Slick Willie Rides Again

Posted: Dec 03, 2007 12:01 AM
Slick Willie Rides Again

Of course Bill Clinton was against the war in Iraq from the beginning. It's proven unpopular. It would be different if the war had gone better, as it has in Afghanistan. Bill Clinton's still for that one.

There's a phrase for someone who'll stick with you through thick and then and in-between: A man to tie to. Bill Clinton's the opposite. Not only does he disappear when the going gets tough, he was never with you from the first - at least to hear him tell it. With him, history is one of the plastic arts.

There is no surer guide to William Jefferson Clinton's view of the past than what is popular in the present. All of his statements supporting the war in Iraq now have become, in a Nixonian word, inoperative. Down the memory hole they go, as if they'd never been uttered.

You only think you heard Bill Clinton say things like this from time to time:

"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line." -Bill Clinton, February 4, 1998

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program." -Bill Clinton, February 17, 1998

"I supported the president when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." -Bill Clinton, May 18, 2003

The war was going better in May 2003, so naturally Bill Clinton supported the commander-in-chief then. But even then, he was careful to leave a little wiggle room should the fortunes of war turn. The lawyers amongst us will note that he was only for giving the president the authority to wage war, not for the war itself.

This may be a distinction without a difference to us simpler types, but Bill Clinton is nothing if not sophisticated. Only on rare occasion does he slip, forget the verbal camouflage, and get caught. ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.") But that was the rare exception to a consistently tricky rule.

Bill Clinton tends to bet for and against any political proposition that involves taking a risk, then recall only the position that proved popular. That way, he can't lose. Principle has nothing to do with it; he's just betting across the board.

An escape hatch is almost standard equipment on any Clinton assertion. By now there's even a term for it - the Clinton clause. It's a kind of art form, really, and connoisseurs of the Clintonesque will be able to remember the exact moment they caught on to it.

My moment of truth came in September 1991, when Bill Clinton, still governor of Arkansas, was preparing to run for president. He'd invited us country editors to lunch at the Governor's Mansion - I was with a little paper down he road at the time, the Pine Bluff Commercial - in order to talk about his plans.

Back then, the country was still in an exultant mood over its victory in the brief Persian Gulf War earlier that year. And I heard Bill Clinton note, almost in passing, that he'd supported George H. W. Bush when that president asked Congress to authorize him to use force in that crisis.

I was stunned. That's not the way I remembered it. Or the way I'd been writing about it all those months. I thought Bill Clinton had said he agreed with those who'd opposed authorizing the president to use force.

Had I been wrong all this time? I headed back to Pine Bluff in a sweat, dreading the mammoth correction I was going to have to run.

But when I checked the files, sure enough, there was the AP story. Its headline: "Clinton Waffles on War Decision." It had appeared three days after the fateful vote in Congress, and here was what he'd actually said:

"I agree with the arguments of the people in the minority on the resolution - that we should give sanctions more time and maybe even explore a full-scale embargo Š before we go to war."

But now that the war had been fought and won, Slick Willie was all for it. He was not about to desert his country in its hour of victory. If a single personal experience made me resolve never again to trust anything Bill Clinton said, that was it.

Was his ex-post-facto support for that war just an innocent lapse of memory, or of character? Me, I've always had the greatest respect for Bill Clinton's memory.

Now he's back playing games with the past again. But never fear, should the long light of history reveal that in the end this long, long struggle in Iraq has bolstered freedom and stability in that always-volatile part of the world, rest assured, Bill Clinton will have been for it all along.