The world doesn't need a Clinton double dose

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2008, 12:00am

It is not a question of who has the dominant personality - Bill or Hillary Rodham Clinton. It is how the world works, a world that is, even in its most liberal quarters, essentially chauvinistic.

If we hadn't caught the penny before, we certainly heard it drop in South Carolina. Bill and Hillary are 'two for one', and where she goes, he goes, too. If Senator Clinton became president, while she would have the constitutional authority, he would have the political clout.

Then there is the question of what a double-headed Clinton regime would do. Undoubtedly, it would be less war-like than the Bush administration. It would also be wiser and more sophisticated.

But while the Bush years have been a disaster, it doesn't mean we should overlook how inadequate the Clinton presidency was on almost everything but economic policy.

When he became president, Mr Clinton had the world at his feet. No cold war. No major war anywhere. An economy on the cusp of prosperity. But it quickly turned out, especially on foreign policy, that he had no vision, no deep convictions and no overriding purpose.

One of his first acts - presumably to quieten the Pentagon, which was nervous and antagonistic because of his draft-dodging the Vietnam war and his tolerance of homosexuality in the military - was to launch a missile attack on Iraq. That merely cemented Iraqi public opinion behind Saddam Hussein. Mr Clinton's vigorous economic embargo of Iraq likewise hurt civilians the most.

A short while after the missile attack, he made the decision to pull American troops out of Somalia, where they were supposed to be part of a UN peacekeeping force. In fact, they operated independently under the direct authority of US Southern Command in Florida, and had decided to engage in combat with one of the rebel leaders in a very non-UN way. It led to the deaths of 18 American soldiers.

Instead of taking the blame himself, Mr Clinton turned on the UN. For the rest of his two terms, the UN remained the bete noire of much of the American public. This should have been the era when the UN came into its own, with the Security Council working in harmony. Ironically, there was more of this under Mr Clinton's predecessor, George H.W. Bush. Indeed, there was more progress in building a sane and sober relationship with post-communist Russia under the first president Bush than Mr Clinton.

And then there was the genocide in Rwanda. When it was gathering speed, Mr Clinton gave the impression to his underlings that he didn't want to know. His attempt at peace in the Middle East fell apart because he was clumsily partisan in favour of Israel.

If an artist were commissioned to paint the eight years of Mr Clinton's presidency, it would be a landscape of missed openings. The great historical opportunities that were open to him were squandered, with arguably the exception of making peace with North Korea.

Why should America, or the rest of the world, want a double-headed, double dose of this?

Jonathan Power is a London-based journalist