The world is more connected every day in every way. America’s security and prosperity require us to continue to lead in the world. At this remarkable moment in history, more people live in freedom than ever before.
BILL CLINTON, FAREWELL ADDRESS (JANUARY 18, 2001)
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON EASILY DEFEATED BOB DOLE IN THE 1996 election, notching a 379-159 victory in the Electoral College. For the second time, Clinton—who had avoided the Vietnam War draft—defeated a highly decorated World War II hero. Foreign policy, however, was not a dominant campaign issue, and it didn’t hurt him. With the exception of the lingering controversy over Iraq (where Saddam Hussein was attacking the Kurdish people in his country’s own northern region), the Middle East was largely a back-burner issue, and the optimistic mood of the post-Cold War era seemed to offer a fig leaf of general stability throughout the world. The Dayton Agreement was signed on December 14, 1995, in Paris, creating the single nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where U.S. peacekeeping troops were assigned to promote security. Their presence—usually around four thousand troops strong—seemed to guarantee a lasting peace in the region. They remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina throughout Clinton’s second term.
During the campaign, domestic concerns were a higher priority than issues like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, or the Middle East. Under Clinton’s indefatigable leadership, the United States had grandly worked itself out of the mild recession of the early 1990s. The economy was starting to rattle and hum. Clinton nixed the notion of Senator Dole’s proposed tax cuts by arguing that such a move would only increase the deficit and stall his administration’s hard-earned economic expansion. Perhaps because he was overseeing a bullish economy, Clinton was personally popular. Contrary to his wonkish reputation, he had demonstrated an unparalleled ability to earnestly connect with everyday people on the campaign trail. He projected empathy with an uncommon twinkle-eyed verve. While Senator Dole, from Kansas, had a waxen complexion and seemed stiffer than even Nixon (he’d lost an arm in Italy during World War II, which hindered easy movement), there was a flair about Clinton that touched on Elvis Presley-like charisma. By winning reelection in 1996, Clinton became the first Democratic president voted to a second term since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.
When the yearlong campaign was over, President Clinton spent time in the U.S. Virgin Islands on a well-deserved holiday. But his wheels never stopped turning even while vacationing in the Caribbean sun. As John Harris noted in the Washington Post, the first-term foreign-policy novice had, by 2005, “developed his own instincts about the world and the confidence to trust them.” He intended to start his second term with a head full of policy steam and returned to Washington, D.C., ready for sweeping personnel changes in his foreign-policy-making team. A national security overhaul was under way. Never particularly close to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the debonair former Jimmy Carter hand, the President was anxious to take a more active approach in the stalled Middle East peace talks and discussion of NATO expansion during his second term. On December 5, 1996, Clinton announced that the Czechoslovakian-born Madeleine Albright would replace Christopher at Foggy Bottom. The appointment immediately garnered a wave of press approval. Albright would hold the distinction of being the first woman to serve as Secretary of State (and the highest-ranking female Cabinet officer in U.S. history). It had taken a long 207 years for a woman to finally receive the honor of running the State Department. Longtime bureaucrats, most of them male, didn’t know what to think at first. “The boys are catatonic,” reported Tom Oliphant in the Boston Globe. “They never thought it would happen. Half of Washington is in a state of shock.”
As a child, Albright had fled Prague as the Nazis were taking over Czechoslovakia and lived like a refugee in Britain and France before coming to the United States. Her biggest supporter was First Lady Hillary Clinton. Like Hillary, Albright had graduated from Wellesley College and had gone on to earn both master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Between 1983 and 2000, her testimony, speeches, and policy papers on Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas were published in nine volumes of a Public Information Series printed by the U.S. State Department and Bureau of Public Affairs. Fluent in French and Czech, with excellent linguistic skills in Polish and Russian, Albright was a true-blue international affairs expert. Her main policy strength was in U.S.-European affairs. Dealing with terrorism, however, wasn’t prominent in her portfolio. After a career that alternated between academic and government posts, Albright had been named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Clinton’s first term. Albright made headlines at the UN by condemning Cuban pilots who had gunned down an American airplane. “Frankly,” she said, “this is not cojones, this is cowardice.” Much of the world howled its approval of this feisty female diplomat sticking it to the macho Castroites. A stalwart promoter of bipartisanship in foreign-policy-making, Albright was unanimously confirmed as Secretary of State by the Republican-controlled Senate. “Albright had done an astounding job at the United Nations and understood the challenges we faced, especially in the Balkans and the Middle East,” Bill Clinton explained in his memoir My Life. “I thought she had earned the chance to be the first female Secretary of State.”
Albright—whom the Russian press dubbed Gospozha Stal (Madam Steel)—wasn’t the only new member of Clinton’s national security team in January 1997. Tapping into the prevailing spirit of bipartisanship, President Clinton selected William Cohen, former Republican senator from Maine, to be Secretary of Defense, replacing William Perry. A published poet and an even-keeled lawyer, Cohen had endeared himself to Democrats during the Reagan years by fiercely criticizing the Iran-Contra weapons-for-hostages scheme. “My entire career has been devoted to pursuing national security policy that is without partisanship,” he said when nominated. Shortly before confirmation, Cohen stated that his priorities would be improving U.S. troops’ readiness for combat and the modernization of military forces for the twenty-first century. An international realist, Cohen believed that the United States should always stand by its European allies in both word and deed.
New Mexico congressman Bill Richardson—who had defused minor crises in North Korea and Iraq at the behest of President Clinton during his first term—was selected as UN Secretary. Richardson, a Hispanic, reflected the diversity in President Clinton’s administration. Sandy Berger, whom Clinton trusted like a brother, was chosen as National Security Adviser (he had served as Deputy Adviser under Anthony Lake during the first Clinton term). He was an early supporter of NATO intervention as a means to halt the genocidal violence in Bosnia. Berger was known as a foreign-policy consensus maker. “Part of my job,” he explained, was to promote “creative diversity” of opinion between the NSC, State Department, CIA, and the Defense Department.
There was just one unsuccessful nomination: Anthony Lake as CIA director. If ever there was a cabinet officer that President Clinton enjoyed dismissing, it was CIA director John Deutch. According to historian Tim Weiner, in his book Legacy of Ashes, Clinton was livid when Deutch told Congress, in September 1996, that the United States might never be able to stop Saddam Hussein’s bullying tactics with economic sanctions against Iraq. In December of the same year, Clinton announced his intention to replace Deutch with Anthony Lake. But Lake, deemed a feckless McGovernite by the GOP, had a controversial history of anti-Vietnam War protest, and an aggressive group of Republican leaders decided to derail his appointment. The “get Lake” campaign was vociferous, to say the least. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for example, hammered Lake as a national security weakling, a pacifist born with a yellow streak down his back. CIA insiders likewise didn’t care for Lake’s progressive style. By March 17, 1997, an irked Lake had had enough of the firestorm and refused to proceed with the confirmation hearings. As Lake put it, he wasn’t going to be “a dancing bear in a political circus.”
Replacing Lake as nominee was George Tenet, the deputy director who had been running the agency as acting director for several months. A trained diplomat with experience as an aide in the Senate, Tenet promised to save the CIA from its antiquated modus operandi. The information age had long since arrived, and structural reforms were badly needed. Yet the CIA bureaucracy still operated as if Dwight Eisenhower was president and I Love Lucy was flickering on black-and-white TVs. Many CIA field officers had neither computer nor foreign-language skills, but the CIA was off course in other ways as well. As one career operative put it, the agency had “gotten away from basics—the collection and unbiased analysis of facts.” Tenet was confirmed in July 1996. He would help the agency restructure itself for the modern post- cold war era by embracing new information-collecting techniques. The days of intelligence folly were supposedly over. “Tenet knew what the mission was: save the CIA,” Weiner wrote. “But the agency approached the end of the American Century burdened by a personnel system invented in the 1880s, an information conveyor belt resembling assembly lines of the 1920s, and a bureaucracy dating to the 1950s.”
On January 20, 1997, President Clinton took the oath of office for a second time and delineated the international situation in his inaugural address. Looking younger than his fifty years, he struck a hopeful note. “The world is no longer divided into two hostile camps,” he intoned. “Instead, now, we are building bonds with nations that once were our adversaries. Growing connections of commerce and culture give us a chance to lift the fortunes and spirits of people the world over. At the same time, a tense strain of caution prevails. And for the very first time in all of history, more people on this planet live under democracy than dictatorship.” The speech was entirely consistent with Clinton’s high-minded belief in democratic enlargement.
It’s worth noting that during the inauguration ceremony, the so-called Atlanta rules (measures first used to clear airspace during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics) had been implemented. The Clinton administration would use the Atlanta rules at select events in the coming years. Perhaps the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, could have been averted if a permanent air-defense unit had been established. Unfortunately, we’ll never know, because Clinton took only a half measure, using the Atlanta rules only sparingly to combat terrorism.
In early 1997, President Clinton grew impassioned about confronting the global AIDS epidemic. The new Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan of Ghana, had previously been supportive of the Clinton administration’s efforts at peacekeeping in Bosnia. “Kofi was an intelligent, impressive man with a quiet but commanding presence,” Clinton recalled. “He had given most of his professional life in service to the United Nations, but he was not blind to its shortcomings, nor wedded to its bad habits.” Annan’s UN stood ready to join the United States in the fight against AIDS in famished sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps even in the development of a vaccine. Clinton, in fact, would soon mark World AIDS Day by announcing increased NIH funding for an AIDS vaccine, earmarking $200 million to the effort.
In February, Secretary Albright was dispatched to China, in part to pressure Beijing on its deplorable human-rights record. President Clinton himself became active in foreign policy, working to convince Russian president Boris Yeltsin to reduce his nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Clinton also coveted Yeltsin’s approval of NATO membership for Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary and wanted to leave the door open for possible future admittance of the Ukraine and Belarus. It was an audacious American chess move aimed at increasing NATO hegemony in Europe that was sold as a peaceful gesture of bilateral cooperation between Washington and Moscow.
On March 20 and 21, Clinton met with Yeltsin in Helsinki for diplomatic talks about European security, arms limitations, and the desperate need for economic aid for the fledgling nations of the Russian Federation. The Clinton strategy was designed to convince Yeltsin to publicly bless NATO expansion. As an incentive, Clinton offered Yeltsin a U.S. commitment to promote Russian membership in two elite diplomatic enclaves: the G8 and the World Trade Organization. Yeltsin thought it was a reasonable arrangement, but he was deeply worried about the domestic backlash he would face for approving NATO expansion. Because Russia had been invaded with tragic results by both Napoleon and Hitler, there was an understandably pessimistic reaction to the notion that NATO troops should ever be positioned anywhere near the Russian border in coming years. A tough, fair-minded negotiation between Clinton and Yeltsin ensued. “I told Yeltsin that if he would agree to NATO expansion and the NATO-Russian partnership,” Clinton recalled, “I would make a commitment not to station troops or missiles in the new member countries prematurely, and to support Russian membership in the new G-8, the World Trade Organization, and other international organizations. We had a deal.”
Newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Cohen noted that if an unpredictable nation like North Korea or Iran developed nuclear weapons, the consequences could be cataclysmic. Eight nations had nuclear weapons in 1997—the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China, India, Israel, and Pakistan—and the Clinton administration was determined to keep the circle closed. For all its talk of combating AIDS in Africa and promoting the Clinton doctrine in global trade, prohibiting rogue nations from acquiring nuclear weapons remained the top foreign-policy priority in the second term.
Clinton continued to govern by his trademark mixture of democratic idealism and a willingness to consider world politics from a free-trade economic perspective. In relation to Russia, the shift was palpable. The metaphor of the two scorpions in a bottle was gone.Globalization was the administration buzzword, chanted as if part of a college fight song. The information age, of course, contributed to the new impetus. In 1987 the Internet had been the province of the elite science community. A decade later, it was a user-friendly global encyclopedia serving hundreds of millions of people. The software industry in places like the Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Austin/Round Rock was booming. Meanwhile, scientists were using DNA to decode the secrets of human life. The Human Genome Project boasted that it had figured out over 90 percent of the human genome sequence. Human genes, in fact, were being mapped down to the nucleotide level. Diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s were on the run due to new medical technologies. “Cures for our most feared illnesses,” Clinton predicted, “seem close at hand.”
The World Wide Web represented a genuine communication revolution; European Union avatar Jean Monnet’s post-World War II notion of a single global marketplace was becoming plausible. Time magazine, for example, chose Andrew Grove, chairman of the computer-chip maker Intel, as its 1997 Man of the Year for being a cyberspace pioneer.
President Clinton insisted that the World Wide Web would soon benefit poor nations. He deemed computerization the “third industrial revolution of communications and technology.” That revolution also helped propel the prosperity of the Clinton years. Internet-related U.S. stocks skyrocketed in value in the mid-1990s. Netscape, which had developed a Web browser, rose from $14 to $71 a share in a single hour. But if a single U.S. company was chosen to represent American entrepreneurship in the late 1990s, it was clearly the software producer Microsoft. Bill Gates, the geekish chairman of Microsoft, had a personal net worth of over $50 billion. “The global economy is giving more of our own people, and billions around the world, the chance to work and live and raise their families with dignity,” Clinton said. “But the forces of integration that have created these good opportunities also make us more subject to global forces of destruction, to terrorism, organized crime and narco-trafficking, the spread of deadly weapons and disease, the degradation of the global environment.” Keeping vital information out of the wrong hands was more challenging—by far—than it had been before, and it became a primary fear as the Clinton years drew to a close.
Technology breakthroughs raised the grim specter of a serious new problem: foreign-inspired terrorism planned and networked via the Internet. The White House was particularly concerned about chemical weapons stockpiles. Fearful that U.S. troops would be attacked with anthrax, Clinton ordered 1.5 million men and women in uniform to be inoculated. The real fear was terrorism without an identifiable source. A National Intelligence estimate plainly stated that transnational terrorist groups were America’s most troublesome security threat. And yet, inexplicably, the Clinton administration remained fairly lax on issues pertaining to border security. America would pay dearly for this inexplicable negligence on September 11, 2001.
From 1992 to 1996, the Clinton administration looked upon Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden with increasing disdain. Raised in Saudi Arabia, and the son of a billionaire, bin Laden cultivated an ascetic attitude anchored in his own messianic narcissism. As an Islamic fundamentalist, bin Laden even despised Yasir Arafat for being a secularist. He was engaged in a self-proclaimed jihad, which meant, in the accepted international context, a religious war of attack on non-Muslims. Using Sudan as his operational base, bin Laden declared the United States the lethal “snake head” thwarting Islamic ambitions, the true fountainhead of evil on the planet. Though bin Laden was supported by the CIA in the fight against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the 1980s, in the 1990s he avowed that Islamic terrorists should consider America and Americans as their prime targets.
Bin Laden also championed the destruction of other Western nations, including Israel. His terrorist organization, al Qaeda, had orchestrated the bombings of two hotels used by Americans in Aden, Yemen, and the gunning down of U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in Somalia. When the United States pulled out of Somalia, bin Laden celebrated the withdrawal as an Islamist victory. Due to intense U.S. diplomatic pressure, however, bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan in 1996. Refusing to be flummoxed, bin Laden established an al Qaeda base camp in Afghanistan, announcing his fanatical jihadist belief that if the United States were destroyed, the secular Arab kingdoms would soon topple like castles of sand. He relied on a personal fortune estimated at $250 million to fund his nefarious activities. He was a terrorist leader without an electorate but with plenty of recruits wanting to avenge themselves on the United States for its imperialistic ways.
On February 23, 1998, bin Laden issued a fatwa, proclaiming it a sacred duty of all Muslims to kill Americans and their allies—civilians and military personnel—anywhere in the world. Bin Laden’s new manifesto was signed by Islamist extremists from Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, who accused America of “occupying the most holy lands of Islam: the Arabian Peninsula. It has been stealing its resources, dictating to its leaders, humiliating its people, and frightening its neighbors. It is using its rule in the Peninsula as a weapon to fight the neighboring peoples of Islam.” According to the Washington Post, bin Laden’s fatwa was the “first from these groups that explicitly justify attacks on American civilians anywhere in the world.”
A self-styled terrorist, bin Laden believed that all secular Arab governments needed to be eradicated before the Great Satan—a.k.a. the United States—could be toppled. In 1996 bin Laden ordered attacks on all U.S. citizens living in the Arabian Peninsula (two years later it was the world). In a May 1998 interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, bin Laden claimed that he might attack a U.S. military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. A few weeks later, U.S. intelligence obtained credible information that bin Laden was considering attacks on Washington, D.C., and New York.
In addition to bin Laden, Iraq was a constant worry for the United States. The Clinton administration tightened economic sanctions and enforced no-fly zones against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime. It also insisted that UN weapons inspections continue in Iraq without interference. But Hussein continually defied the post-Gulf War agreements to which he had agreed. A showdown between the United States and Iraq loomed. Wild-eyed extremists like bin Laden and Hussein were turning the oftentimes irresolute Clinton into a foreign-policy hawk. To the consternation of the American left, the Clinton administration approved the production of the B-2 Stealth Bomber and continued to make military funding an administration priority. In 1997 alone the United States appropriated $271 billion for defense programs. If a second Gulf War occurred, America would be ready militarily. The Cold War may have ended, but the military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower had warned about in his 1961 farewell address, was up and running in overdrive.
What Secretary Albright later called “an international soap opera” (starring the United States, the UN Security Council, and Saddam Hussein) was starting to regularly garner above-the-fold newspaper headlines. Recognizing the “Saddam problem,” President Clinton formulated a mixed policy of containment, sanctions, and the threat of military action to control Iraqi aggressions to the extent that it was possible. But much like Dwight Eisenhower, Clinton was reluctant to use the military. He much preferred covert action. “Clinton’s designs often depended on secrecy for their success, and as a result, one of the most highly publicized presidents was one of the most covert, and one who participated in his own cover-up of these activities,” historian Richard Sale wrote inClinton’s Secret Wars. “But no one should be misled. It is clear that President Clinton learned to act with focused integrity and implacability of purpose when a serious crime came.”
On July 24, 1997, President Clinton held a White House conference on the perils of global warming. It was believed that the melting polar ice caps would soon increase flooding to near biblical proportions. According to climate scientists, it was imperative that nations reduce their emission of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and consequently lead to melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and changes in weather patterns. During the Clinton years, the damage to the climate wrought by greenhouse gases was recognized as a threat to our food, security, health, and water resources. Later in 1997, in a speech before the National Geographic Society, the President offered a partial solution to the global-warming crisis. The administration set a goal of incrementally reducing greenhouse gases over the two following decades. New “green” technologies (i.e., based on wind, solar, ethanol, hydrogen, and hybrid energy sources) would help decrease U.S. dependence on fossil fuel. Certainly, if America weaned itself off of its gasoline addiction, the importance of Middle East oil would be greatly diminished. Shifts toward a new, “green” energy policy would improve mighty America’s posture.
Spearheading the White House global-warming task force was Vice President Al Gore. Ever since Gore had enrolled in a course at Harvard University taught by Roger Revelle (the first scientist to methodically monitor carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), he had been a Paul Revere-like alarmist on the issue of air pollution and ozone depletion. More than any other administration figure, Gore insisted that environmental concerns were planetary in scope. “Nature,” Gore said, “is not immune to our presence.” He would hold staff meetings with an easel and flip chart showing grave trends in carbon dioxide emissions. Gore was worried that if glaciers melted in the Arctic and Antarctica, sea levels would dramatically rise, causing widespread flooding. He argued that global governance needed to address conservation issues, like Theodore Roosevelt had called for in 1909. Nevertheless, Clinton was a political pragmatist. America still heavily relied on oil in the late 1990s. In December 1997, the president approved the construction of an Iranian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through northern Iran to Western-controlled ports and gas tanks. Bowing to intense pressure from the U.S. oil lobby, Clinton refused to permanently save the coastal section of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the possibility of future drilling. Alternative fuels and environmentalism were attractive to Clinton, but oil was still king.
In December 1997, Vice President Gore, ignoring staunch resistance from virtually everybody in the White House, insisted on going to Kyoto, Japan, for a global-warming summit. The White House fear was that any agreement pertaining to tougher laws regarding reductions in pollution emissions would damage the Clinton economic boom. Gore, to his credit, believed the issue was too important to be shortchanged. Clinton, to his credit, let the zealous Vice President attend the meeting. Gore met privately with officials from South America, Japan, India, Brazil, and Europe, passionately declaring that America was concerned about global warming and promising he would act—and act fast—to pass tougher clean-air laws in Congress. Gore’s attendance at Kyoto was indeed the prime indication of genuine White House interest in addressing climate issues. All that Gore accomplished in Kyoto, however, was to keep the process alive. The treaty that resulted from the meeting was known as the Kyoto Protocol, and it was soon ratified by every major nation on earth except the United States. “It could be said that the victory was hollow,” David Maraniss wrote in The Prince of Tennessee. “The treaty drew loud opposition from Republicans in the Senate, and knowing that it would fail, the White House did not even attempt to send it to the Hill.” Nevertheless, on November 12, 1998, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, a merely symbolic gesture in the absence of ratification by the Senate.
Throughout the summer of 1997, Secretary Albright diligently worked on the Middle East peace negotiations. Unlike Warren Christopher, who made twenty-seven trips to Syria alone, Albright only traveled to the region if positive gains could be made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. With PLO-Hamas terrorism a problem, the pugnacious Benjamin Netanyahu (the youngest Israeli prime minister ever) refused to turn over any additional land to the Palestinian Authority led by Yasir Arafat. What Albright wanted was a Camp David-like summit. But just as Albright was starting to make headway on that front in July 1997, two terrorist bombs were detonated in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market. Fourteen Israelis were killed and over one hundred and seventy injured. A furious Albright called Arafat demanding that he imprison extremists, confiscate weapons, and arrest anti-Israeli groups that promoted terror. “Arafat condemned the killings,” Albright recalled, “but said he could not justify a crackdown after a year’s stalemate in the peace process.”
On September 4, 1997, a cabal of suicide bombers struck in unison along Ben Yehuda promenade in West Jerusalem. Four people were killed in addition to the three terrorists. A furious Netanyahu immediately arrested militants, quarantined parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and withheld vast sums in Palestinian tax revenue. This presented a new, serious setback for Albright’s diplomacy. Meanwhile, also in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Cohen made a half-hearted effort in his sphere, ordering the Nimitz carrier to the Persian Gulf as a serious warning to Iran and Iraq to halt incursions into the U.S.-enforced no-fly zone in southern Iraq; a proud megalomaniac, Hussein only laughed at the hollow, chest-thumping gesture.
The fall of 1997 was a particularly frustrating one for President Clinton. After three days of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, Albright called off the Israeli-Palestinian talks. Just like Warren Christopher, she didn’t have the Midas touch when it came to wheeling and dealing with Yasir Arafat. Nobody, it seemed, had a viable blueprint for peacemaking between Israel and Palestine. Albright warned that “hard decisions” were needed if peace were to come to the beleaguered region. Generally speaking, the Clinton administration seemed to be hobbled by its sense of caution in foreign affairs, as if just maintaining the global status quo were enough. President Clinton rejected an international treaty banning personnel land mines. Eighty-nine other countries embraced the pact, but Clinton, after conferring with the Pentagon, wanted mines along the DMZ in Korea to be allowed for a period of years, and he wanted self-destructing mines to be exempted. So he refused to sign the treaty, and yet, typically, he wanted to tread both sides of the issue and made sure to promise to take steps to advance our efforts to rid the world of mines.
For the most part, President Clinton dealt clumsily with Latin America, extending a hodgepodge of foolish scolding and free-market embraces. On a trip to Venezuela, for example, he chastised President Rafael Caldera for allowing criminals to export some one hundred metric tons of cocaine into the world’s illegal-drug marketplace each year. Clinton likewise criticized Colombia. Yet he offered little beyond talk. Certainly, Clinton had the moral high ground in the war on drugs, but such public chastising didn’t go over well in Latin America. It harkened back to the specter of imperialism dreaded in the hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine made the United States the overlord of the region. And wasn’t the United States complicit in having such a huge consumer base for illegal drugs? The Clinton 7 continued to impose a tough embargo on Cuba, hoping Fidel Castro would become another toppled Communist-era statue like those of Central and Eastern Europe. But when Clinton left the White House, the seventy-four-year-old caudillo was still running Cuba. The Clinton administration did achieve one major hearts-and-minds success, celebrated throughout Latin America, when it ceded control of the Panama Canal to Panama on December 31, 1998.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Clinton’s entire White House tenure occurred on February 2, 1998, when the President signed the following year’s federal budget—the first to be balanced in three decades. He proposed a $1.73 trillion fiscal 1999 budget and projected a $10 billion surplus. This would be the first year without a deficit since 1969. But it was hardly time to celebrate. American troops were still in Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading the UN peacekeeping effort with no timetable for withdrawal. Over the Christmas holiday, Clinton visited American troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina, hoping to keep morale high. He told local leaders: “Only a little more than two years ago . . . Sarajevo was mired in a deep freeze of destruction. And now, through your labors, it has begun to thaw and to grow anew in the sunlight of peace.”
Meanwhile, events in Iraq were roiling. Hussein refused to allow unconditional inspections of weapons sites by UN officials. Just three days after the triumph of the budget-signing ceremony, President Clinton ordered two thousand marines to the Persian Gulf. War with Iraq was discussed, but containment of possible aggression was offered as the primary reason for the deployment. British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Washington, D.C., to discuss possibly using military force against Iraq. As if preparing America for a second Gulf War, Clinton resolutely stated that while air strikes against Iraq weren’t an optimal alternative, “sometimes it’s the only answer.”
Few presidents have had the geopolitical acumen of Bill Clinton. Longtime adviser James Carville called him a born “policy wonk.” Clinton’s bookish knowledge about each and every global region was immediately impressive. He mastered the subtleties of missile technology and world food distribution, even as he juggled priorities masterfully. But due to attacks on his personal conduct, some of which were based in truth, he never garnered the lion’s share of public respect. Republican detractors were relentless in raising the issue of Clinton’s extramarital affairs to a level on a par with important international matters. The President, confronted with accusations of an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, flatly denied the charge. He was later forced to recant. More relevant to the integrity of the White House, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee claimed that the People’s Republic of China had tried to illegally influence the 1996 presidential campaign on Clinton’s behalf. Democratic fund-raiser Johnny Chung, who represented groups of Chinese businesspeople, eventually pled guilty to violating election law.
During the summer of 1998, the ignominy of the Monica Lewinsky affair unraveled like an overwrought witch hunt, meaning that the hard reality of terrorism in a high-tech age was completely obscured by tabloid diversions. On August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were blown up by car bombs, killing 224 people (including twelve Americans). There had been no advanced notice. Eventually, four al Qaeda terrorists—a Saudi Arabian, a Jordanian, a Tanzanian, and a U.S. national—were tried by a U.S. district court and found guilty of the heinous terrorist crimes. The tragedies carried an added concern: If embassies could not be considered safe-and-secure zones, the world diplomatic order would almost surely implode. Ultimately, the culprit behind the bombings was revealed to be bin Laden, who was hell-bent on blowing up embassies in willynilly fashion as he promoted his anti-American crusade. Something had to be done to protect U.S. assets: bin Laden needed to be snuffed out. America’s national security apparatus—including special operations forces—were now on red alert.
Always poignant at funerals and moments of national trial, President Clinton led America in a highly visible mourning over the Americans killed in Kenya and Tanzania. He promised “justice” for “these evil acts.” But that wasn’t all. On August 20, in an executive order of retribution, Clinton ordered cruise missile assaults on suspected terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan. About fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at the al Qaeda training camps at Zhawar Kili al-Badr. Over twenty jihadist trainees were killed. But a wave of angry international protest came Clinton’s way when it was discovered that the supposed Sudanese chemical warfare plant the U.S. bombed was merely a pharmaceutical plant. In addition, the strikes were not effective in destroying al Qaeda or its resolve. And, unfortunately, many Americans erroneously believed that Clinton had ordered the two-pronged Operation Infinite Reach to escape scrutiny from the Lewinsky affair. (The alleged strategy was considered a “wag the dog” tactic, the term coming from the name of a farcical Hollywood movie about politics starring Robert De Niro). It was an unfair charge. But by initially lying about the Lewinsky affair to cover up his adultery, the President had clearly weakened his governing ability. Nobody trusted Clinton as a man of his word. There was talk of impeachment on charges of perjury, stemming from his bogus testimony over the affair.
Once again Clinton had the right idea but did not pursue the military strategy doggedly enough. As The 9/11 Commission Report —a model of sound scholarship—later claimed, the failures of the Clinton-era strikes at al Qaeda bases, plus the stark partisanship atmosphere in Washington, D.C., only urged bin Laden onward. In a further attempt at containment, President Clinton ordered a freeze on bin Laden’s assets.
More than any previous president, Clinton gave a high priority to African affairs in both real and symbolic ways. In 1994 the violence on the continent escalated to a new level of atrocity in the nation of Rwanda, where as many as one million people were slaughtered in ritual genocide. In 1997 Clinton dispatched Secretary Albright to Africa to address problems of poverty, corruption, violence, and disease. To dramatize the horrific human-rights situation in Africa, Albright dramatically had a picture taken of herself cradling a dying baby. The name Rwanda had come to represent genocide. When Albright arrived three years later, the situation was still volatile. When the Rwandan Hutu guerillas, known as the Interahamwe, brutally attacked a Tutsi refugee camp in Mudende, murdering over three hundred people and wounding hundreds of others, Albright pleaded for the gunfire to stop. It only grew. In March and April of 1998, President Clinton went on an historic twelve-day tour of Africa. In Ghana he launched his “new face of Africa” initiative, insisting that the days of global neglect were over. While in Rwanda, Clinton addressed the horrific genocide that had taken place there; it was considered the worst human-rights atrocity since the Holocaust. Bravely, President Clinton admitted that the United States, under his leadership, hadn’t done enough to curtail the rampant violence. Humble, respectful, and full of regret, Clinton made it crystal clear that never again would America turn a blind eye toward genocide.
Until the African tour, President Clinton had only had a tangential relationship with South African president Nelson Mandela. But all that changed during his visit to Cape Town. For starters, Clinton was the first U.S. president to visit South Africa. He delivered a tremendous speech to their parliament, promising that the United States would help Africa make the transition into a marketplace democracy. With First Lady Hillary Clinton at his side, the President went to church in Soweto accompanied by Rev. Jesse Jackson. There, the Clintons had a heart-to-heart talk with Mandela. Because the president had been raised in the Jim Crow South, fighting for civil rights his entire public life, he was enthralled by the specter of a South Africa that had successfully dismantled institutionalized apartheid. To Clinton, Mandela was the world’s greatest living moral force. “It was a tribute to the spirit of reconciliation,” Clinton said, “that emanated from Mandela.”
Determined to create a post-Cold War world order based on democratic aspirations, Clinton deemed NATO expansion an American national security priority. At the NATO summit in Brussels on December 8, 1998, Secretary Albright refined NATO’s post-Cold War mission in clear-cut terms. It became known as the “three Ds” speech, as she insisted that there would be: “no diminution of NATO, no discrimination, and no duplication—because I think that we don’t need any of those three Ds to happen.” Happily, Albright could boast about the three European nations that were in the process of joining NATO during Clinton’s second term: the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. All enrolled on March 19, 1999, and when NATO held a fiftieth-anniversary summit in Washington, D.C., a few weeks later, Clinton could claim a special place in the history of the storied alliance that Harry Truman helped found.
Every time President Clinton was starting to soar, he would end up in the hollows and dells of some sex scandal. On December 12, 1998, he received terrible news on his way to a three-day visit to the Middle East. The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against him. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, instead of yielding to questions pertaining to Palestinian statehood, Clinton was peppered with scorn about the Lewinsky affair. An embarrassed Clinton insisted that he had not committed perjury and that under no circumstance would he resign. The following day Clinton visited Gaza, where residents were mired in their own problems. He watched as hundreds of Palestinian leaders raised defiant fists in the air, calling for the destruction of Israel. President Clinton met with Yasir Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu without achieving any tangible results in terms of moving the peace talks forward. Clinton’s hope of being able to score a major foreign-policy coup floundered. After three days of diplomacy, he had nothing to show. Israel refused to resume West Bank troop withdrawals, even though they were mandated by the Wye River peace accord. Clinton, however, deemed the trip a success. At least the peace process, albeit still a tangle of thorns, was continuing.
While Clinton fashioned himself a peacemaker between Israel and Palestine, his foreign policy remained appropriately activist in the rest of the Middle East. He was always prepared to use military force when necessary in dealing with dictatorial thugs. On October 31, 1990, in an attempt to cripple Saddam Hussein’s regime, Clinton signed HR4655 into law (i.e., a call for “regime change” in Iraq soon). Clinton then issued orders for Operation Desert Fox, which took place from December 16 to 19. It involved four days of air strikes against Iraq, punishment for Hussein’s refusal to allow UN inspections. Clinton spent his last two years as President using U.S. aircraft to regularly bomb Hussein’s antiair installations inside the Iraqi no-fly zones. For all his noble attempts, the Clinton strategy of sanctions and occasional missile attacks against Iraq never worked. Clinton’s “wag the dog” bombings had no perceivable effect in deterring Hussein’s mad pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Al Qaeda also remained a primary Clinton concern in 1999 and 2000. The president was determined to keep the enemy busy. CIA director Tenet, for example, wrote a sobering memorandum to the President regarding bin Laden. He explained that the destruction of al Qaeda had become essential if American national security was to be preserved. “We must now enter a new phase in our effort to get bin Laden,” Tenet wrote. “Our work to date has been remarkable and in some instances heroic; yet each day we all acknowledge that retaliation is inevitable and that its scope is far larger than we have previously experienced. . . . We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort.” For its part, the Justice Department offered a $5 million bounty for bin Laden, as if he were a global Jesse James.
In February 1999, the Senate rightfully acquitted the President on both articles of impeachment. A revitalized Clinton now turned to new challenges for NATO. Throughout the late 1990s, the humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo became unbearable to witness. Brutal clashes between Kosovo’s Albanians and Serbian police became the daily norm. Using Gestapo-like tactics, the Serbians slashed and burned Albanian villages. Gang rapes, home invasions, and crop and storefront burnings were the Serbians’ tactics for eradicating Kosovo’s Albanians. On March 31, 1998, the UN Security Council intervened, adopting Resolution 1160, which condemned Serbian tactics in Kosovo. A couple of months later, Serbian president Slobodan Milošević (working through diplomats from the United States, Russia, and the European Union) accepted the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM), a watchdog operation whose task was to quell the violence.
Unfortunately, KDOM didn’t work. The Serbians continued their genocidal behavior toward Kosovar Albanians. The UN estimated that by September 1998 over three hundred thousand Kosovars had been displaced by Serbian authorities. They were forced to live in squatters’ villages, out in the open air, without even basic shelters to protect them from winter weather. On October 1, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the world community to act against the repressive Serbian regime. A report from Médecins Sans Frontières told of women and children freezing in forests, unable to find even rudimentary medical care.
Learning his lesson from acting too slowly in Rwanda, President Clinton sprang into action. NATO was prepared to launch air strikes against Serbia. Only a last-minute deal struck between U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Serbian leader Milošević prevented the war. In a brilliant piece of diplomacy, Holbrooke got Milošević to end the military offensive in Kosovo, accept UN Resolution 1199, and allow NATO to conduct verification missions. But Milošević wasn’t to be trusted. In January 1999, Serbian forces massacred forty-five unarmed ethnic Albanians in the hamlet of Račak. Milošević’s noncompliance with NATO was flagrant: The Serbians simply refused to abide by UN Resolution 1199.
The Contact Group—the United States, Russia, Great Britain, Italy, France, and Germany—called for an immediate truce. Peace talks were held in Rambouillet, France, but to no avail. Serbia nixed the notion of NATO ground troops in Kosovo. Under Milošević’s regime, over four hundred thousand Kosovars were now homeless. Tired of Milošević’s subterfuge, NATO took military action against Serbia on March 24, 1999. Clinton approved the use of NATO forces in Operation Allied Force: bombing raids on Belgrade meant to coerce Serbians to end their assaults on Albanian Muslims in the Kosovo province. The message was clear: the Serb offensive in Kosovo would not be tolerated by NATO. At the same time, Clinton did not want the United States to be seen as an air-power aggressor. He authorized $50 million in emergency funds for Kosovo refugees and urged other nations and groups to join the humanitarian cause. The unrest in the former Yugoslavia did not end as planned though. By mid-April, the Pentagon was forced to call up thirty thousand reservists and National Guard members for NATO support. Furthermore, Clinton had to ask Congress for $5.9 billion in emergency funds to cover the U.S. commitment to Kosovo.
It was Secretary Albright who pushed hardest for military bombings. As Albright recounted in her memoirs, she argued fiercely with Colin Powell over the use of force in Bosnia. “What’s the point of having this superb military, Colin,” she asked, “if we can’t use it?” For eleven weeks, NATO air strikes occurred inside Serbia and Kosovo. Furthermore, Milošević was charged with “crimes against humanity” by the international war crimes tribunal headquartered in The Hague. Ghastly new stories of Milošević’s ethnic cleansing became public, including news of massacres of ethnic Albanians in the towns of Srbica, Đakovo, and Velika Kruša.
Kosovo was proof positive that NATO still mattered. The Kosovo War was Clinton at his most bold and steady. Clinton, Albright, and Holbrooke were all toasted in European capitals for their deft handling of Milošević. The UN was put in charge of the peacekeeping mission and tasked with deciding whether Kosovo should become independent or revert to Serbian rule. Yet Clinton’s administration remained hampered by the President’s personal peccadilloes. Republican pundits called for the President to resign and shove off back to Arkansas. Conservatives, in fact, deemed him unfit for command. Among constituents, however, the President’s job-approval rating remained high. On April 12, 1999, Clinton was held in contempt of court for falsely testifying in January 1998 during his deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit. It was all very sordid and convoluted. The cable TV news shows began referring to Clinton’s “bimbo eruptions,” but there is no indication that the president’s legal woes in the Jones scandal affected his foreign-policy decision making. Clinton approved selling $3.2 billion in subsidized arms to Egypt. He concluded trade agreements with Chinese premier Zhu Rongji. He issued a trade embargo against Serbia (except for food and medicine). He suspended the sale of handguns to Venezuelan companies on the grounds that they ended up with narcotics cartels. He embraced Slovenian independence. And he signed Executive Order 13129, which imposed sanctions against the ruling Taliban militia in Afghanistan. On the controversial issue of homosexuals serving in the military, Clinton had previously embraced a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Gays who kept their sexual orientations a private matter would not be investigated by the Pentagon. Most military professionals supported the policy, though it remained controversial among civilians. Lastly, starting in October 1999 the Clinton administration authorized the first direct military training for foreign opponents of Saddam Hussein. The staging of an Iraqi coup seemed to be very plausible.
By September 1999, the Middle East peace process had taken a slightly mollifying turn. Secretary Albright was able to procure the Israeli release of 350 Palestinian political prisoners. This wasn’t much in the fullness of time, but everything related to the Israeli-Palestinian feud happened in small increments. In addition, the Wye River land-for-security agreement was back on track. By November, President Clinton was meeting with Middle Eastern leaders in Oslo, hoping to crystallize a peace agreement. His talks with Ehud Barak (who had defeated Netanyahu for the post of prime minister in May 1999) and Yasir Arafat were highly constructive.
Clinton’s strongest asset was the fact that economic capitalism was all the rage. On November 15, 1999, the United States and China reached an agreement on trade relations, laying the groundwork for China’s dramatic entry into the WTO. China was fast becoming the largest lender to America. It was as if Washington, D.C., was the profligate spender and China the banker. When Clinton was first elected president in 1992, there was only one McDonald’s in Beijing. But American-styled cheeseburgers and fries became so popular—and tourism increased so much—that by 1999 there were over twenty of the franchise restaurants in China. This was Americanism on display: spotless restrooms, fountain Cokes, and air-conditioning. There were even photographs of Chinese citizens sitting in McDonald’s with laptops and cellular phones. In the United States, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev got into the fast-food act by doing a Pizza Hut commercial. To some, this was the end of history. Madison Avenue had won out over mankind. The world had become supranational in character, and, thanks to technology, nationalities had become blurry. This new market economy spelled bonanza for the United States, for it was distinctly American in style. In a “McWorld” where everybody was interconnected by media and entertainment, America was the hurly-burly Grand Central Station. “By the late nineties the nation had seemed to have arrived at an economic Eden,” Peter Jennings and Tom Brewster wrote in The Century, “negligible inflation, negligible unemployment, and 4 percent growth (up from a twenty-four year average of 2.4 percent).”
On October 27, 1999, Clinton offered the American Society of Newspaper Editors a reflection on why he was a successful U.S. president: “I have tried to lead America into a new century and into a whole new era in the way we live and work and relate to each other and the rest of the world,” he said. “And I have tried to build a world that was more peaceful, prosperous, and more secure.” There was, however, a flip side to Clintonism: the ubiquitous influence of the Internet attracted a growing chorus of skeptics. Clearly, Marshall McLuhan had been right to prophesize a global village. In the wrong hands, however, the Internet could have a corrosive side. Privacy and security were easily compromised, while crime and all types of fraud were given new worlds to conquer. Not everyone approved of the changes wrought by the booming, high-tech, big-business economy.
On December 1, 1999, the Clinton doctrine (or Big Mac I and II) was given a black eye in Seattle, where the WTO was scheduled to meet. A huge “mobilization against globalization” was organized by a fierce band of activists. The protestors stole the media glare from the 134-nation WTO’s so-called Millennium Round. Ostensibly, the rationale for the summit was to reduce tariffs (subsidies) and to open markets. It had been eight years since the Uruguay Round, and so an economic convocation was deemed necessary. Street violence, however, erupted as thousands of protesters demanded tougher global environmental laws and international standards for labor conditions. Clinton sympathized with their viewpoint (a few months later, at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, he urged corporate leaders to lift the heavy burden of debt from developing countries and grapple with environmental degradation), but he didn’t sympathize enough to embrace their dissent.
A spate of books published near the end of Clinton’s second term questioned the president’s core integrity. Out of presidential earshot, many close White House aides knew the charges to be true. Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II, authors of Year of the Rat, accused the Clinton administration of making illegal, behind-the-scenes deals with Chinese agendas through Johnny Chung. Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz published Betrayal, a blistering account of Clinton’s foreign policy, replete with classified U.S. documents. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, a leading sleuth in monitoring Clinton’s adulterous side, brought out Uncovering Clinton (the book made the president seem like a sociopath). Even Clinton’s former young adviser George Stephanopoulos turned on the President. In All Too Human, Stephanopoulos told of President Clinton’s penchant for lying. The mood of the country was defined by Clinton’s slippery way with words and loutish behavior toward women. Nevertheless, no matter what was written, the Clinton era remains fixed in history by the bywords budget surplus. With Clinton in the White House, the economy soared.
By the time Clinton left office in January 2001, he could truthfully boast that the world had been safe under his watch (or so it seemed). His November 2000 visit to Vietnam, the first by a U.S. president since the fall of Saigon, was indicative of Clinton’s healing ways in world affairs. Yet, in truth, any number of threats to the United Sates were ticking away like time bombs. Even though Secretary Albright had met with Kim Jong Il, Communist leader of North Korea, in a round of Pyongyang diplomacy, his government was still invested in the idea of a nuclear weapons program. Like a cat with nine lives, Osama bin Laden was still leading his Islamic terrorist cell known as al Qaeda. And Saddam Hussein was defying UN instructions to destroy all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Clinton believed the incoming administration would have to take a stern stand against Hussein. Neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan lambasted the entire tone and tenor of Clintonism in foreign affairs. Kagan called Clinton’s human-rights concerns “airy humanitarianism.” Instead of seizing on the end of the cold war to expand U.S. strategic interests abroad, Clinton tepidly talked about building democracy. The neocons wanted a new Pax Americana. A good starting point was toppling Hussein’s regime.
The year 2000 (or Y2K, as it was known) was a signal moment for world history. The fear of terrorism on New Year’s Eve and beyond was widespread. Wonderful fireworks displays were held all over the globe, without terrorist incident. In America one-eyed partisanship was put in check, and citizens instead basked in a collective momentum. Luckily, U.S. and international efforts foiled a series of terrorist plots timed to coincide with millennium celebrations, but it had been a near thing. Alert customs inspectors in Port Angeles, Washington, for example, suppressed a major terrorist plot hatched by Islamic extremists. No horrific incidents occurred anywhere in the world. What worried the FBI, however, was how freely al Qaeda was operating within U.S. borders.
And there was other good news on that special New Year’s Day. President Clinton proudly announced a $184 billion surplus in the federal budget, the last for which Clinton would be responsible. But a deep-seated paranoia loomed in the Y2K world order. The information superhighway was now miraculously fast and frighteningly powerful. Nations were terrified over the potential for catastrophic security breaches. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, for example, was disciplined following the loss of a laptop computer. News stories identifying the location of weapons-grade plutonium stores circulated on the Internet. And Vice President Al Gore, running against Texas governor George W. Bush for president in 2000, constantly warned of global-warming disasters soon to come. If there truly was one world, the new fright was that biological warfare could wipe out entire cities in a poof. This didn’t reach the levels of duck-and-cover drills during the Cold War, but the haunting specter of annihilation hung in the air. A man-made global catastrophe could happen at any time or in any place.
While Gore and Bush were slugging it out in the fall of 2000, bin Laden struck again. On October 12, 2000, two Islamist suicide bombers ran an explosive-laden raft into the destroyer U.S.S. Cole while it was refueling in Aden. The Pentagon grew gravely concerned. The bomb killed seventeen Americans and injured thirty-seven. The official inquiry into the incident concluded that the captain and crew failed to take necessary security precautions, but the real concern was that al Qaeda attackers might just as easily have used a nuclear device. Seizing the tragedy as a political opportunity, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (then running on the GOP ticket with George W. Bush) charged the Clinton administration with being asleep at the wheel, of being indifferent to the security of U.S. Navy vessels around the world because the Cold War was over. Cheney charged that Clinton didn’t understand the new battlefield: stateless terrorism. “The year 2000 ended, then, with no response to the Cole bombing from the American government,” John Farmer wrote with dismay in The Ground Truth. “The year that had begun in exultation that the millennium had come and gone without a major attack ended in the dispiriting reality that the largest attack since the embassy bombings had come and gone with no response.”
During the 2000 presidential campaign, it was clear to the American public that President Clinton and Vice President Gore were at odds. Gore, accepting the Democratic nomination for president in Los Angeles, was deeply embarrassed by the whole grim specter of the Lewinsky and Jones affairs. During the frenetic last weeks of the dead-heat campaign, Gore, following bad advice from pollster Stan Greenberg, gave Clinton the pariah treatment. Greenberg was convinced that the name Clinton had become synonymous with sex scandals and impeachment woes. During the October home stretch, Team Gore sidelined Clinton from the main game. In the closest election in U.S. history, Bush beat Gore with 271 to 266 electoral votes, a margin of less than 5 percent. Bush ran as a compassionate conservative, and it worked. “I think you made a mistake not to use me more in the last ten days,” Clinton chided his Vice President after the election.
An understandably bitter Gore was in no mood for a finger-wagging “I told you so” after losing the 2000 election. He turned the tables on his boss, blaming Clinton for not properly screening donors and flat-out lying during the Lewinsky affair. Later Clinton privately complained to his secret court historian, Taylor Branch, that poor Gore lived in “Neverland.”
The White House was turned over to the fifty-four-year-old son of George H. W. Bush: George W. Bush. To differentiate between the two leaders the press starting calling the senior Forty-one and the son Forty-three. Many Americans voted for Bush—the Republican governor of Texas—because on paper he seemed to be the best foreign-affairs antidote to Clinton’s eight years of delay and compromise. Because of Clinton’s modest half measures, al Qaeda, for example, was operating boot camps in Afghanistan and Muslims the world over were donating cash to the cause. But new, ostensibly tougher Texas-style management was now coming to town. “Once he makes a decision,” Paul A. Gigot of the Wall Street Journal explained, “Bush rarely looks back in angst, but instead plows ahead on execution.”