Hillary Rodham Clinton brought her Senate campaign to the Council on Foreign Relations today to outline her global priorities. In a monotone and surprisingly passionless presentation, Mrs. Clinton supported a strong national defense and “free trade, but fair labor standards.” She opposed nuclear proliferation and overseas child-labor abuses. Her remarks at the CFR’s headquarters on Manhattan’s East 68th Street lacked anything eye-opening beyond a conventional, New York Times-style internationalism.
Mrs. Clinton did display a flash of anger by dismissing a question I posed before the standing-room-only gathering of fellow CFR members. This morning, Dick Morris — former political consultant to the Clintons — wrote in his New York Post column that he disbelieves Mrs. Clinton’s claim that she urged President Clinton to order a veto of the October 7 United Nations resolution denouncing Israel’s “excessive use of force” in confrontations with Palestinians over the previous nine days.
“Take it from me, there is no way on earth that Hillary asked Bill to veto the U.N. resolution condemning Israel and Bill went ahead and ignored her request and had the United States abstain instead,” Morris wrote. “The Clintons don’t work that way. If Hillary wanted Bill to have that resolution vetoed and asked him to do it, he’d do it. No question.”
I was curious to hear her respond to Morris’ opinions, so I asked her to do so. Here’s our exchange:
DM: “Good morning. Today’s New York Post includes an article by your former campaign adviser, Dick Morris, regarding the Middle East. And I’ll just quote a passage or two — ” HRC: “I’ve already — I’ve read his clips. It’s just one of Dick’s fantasies.”
DM: “All right, well, anyway, just to summarize it for those who may not have read the article, he says that you in fact did not discuss the recent U.N. resolution urging a veto with the president or with Secretary of State Albright or the U.N. ambassador. He says he knows you and he knows your husband and the way that you work, and that if you urged him to veto that resolution, he in fact would have told Ambassador Holbrooke to do that. Would you tell us if in fact you did discuss that resolution with the president, the secretary of state or U.N. Ambassador Holbrooke and if so, why did they not follow your advice?”
HRC: “That question doesn’t even deserve a response. I’ve said all I have to say about that.”
Audience: Scattered applause.
Rather than display such imperiousness, Mrs. Clinton would have benefited by explaining before four TV cameras and a distinguished audience of worldly New Yorkers how she tried to persuade the U.S. government to defeat a statement essentially blaming the Jewish state for the current mayhem there. Pro-Israel New Yorkers surely would have appreciated knowing that she stood up for America’s democratic ally, even if her husband, Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke acted differently by abstaining on rather than vetoing the Security Council measure. In her tight race against GOP Rep. Rick Lazio, Clinton must curry all the favor she can muster.
So why didn’t the First Lady treat my question as a soft ball and knock it into the pro-Israel bleachers? Maybe her veto talk is just talk.
“This is a non-denial denial,” Dick Morris told me by phone from his office at Vote.com. “The fact that she did not say directly that she had spoken with the president on this issue is an admission that she did not. Hillary would have been much more specific in asserting that she had spoken with her husband if, indeed, she had done so.”
Hillary’s flippancy bolsters Morris’ theory that the Clintons actually chose abstention in order to play honest broker at a subsequent peace summit between Israel and the Palestinians. “Had the ‘broker’ option worked and a deal been cut in the wake of the U.N. vote,” Morris explained in his Post column, “it would have elevated Hillary to the Senate, Gore to the White House, and Bill to the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Instead, the Holy Land exploded. Three Israelis were killed on the West Bank October 12, including two soldiers who were murdered and mutilated by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah. Retaliatory Israeli rocket attacks on Palestinian targets quickly heightened tensions. A cease-fire agreement emerged from negotiations President Clinton attended in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, but not until this morning.
Rather than explain how her supposed veto advice played into all this, Mrs. Clinton chose to snub a journalist. At least the bracelet full of gold trinkets dangling from her left wrist was charming.
CFR member Theodore Sorensen offered a touch of class as he presided at the meeting. As special counsel to President John F. Kennedy, Sorensen wrote many of JFK’s speeches and was at his side during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“I must admit to some bias,” Sorensen said before introducing Mrs. Clinton. “I’ve overnighted at the White House, but in the Cabinet Room, not the Lincoln Bedroom, and it was quite a while ago.” He added: “I’m absolutely impartial as chairman of this event. And if that seems like an exaggeration, if one can’t exaggerate and enhance, what’s the point of being a Democrat?”