Clinton, the bumpy early years
“A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.”
Most presidents try to make clear their administration’s priorities shortly after they are sworn in. At that time they are usually on a high with popular opinion and can achieve most of what they set out to do.
In his first inaugural, Ronald Reagan spoke of the spirit of America, the economy and the rampant inflation we were living with. Getting government growth under control was job one. He set out to do that right away.
During an illegal strike he ordered the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO, the air controllers union) back to work. When they refused he fired every striker.
The Gipper articulated a desire to increase our effort to make certain the Soviet Union would not overtake us militarily and began to lobby congress for steep tax cuts similar to the deep cuts pursued by president John Kennedy thirty years earlier.
Though William Jefferson Clinton had received only forty-three percent of the vote he boldly pushed an agenda radical for the times. He ordered the military to drop its opposition to gays in the military, something he would compromise as “don’t ask, don’t tell” by July. His order was not in the form of an Executive order but a verbal directive which his chiefs of staff needed to work out.
On January 25 he appointed Hillary to reform health care, his "most important and ambitious initiative." The effort was scuttled in September, 1994.
Most Favored Nation Status grants nations’ exports to enter here at the lowest possible duty rate. China had lobbied long and hard for MFN so their products’ prices could be lowered and made more competitive in American markets. We had not only denied China’s request for MFN, President Bush had added other trade restrictions on China after the government crackdown on the democracy movement in 1989.
By June Bill Clinton granted some aspects of Most Favored Nation Status to Red China after a few dissidents had been released. Any pretense to attaching human rights to trade policies President Clinton granted full MFN benefits to Red China in 1994 thereby placing trade ahead of human rights.The first assault on the World Trade Center occurred on February 26 of 1993. It was the work of radical Moslem men from the middle east, primarily Al Qaida, and working under the direction of a cleric who operated from a mosque in Newark, New Jersey. Five were killed and hundreds injured. The building’s underground garage was significantly damaged by the terrorist bomb.
The Clinton Administration treated the event as a crime rather than an attack on the USA. That decision would have long term consequences.
Talk show callers and hosts first began their attacks on Bill Clinton and used derisive language for him from the day during the election campaign it became public he was a draft evader. After the Democrat comments about Dan Quayle four years earlier there was a sense of what’s good for the goose is good for Clinton as well.
To the moderate to conservative elements of Americans Bill Clinton became as polarizing a character as Richard Nixon. You loved him or shuddered at the thought he was now president.
Beginning with his inauguration day order to the military to admit gays to appointing his wife health care czarina, the hackles were raised. Bill and Hillary had billed themselves as co-presidents. Hillary made it clear her objective was to radically change health care and its delivery. First Lady
Clinton became nearly daily fodder for us.
The president announced his co-president would chair the hand picked commission and Brown University societal meddler Ira Magaziner would be her health care chief collaborator.
Magaziner and Bill Clinton met as Rhodes Scholars at Oxford about 1970. The Brown scholar had a penchant for radical movements. While at Brown he authored the "New Curriculum", a liberal approach which includes no core requirements aside from the concentration the student pursues. Magaziner also had significant influence in Rhode Island, where he devised a plan, known as the Greenhouse Compact. It was a plan which would create a government planned economy and create incubators for business creation. (In 1984 voters in Rhode Island put an end to that plan when it overwhelmingly rejected the compact. It was too radical to even the otherwise liberal voters of the Ocean State.)
The Clinton/Magaziner team approach to health care was destined to meet the same fate as the Greenhouse Compact. By 1994 the grandiose plans of the duo went down in flames because the public and a Democrat congress feared such tinkering could bring down the best medical care system in the world.
On July 20, 1993, six months to the day after the inauguration of Bill Clinton, White House Deputy Council, Vincent Foster, told his secretary Deborah Gorham, "I'll be right back".
As he left his office he offered his co-worker Linda Tripp (yes the Linda Tripp), the leftover M&Ms from his lunch.
That was the last time Vincent Foster was seen alive.
His body was discovered in Fort Marcy Park, a federal park in Virginia. He had killed himself with a 38 caliber revolver.
Some interesting facts surrounding his death and the aftermath which led to enormous speculation his suicide may have actually been a murder:
Vincent Foster had told many he was unhappy in his job.In the weeks leading up to July 20th.It was believed he had written an outline for a letter of resignation. Many have thought the outline had been used as the center portion of the “suicide note”.
Foster had scheduled a private meeting with President Clinton for the very next day, July 21, 1993 at which it appeared Foster intended to resign.
A couple of years later the Clinton administration, because of congressional pressure, released Whitewater documents found in Vincent Foster’s office, including a note showing Foster was worried about a possible Internal Revenue Service audit of the Whitewater project involving President and Mrs. Clinton.
Access to Vincent Foster’s White House office was denied by the White House for more than thirty hours after the body had been discovered.
A day later, the “suicide” note of sorts was found torn into 27 pieces, in his briefcase. The first time his brief case had been examined the pieces of paper had not been seen. The note was a list of complaints specifically mentioning the Wall Street Journal and complaining “I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport.”
Foster was a childhood friend of Clinton and was a partner of Hillary in the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.
It was reported Foster suffered from clinical depression. He had been prescribed Trazadone (an anti depressant) over the phone by his doctor. He could have only taken a few at most before he died.
The next day, Foster committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a .38 caliber revolver.
He was 48 years old, and left behind a widow, Lisa, and three children.
The White House is the most secure private residence in the world, equipped with a sophisticated entry control system and video surveillance system installed by the Mitre Corporation. Yet no record exists that Vincent Foster left the White House under his own power on July 20th, 1993.
No video of him exiting the building exists. No logbook entry shows he checked out of the White House.
The first witness to find the body insisted that there had been no gun near the body.
The memory in Foster's pager had been erased.
There were even suggestions that the body had been moved, and a Secret Service memo surfaced which reported that Foster's body had been found in his car! The official reports were self-contradictory.
Something odd was he shot himself with the 38 caliber revolver pressed into his mouth. The bullet entered the pallet of his mouth but his teeth were not shattered.
Usually when a suicide is performed in that way the front teeth will be knocked out by the recoil caused by the force of the shot. If the gun had been held firmly by someone else the recoil may not have been great enough to damage the teeth.
A couple of other oddities:
The entire investigation was conducted by the U.S. Parks Department, something they don’t usually do.
From the description the police gave of the position of Foster’s body the blood from his wounds seemed to flow uphill.
There were no bullet fragments found and the gun allegedly used in the suicide was a few feet from the body rather than in Foster’s hand.
Just coincidences? Of Course.
Nearing the end of the Bush Administration, humanitarian food supplies intended for the starving masses in Somalia were being hijacked by radical warlords. The private charities attempting to deliver those foodstuffs and medicines to the needy had their supplies stolen and their workers harmed and sometimes killed during the thefts.
One of the men involved in resisting the volunteer groups and later the American military’s effort to protect the volunteers was none other than Osama bin Laden.
President Bush conferred with President-elect Clinton about his intention of the United States leading the effort to protect the humanitarian efforts and commit U.S. troops to the effort. Since the project would only be in its earliest stages at the close of his administration Bush wanted the Clinton approval before beginning the effort.
The aim of “Operation Restore Hope” was to ensure that food reached starving people, a U.S. led force of almost 35,000 heavily armed combat troops firmly entrenched themselves in Somalia.
The intrusion was approved by the United Nations.
The force consisted of 23,000 U.S. troops under U.S. command. There were contingents from 20 other countries. It included 930 Australian elite infantry personnel, the first Australian fighting troops to be deployed overseas since the Vietnam War. The force was equipped with overwhelming firepower: tanks, artillery, fighter aircraft and helicopter gun ships.
It was estimated that more than 300,000 Somalis had died of hunger and disease since 1991. Another 2 million, out of a population of 7 million, were at risk.
The U.S. historically had used Somalia and the Soviets Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa as strategic locations in the Cold War. With the Cold War waning, Somalia was no longer a strategically important. The governments in the area which had been propped up by Soviet and U.S. interests ceased to exist and Somalia soon fell into anarchy with war lords wielding the only power.
The initial effort was successful and food was reaching some of the starving masses.
Somalia became the Clinton Administration’s first test of fortitude. When faced with anarchy, and sabotage of the mission by warlords who were killing UN peacekeepers, Clinton decided to hunt down the principal culprit, Mohammad Aidid. Yet Clinton committed insufficient armed forces to the operation. When Aidid fought back, killing 18 Americans and dozens of other UN soldiers, Clinton decided to cut and run - reaping dreadful consequences. This was depicted in the book and later movie by the same name, “Blackhawk Down”.
[It is interesting to note the leading voices in the congress and the Democrat Party in particular, cut and run is the tactic most preferred by those leaders. They see the world in the same pink colored glasses in 2006 as they did in Somalia in 1993.]
We now know that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda had trained and fought with Aidid's forces. Bin Laden, recalling the US retreat from Vietnam and the Reagan administration's retreat from Beirut in 1983 after a truck bombing killed 243 marines, was convinced by Somali events that the USA would retreat under fire.
We withdrew under fire and disgrace after the bodies of American soldiers were dragged around the streets of Mogadishu, one of the lowest points in the latter half of the 20th Century.
The responsibility for the embarrassment wound up being placed on the Bush Administration more than the Clinton Administration. Because our involvement there was initiated by Bush, he took the blame. Slick Willy escaped the blame for our shameful pullout and resultant desecration of American soldiers.
However, William Clinton’s shallow understanding of foreign affairs and weak approach to adversity became abundantly clear to talk radio callers.
Somalia was only the first of such failures.
Next, Clinton's strange passivity after al-Qaida's underground bombing of New York’s World Trade Center in 1993, his feeble response to al-Qaeda’s bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, and to its bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, confirmed bin Laden’s view that we are cowards. This emboldened the wealthy Saudi to attack the U.S. homeland on 9/11.
When Clinton assumed office, his and Hillary’s antipathy for the U.S. soldier was an issue with those in the military. This was confirmed repeatedly during the Clinton years.
President Clinton inherited the Somalian humanitarian mission from President Bush. When faced with anarchy, and sabotage of the mission by warlords who were killing UN peacekeepers, Clinton decided to hunt down the principal culprit, Mohammad Aidid.
The problem was Clinton committed insufficient forces to the operation. When Aidid fought back and killed 18 Americans and dozens of other UN soldiers, Clinton decided to cut and run, establishing a frightening pattern of his administration and latter day Democrats. This led to dreadful consequences for us in the future.
We learned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda had trained and fought with Aidid's men. Bin Laden, recalling the our retreat from Vietnam and the Ronald Reagan's retreat from Beirut in 1983 after a truck bombing killed 243 marines, was convinced by Somali events that the we always retreat under fire.
Clinton's acted almost passively after al-Qaeda’s underground bombing of New York’s World Trade Center in 1993, he later feebly responded to al-Qaeda’s bombing of our embassies in East Africa in 1998 by rearranging some sand dunes by firing some missiles into Afghanistan and destroying an aspirin factory in Africa. We did nothing after al Qaida’s bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 which further emboldened bin Laden's attitude toward us. This display of weakness encouraged bin Laden to up the ante on 9/11.
The Balkan crises posed serious problems for Clinton. His response to Serbian aggression and ethnic cleansing was dealt with in typically Clinton fashion. He committed our troops to fight under a UN peace-keeping mission, entangled in a UN-NATO dual decision-making mechanism. A muddled response at best.
The UN representative in Bosnia was Yasushi Akashi. He arrived in the Balkans fresh from his failure in Cambodia. In typical UN fashion he refused to use force to stop ethnic cleansing. So did our key NATO allies. Only after the 1995 massacre of 7000 Muslim males by Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica, did Clinton abandon his reliance on the UN. He turned to NATO.
NATO proceeded to bomb Serb positions, stopped the Bosnian Serbs and halted the slaughter. Because of the bombing a political settlement was reached.
Unfortunately, it required outrage on the part of Americans and Europeans to get their governments to react.
But years of indifference and reliance on the US cost the lives of more than 200,000 people in Bosnia.
The Clinton Administration went from one failure to another. Some were caused by weak and feeble responses and others by no responses at all.
The Clinton presidency will always be remembered for its shameful inaction during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. When Hutu militias first began murdering the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, Clinton opposed the call of the UN ground commander for a modest troop reinforcement needed to stop the slaughter. Fearing another Somalia, Clinton supported a reduction of the remnant UN forces and sabotaged international rescue efforts.
During 100 days 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered. Five years later, at Kigali airport, Clinton publicly pretended he had not known at the time what was happening in Rwanda.
That was a lie.
Today the former president writes: “The failure to try to stop Rwanda’s tragedies was one of the greatest regrets of my presidency.” Evasive as always, Clinton could not admit his interference with the international rescue. He can’t even bring himself to use the word “genocide”. Not even now.
1994 was a massive failure for the Clinton presidency.
First the Hillary/Magaziner health initiative went down in flames because Americans were horrified these do-gooders were about to tinker with the finest medical system in the world. The overwhelming percentage of Americans were insured and received health care even royalty would find satisfactory anywhere. The public sentiment was, hands off.
Then came the biggest blunder of all the Clinton years, the administration’s inept handling of the North Korean nuclear threat.
We discovered that Pyongyang (North Korean capitol) had developed a nuclear weapons capability at Yongbyon. Apparently Clinton considered a surgical military strike but as usual he eventually flinched, settling instead on negotiating an agreement requiring North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for fuel and food.
Boy were we ever suckered.
Long before George W. Bush would later label North Korea as a part of the “axis of evil”, Pyongyang soon proceeded to violate the agreement, by secretly building uranium enrichment facilities.
Today, the costs of a military option are much higher and less workable. Pyongyang, already the world’s greatest purveyor of missile technology, may now have a nuclear arsenal it can sell to terrorists and nuclear tipped missiles that can devastate Tokyo, Los Angeles and Sydney.
We learned much from Clinton’s first eighteen months in office. The UN is no way for us to run our foreign policy. It is merely an organization of nations, none of which will sacrifice perceived vital national interests or spill blood for a majority designated good.
In perusing our own foreign policy interests, we can request international support there but not to precondition our initiatives on UN authorization. Awaiting demonstrably imminent threats to international peace and security, or morally unacceptable actions such as genocide and ethnic cleansing, is absurd.
An equal absurdity is signing nuclear disarmament agreements we clearly are unwilling to enforce. Doing so assures us of even greater crises.
By the winter of 1994 President Clinton had created such a leadership vacuum Republican leaders began to smell blood in the water. His only successful initiative was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993.
Yet even NAFTA had been won only at the expense of labor union support for many members of congress who crossed over to join Republicans to pass it.
NAFTA had the support of a majority of Republicans in congress but their party’s significant deficit in numbers meant many Democrats would need to cross over and join the Republicans.
That victory placed many Democrats in political danger.
One final indignity for supporters of Mr. Clinton: The discredited boss of Enron, felon Ken Lay donated $100,000 to Clinton's 1993 inauguration. To make matters worse, according to the records, Enron also added an additional $25,000 to the Clinton 1993 celebrations.