Politics & Policy

Apologia Clintonia

APOLOGIA CLINTONIAWhile in Greece this weekend the President was met by protesters denouncing American hegemony, U.S. imperialism and, presumably, the fact that Michael Dukakis won’t change his name to something Irish. The mostly Left Wing and Communist protesters turned violent, closing down the streets and setting cars ablaze with Molotov cocktails. Some held sarcastic signs denouncing the American President as the “King of the World.”

What did the leader of the free world and the only remaining superpower do in response? What else? He apologized. In comments that were characterized as an apology by newspapers across the world, Bill Clinton begged the pardon of a mob. The only available transgression Clinton could come up with was America’s policy of fighting the Cold War first, and fighting for Greek democracy second, 25 years ago.

This is nothing new. Indeed, President Clinton may go down in history as the all-time champion for converting mea culpas into spin. Last year President Clinton launched what many critics called a global apology tour. In country after country, he made America to contrition what France is to surrender. It started in the U.S., where he apologized to the victims of the Tuskegee medical experiments. Then he took it on the road and apologized to Ghana for slavery. Then in Rwanda he apologized for America not doing “enough” to stop the extermination of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Many thought that the African apology safari was a limited engagement, a sideshow to distract people from the center ring during the Year of the President’s Pants. But it became clear last Spring — when he extended the tour to Guatemala — that he was really just working out the kinks of his act. In Guatemala he tried to atone for America’s anti-Communist activities down there. Apparently that got him ready for the big European venues, starting with this weekend’s Greek gig.

Look at it this way: In everyday life there are three kinds of apologies. There are apologies of genuine regret (I’m sorry, I cheated), there are apologies of genuine sympathy (I’m sorry you’re sick), and there are apologies which shift blame on to other people and make you look good (I’m sorry a few bad apples have to ruin things for the rest of us). Guess which one Clinton excels at?

In Rwanda, President Clinton apologized directly to the survivors of the Rwandan genocide for the fact that he hadn’t known what was really going on. ‘’It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world, there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable horror.’’ In other words, blame this tragedy on the people who kept us in the dark.

Unfortunately, human rights groups, the U.S. State Department, U.N. officials and even some journalists had warned the White House months in advance of the impending slaughter. Despite all of our talk of “never again” we permitted 800,000 people to be mostly hacked to death in an operation that was more efficient than the Nazi camps.

If President Clinton can duck responsibility by apologizing, it should be no surprise that he can also take credit by apologizing.

Consider his contrition over Guatemala and Greece. On several occasions President Clinton has waxed nostalgic for the Cold War. Since early in his administration he’s been wistful about those simpler times, calling that era an “intellectually coherent thing.” Two weeks ago, during the celebrations over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the President invoked Ronald Reagan’s battle against the Evil Empire as if he had been a loyal lieutenant in that fight.

This is hard to square with a man who wrote that the conflict in Vietnam was “a war I opposed and despised with a depth of feeling I have reserved solely for racism in America.” During the 1992 election, according to George Stephanopoulos, Clinton told staffers he would rather lose the election than say Vietnam was right. Well, intellectually, that is defensible. But what happened to that “intellectually coherent thing”?

The truth is that Bill Clinton was on the wrong side of the Cold War his entire life. Now that the buzzer has sounded, the real Cold Warriors have left the field, but Clinton is hanging around scoring points anyway. By apologizing for all of the tough calls — “excesses” — during the Cold War he is suggesting that people like him – protesters, antiwar activists, peaceniks, and Ivy League intellectuals – were right, and leaders like Reagan were wrong. It is Monday morning quarterbacking by the losing side, on a grand scale.

Still, that hasn’t stopped him from basking in the aftermath of the Cold War as much as possible. A day after he left Greece, the President went to a rally in Bulgaria where former victims of an “intellectually coherent thing” chanted, “Clinton! Clinton!” Funny how he didn’t apologize for American excesses to them.


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