Jewish World Review June 3, 2003 / 3 Sivan 5763

Paul Greenberg

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For the record: Bill Clinton vs. history | There he goes again. This time Bill Clinton did it during graduation ceremonies at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi -- a state whose faulknerian language just naturally invites mythmaking. And no one is better at revising his own than Bill Clinton.

The former and still restive president threw this line into his commencement address and partisan attack as proof of his fairness before proceeding to attack the administration's domestic program: "I supported the president when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ."

Then he repeated the same sliver of the record later during the topping-out ceremony for his presidential library in Little Rock, as if repetition could make it so.

You have to admire the offhand way he throws it in; it shows a certain genius. No doubt his audiences accepted his assertion in the unhearing way lots of folks listen to speeches by commencement speakers and distinguished formers in general.

In Bill Clinton's case, the casual assertion of the misleading is a practiced technique. He once assured a press conference at the Governor's Mansion, without batting an eye, that he'd supported Bush the Elder's war against Iraq, too, though of course he didn't.

Actually, he'd waffled, and only clearly supported the war in retrospect -- after it had been won. If it hadn't been, he could just as easily have claimed he'd always been against it. Neat. This time there's just enough of a basis to that "I supported the president" to hide the various times he didn't. If Bill Clinton did endorse the congressional resolution authorizing the president to act in Iraq, any impression that he supported the war when the president did act would be naive. Because with this guy there's always a clinton clause.

As early as last fall, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly, Bill Clinton was attaching more reservations to his support than a deadbeat dad:

"If we have to take military action," he told the Atlantic, "I will support the president if I believe he has done everything reasonably possible not only to build a broader coalition but to do it within a framework of trying to strengthen the U.N. We can't go around deposing people without global support. We just can't do it."

Now that we've done it, this president who won't go away is most unhappy, at least to judge by his comments last month to journalist Marvin Kalb at one of those talkfests in New York. Asked if he was disagreeing with the way the United States (and the rest of the Coalition of the Willing) went into Iraq without still another resolution from the United Nations, Bill Clinton let loose:

"Yeah, I am. I'm totally angry and I'll tell you why. We liked the U.N. a lot after Sept. 11, when the whole world said, 'We'll go to Afghanistan and help you get Osama bin Laden.' There are German and French soldiers in Afghanistan today. We don't want 'em to help us find bin Laden anymore since they didn't agree with our timetable in Iraq. It's a complicated world out there, they don't work for us. You know, Hans Blix was begging for more time, and they said, 'We think he ought to have it.' And our side says, 'No, we're gonna liberate Iraq, and we've got a resolution which gives us the authority to do it, and so we've determined that we're gonna do it now, and if you don't like it we'll get even with you when it's over.' I think the idea that we should somehow scorn everyone who disagrees with us, because we decided that we would set the timetable for an invasion instead of letting Mr. Blix do it, when all these countries came to our aid after 9/11 and many still have soldiers at risk in Afghanistan with us, is a gross overreaction. Our paradigm now seems to be, something terrible happened to us on Sept. 11. It gave us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with us, and if they don't, they can go straight to Hell. So yeah, I'm still pretty much for the U.N. I still think Kofi Annan's a good guy who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. I think if we had given it a little more time, there is a chance either that (Saddam Hussein) would have disarmed or if we had gone in then we would've had far more members of the Security Council with us."

Whew. If all those comments in New York on April 15 -- a week after Baghdad was liberated -- are supposed to be support for the president, what would opposition be? He's diligently building a different, fictive record now, and separating fact from fiction will require eternal vigilance.

As for Bill Clinton's happy picture of what would have happened if this ad-hoc Coalition of the Willing hadn't acted -- that Saddam Hussein would have turned into some kind of Albert Schweitzer, giving up his dream of dominating the Middle East with strategic weapons -- well, to believe that requires even more than the usual suspension of disbelief where Bill Clinton is concerned.

Then there's his unrecognizable portrait of Kofi Annan, who sat out the massacres in Rwanda and at Srebrenica, as a good guy who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and his equally credible vision of Hans Blix, that real-life Inspector Clouseau, as a tough-minded enforcer of the world's will who just needed a little more time to bring Saddam around after only 12 years of futile pleading and his warning that the United States and stalwart allies shouldn't have acted without permission from the French and Germans, not to mention mighty Belgium and pivotal Cameroon and his strange assertion that we don't want the French and Germans to help us find Osama bin Laden anymore . Well, what is there to say? It's all so surreal.

It should be enough to note that, when Bill Clinton himself finally approved military action in the Balkans, he didn't ask the (dis)United Nations for their permission, knowing full well they wouldn't give it. He knew better than that -- at least he did then.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He coined the moniker "Slick Willy." Send your comments by clicking here.

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