Mazar-al-Sharif trying to figure out how to take Kabul if Clinton was running the war.

Regardless, given all of the above, does Clinton think he is doing us or Dubya a favor by dispensing his foreign policy pensees on the public airwaves? The very man who presided over the rollicky casino-era '90s, a low decade of corporate corruption, tawdry White House affairs and lack of any serious or sustained proactive attention to the growing terrorism issue--this man is now going to tell us how to handle the intersection of rogue regimes, WMD and transnational terror groups?

Well, I'm not particularly interested and I suspect many others are similarly not perched on the edge of their seats to hear his take. He's not adding anything of value to the debate as the linked story well showcases. And remember, one of his first reactions to 9/11 was a contemplation on how presidencies can only become potentially great when a crisis of such scope occurs on their watch. He's self-obsessed, clearly. But his question did reveal his likely self-knowledge and sadness that his Presidency will be viewed as very mediocre, a breezy, footnote-like interlude between the defeat of the Soviet Empire and 9/11.

Posted by Gregory at March 14, 2003 01:21 AM
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