BILL CLINTON: ELDER STATESMAN?
Ralph Peters was awestruck by the former president’s address to a recent gathering in Qatar.
We all know that Bill Clinton can speak persuasively, of course. But in this case the message mattered. Clinton just may have been the only American who could have reached that unforgiving crowd.
He didn’t pander. He made America’s case and made it well. Beginning with a sometimes-rueful look at the progress his administration had failed to make and noting that the wars that plague the world are begun by men his own age or older, but paid for in blood by the young, he refused to direct one syllable of blame at the Bush administration. Accepted as a citizen of the world, he spoke as a convinced American.
Asked by an eager-to-Bush-bash delegate if he, Bill Clinton, would have behaved differently after 9/11, our former president said he would have followed an identical course, pursuing our enemies into Afghanistan and beyond. Queried about his position on Iraq, he stated that any disagreements he might have would be most appropriately expressed at home in the U.S., not before a foreign audience.
As America pioneers the human future, much of what we must do will excite resentment, fear and envy overseas. A president who’s popular abroad is probably failing America. Yet the calls we hear for more effective American “public diplomacy” can’t be disregarded: We need to make our nation’s case to the skeptical and even the hostile.
Bill Clinton is the perfect man for the job.
Perhaps we need a division of labor, a good-cop, bad-cop approach, in American foreign policy. While making the hard strategic decisions in Washington, the Bush administration should lose no opportunity to send Clinton to represent us abroad, where the former president excites the sort of irrational, positive feelings people once directed toward JFK.
It won’t happen in an election year, of course. But employing Bill Clinton on future “missions of persuasion” also might help reduce the enmity between our political parties in the foreign-policy sphere. The administration shouldn’t be too proud to ask for the help it needs from Clinton – who clearly misses the buzz and wants to serve.
Aside from his unflagging support of free trade–where he was far better than President Bush–I was never a fan of the Clinton foreign policy. But I have noticed that neither he nor, surprisingly, Hillary, have taken the bait and followed the Howard Dean course on the war. Maybe the two biggest stars in the Democratic party know something that Dean doesn’t? I suspect that, in the long run, their calculation will prove correct.
Could I conceive of a lame duck Bush using Bill Clinton as an ambassador-at-large? Perhaps. If only Nixon could go to China, maybe only Clinton could convince the Europeans and other skeptics that our policies are in their long term best interests.