July 23, 2004
Bush and Clinton in French face-offBy Olivier Guitta
Over last weekend, ex—President Clinton gave two stunning interviews to the French press: one to Le Monde and the other one to Le Figaro. Coincidentally, President Bush also gave a very interesting interview to Le Figaro. This gives us the opportunity to analyze the major discrepancies in the world views of our last two presidents.
These interviews to the French press are quite revealing of the personalities of Bush and Clinton. But beyond that, the contrast between the Republican and Democrat platforms is clearly enunciated.
Clinton's words could really be Senator Kerry's: their vision of the world and desire to please just about everyone overseas is very similar.
Here are the major themes that the French journalists addressed with both Clinton and Bush.
The image of the US in the world
Clinton tells the French interviewers that he is indeed very worried about the terrible image of the US, but that things can be changed rapidly. He proclaims that we attacked Iraq too soon, before letting UN inspector Hans Blix finish his mission. If we had let him work three or four additional weeks, maybe things would have been different. Clinton points his finger at Wolfowitz and the neocons, whom he accuses of pushing us to war for reasons of obsession, rather than for the Weapons of Mass Destruction. But Clinton is also convinced that our bad image stems from the 'brutality with which we treated Germany and France, along with other governments that did not agree with us.'
For him, the unilateral behavior of the Bush administration is really behind the unpopularity of the USA, and that is something he deeply deplores. He is nonetheless convinced that this unilateralist stance has no future whatsoever. Furthermore, Clinton wants to reassure the world that President Bush is far from representing the American people and he offers a miracle solution: if John Kerry wins, then cooperation will be back in fashion and transatlantic relations will warm up tremendously.
In contrast to Clinton, President Bush appears very forceful, determined and resolute in his interview. He starts off by saying that a leader's job is to have a positive vision based on a number of principles, such as the rule of law and just treatment of everyone. He adds that America must lead even if some countries do not approve. But since these countries do not want to take part in the 'dirty job', it is once more, as in the past, up to America. He goes on to say that some think that America is wrong in her approach in the Middle East, but the opposite is true. His intention is to help build free and peaceful societies while at the same time preserving America's security. Also he emphasizes that he listens to critics but he does not let his policy be dictated by others.
The Arab—Israeli conflict
Clinton uses his interview with Le Monde to totally rewrite the history of the peace process while he was President. First, he says that at Camp David in July, 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Barak came with a peace proposal, but that Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat had warned him 'he was not ready'. Nonetheless, Clinton tried because Arafat told him that he wanted to close a deal before January, 2001. Then Clinton explains that in December, 2000 he offered a new plan that Barak accepted while Arafat was 'less positive.' Furthermore, Clinton underlines that he had strongly advised against Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. And Clinton adds, 'Against our opinion, Arafat, even if he did not launch it, supported the Intifada.' Does this mean that Clinton knew Arafat was going to unleash a terrorist war against Israel?
Then Clinton forcefully criticizes the Bush administration for not doing anything except supporting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. And he blames both Bush and Sharon for 'humiliating Arafat who is still the living symbol of the long struggle of the Palestinian people.'
These Clinton statements are mind—boggling and outrageous because they make Arafat, one of the biggest murderers of our times and a terror master, look like a victim. And more than anything else, they are far different from the facts as previously told by Clinton. In fact, even during the Camp David peace talks, PA Chairman Arafat told Clinton he was flat out rejecting the agreement. Clinton then banged the table and erupted, 'You are leading your people and the region to a catastrophe.'
Interestingly, right after the failure of the Camp David talks, President Clinton was adamant about constantly underlining Arafat's stubborn refusal of the accord. Since then, Clinton has not wavered in his account, until this interview in Le Monde. In January, 2001, as President Clinton was leaving office, Arafat called him and said, 'You are a great man.' Clinton replied, 'The hell I am. I am a colossal failure and you made me one.' Clinton then told George W Bush that he misjudged Arafat and advised him not to make the same mistake.
So why would Clinton change his version of the facts after four years? Is it a coincidence the change of story is occurring when talking to the French press? France has been maintaining a long love affair with Arafat, and Clinton knows he will gain a lot of popularity in France by voicing very favorable comments towards Arafat.
As far as President Bush, when asked about Israel he said that American presidents have an obligation to defend Israel because it is both an old friend and a democracy. Nonetheless he is favorable to the creation of a Palestinian State when the right leadership devoted to the good of its people emerges. He adds that he cannot do anything about selecting a good team, and that is the job of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, he reaffirms that his very well thought—out speech of June 24, 2002, that called for a regime change inside the PA, is still very much the strategy he wants to follow. And finally, Bush thinks that having a free democratic Palestinian state at peace will appease the anger of the street and will prove that freedom and democracy are possible in the Middle East.
The two styles and views of these two presidents could no be more opposite. Clearly, the two visions of foreign relations clash. Clinton still lives in the old paradigm, pre—September 11, where our priority was to befriend all countries at any cost, even if it endangered our national security. By endorsing one of the top terror masters in the world, Arafat, Clinton is siding, even if it is only morally, with one of our mortal enemies. Additionally, he views it as a priority to bridge our differences with the world, especially Europe. It looks like he does not realize the extent of the war we are now fighting.
As far as President Bush, his determination to 'stick to his guns' is very reassuring. He is resolute in winning this war, fighting terrorist and rogue states alike. He will not compromise the security of our nation for France or the United Nations. He has a vision and strategy that will ultimately bring us to victory.
Unfortunately, Senator Kerry does not seem to grasp the stakes of the current war on terror. His foreign policy mirrors that of ex—President Clinton, and can be summed up in one word: appeasement. Obviously, with such clear differences, the choice in the November elections will be simple. Even Clinton acknowledged it when he said that if the election is going to be about the war on terror, President Bush will be reelected.