Washington -- In Melville's "Moby Dick," a tormented Captain Ahab wanders the world's oceans in search of a white whale -- and in so doing, jeopardizes all aboard his ill-fated vessel. Bill Clinton's global pursuit of a legacy has become such a quest. This week, following a singularly unsuccessful safari to Africa, and with his time at the helm fast running out, the captain of our ship of state briefly visited the troubled waters of Colombia looking for his own white whale -- something other than the lies, infidelity and impeachment for which he will be remembered. His quarry evaded him.
For starters, our fearless leader arrived in Cartagena on Wednesday armed with a blunt harpoon -- $1.3 billion in long overdue, Congressionally-mandated military and economic assistance. This aid package may make Colombia the world's third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, but it may also prove to be too little, too late. U.S. Intelligence experts estimate that the 20,000 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN) take in nearly $100 million per month from narcotics-trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, making these radical narco-terrorists the best trained, armed and equipped revolutionaries in the world.
Second, Clinton's host, Colombia's beleaguered, if democratically elected president, Andres Pastrana, is not only besieged by rebel bands that control nearly 50 percent of his country -- he is also the victim of the Clinton-Gore administration's equivocal, vacillating policy toward the nation that, according to the D.E.A., provides 90 percent of the cocaine and over 70 percent of the heroin sold on U.S. streets.
The Colombian president's Washington-inspired attempts to bring peace to his country have been disastrous. After President Pastrana's first visit to the Clinton White House, he hired Clinton golfing pal Vernon Jordan's lobbying firm to represent Colombia in Washington. He was then encouraged to pursue a policy of appeasement in negotiations with rebel leaders, and ended up ceding land the size of Switzerland to the FARC, only to be forced later to do the same for the ELN. The national military is corrupt, and the more trustworthy but meagerly-equipped Colombian National Police (CNP), with only 19 usable helicopters, cannot combat narco-terrorists on the left or protect the population from human rights abuses by growing bands of right-wing paramilitaries. Secretary of State Maddy Albright and General Barry McCaffrey, the administration's "Drug Czar," repeatedly promised to send supplies and helicopters to support the anti-drug efforts of the CNP, but have yet to deliver one helicopter on time -- 12 sat on an American runway for nearly three years.
The Clinton-Gore administration's benign neglect of Colombia may have gone unnoticed by the U.S. media -- but not by the Columbian press. In an article about Clinton's first South American "visit," Panama City's La Prensa wrote, " ... Clinton is the first president since Truman who did not travel to Latin America during his first term at the White House." Finally, swinging through Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina in 1997, Clinton's mantra was "free trade." Unfortunately, most of the "free trade" between Colombia and the United States is cocaine and heroin coming in and dollars going out.
And it is trade with a terrible price for Colombians and Americans alike. During Clinton's tenure, over 40,000 Colombians have died, more than 4,000 CNP officers have been killed and over 300 are being held hostage by guerrillas. According to the CIA, the campaign to overthrow Colombia's government has exploded in the last half decade and Colombia's Defense Minister Luis Ramirez laments that, "Three years ago, soldiers didn't die at the hands of paramilitary groups. That has changed." Colombian drug lords can now produce more than 500 tons of deadly cocaine annually. Drug cultivation has increased by 20 percent since 1999. And the consequences here? The number of first-time cocaine users in the United States has jumped by 56 percent since 1992, and in the same period, more than 1,200 U.S. law officers have been killed in the line of duty. Congressman Dan Burton is right when he says that under Clinton-Gore, Colombia has become an "imminent threat" to the U.S. because it has "slipped from being a stable democracy to teetering on the brink of becoming the first narco-state in the world."
So, why did our Beloved Leader take what the U.S. media described as "the grave personal risk" of going to Colombia? Was it to belatedly demonstrate his "courage" or his "commitment to democracy"? His former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Myles Frechette, told Reuters, "Clinton is coming to Colombia for domestic political reasons and that's to allow Al Gore to say that the Clinton administration did not neglect or under-fund the drug problem in Colombia."
Ah, Ahab again. The quest for a legacy. Bill Clinton's white whale. Did it work? You don't have to be a member of the vast right wing conspiracy to think not. Former President Jimmy Carter put it best. At the Democratic convention in Los Angeles, he was asked how Bill Clinton will be remembered. Mr. Carter paused and replied, "Bill Clinton, the second president to be impeached ... " At least Ahab found his prey.