Years from now, will anyone remember Bill Clinton's presidency as a marvelous epoch of foreign policy triumphs? No. So why then are so many in the press publicly swooning over his "accomplishments"?
Nobody remembers that in the last days of the 1994 campaign, Clinton was traveling around the Middle East trying to push Israel, Jordan, and Syria into agreements. Do you remember what he accomplished? (Hint: How many games have the Redskins won this year?)
But ABC and CBS both touted the "latest in a string" of foreign policy successes. NPR's Nina Totenberg gushed: "He was there in the middle of the desert. I mean, it was biblical!" Then there was NBC. "Today" co-host Matt Lauer boasted: "America's peace-making President appears to have won some grudging concessions from Syria."
A fat lot of political good that last-minute puffery did the Democrats. But almost four years to the day of those reports, NBC came back with more. As Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat came to sign the Wye River agreement, the Peacock Network's Washington bureau was living up to its boasting symbol.
Hours before the signing on the October 23 "Today," Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert was grooming Clinton for world history: "As the impeachment hearings grind on, could you have a situation where next year the President cannot go to the Judiciary Committee on a particular day because he's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize? That's the kind of irony the White House looks at as they look at the success of President Clinton on this day."
Come now. First, no American President has won the Peace Prize since Woodrow Wilson "accomplished" the League of Nations almost 80 years ago. If Jimmy Carter couldn't get it after campaigning for it since the Camp David accords, what chance does Clinton have? Second, the Nobel Peace Prize was just awarded a couple of weeks ago. Does that mean impeachment hearings will still be going on next fall? Does Russert know something that we don't?
But NBC News was just getting started. Minutes after the signing at 5: 53 Eastern time, White House correspondent David Bloom explained to MSNBC anchor Brian Williams:
" You heard the King of Jordan, King Hussein, saying of President Clinton that he's known many Presidents, all of them dating back to Eisenhower, and saying that he's known none like President Clinton, saying that his dedication, his clearheadedness, his focus, his determination is unlike anything that he's seen from any American President dating back to Eisenhower. And if those words aren't so sweet to this White House nothing else could be."
What nonsense! Would any clear-headed American foreign policy analyst hail Clinton as a model of focus or clear-headedness on world affairs? This President's foreign policy has been usually marked by either complete confusion or complete self-regard. Take China. Bill Clinton ran at George Bush from the right, with all this talk of coddling dictators. But once elected, he allowed software giants and Chinese-linked foreign donors to open their pocketbooks, and buy themselves a foreign policy. Focused? Try the Kosovo imbroglio. Determined? Explain his Iraq arms inspection policy. It is laughable.
For another dose of White House propaganda, there was "NBC Nightly News" a couple hours after the agreement. White House reporter Claire Shipman declared: "Now if this was a test of an embattled President's clout, aides here are ecstatic at its success and they say he took to these talks with an unusual intensity even for him they say, seeming to understand not only his role as peacemaker, but as creator of his legacy."
Shipman is making a virtue of the fact that Clinton wasn't so much after the almost-utopian idea of Middle East peace, but he was in it for himself. Pundits like William Safire choked on how Clinton later underlined his solipsism by calling the Wye River agreement just another moment on his "personal journey" back from the seven months of Lewinsky lies.
But NBC wasn't done. To complete the circle, two days later on "Meet the Press," Russert asked Clinton-promoting questions to Netanyahu: "As you know, President Clinton has had his difficulties back home here. Do you believe that his participation in this summit will portray him as a strong and effective leader?" When Netanyahu wasn't favorable enough, Russert added: "But you prefer that President Clinton be around next year to help you continue this peace agreement."
Credit Clinton for his efforts, but puh-leeze. NBC ought to be sending these transcripts into the Federal Election Commission so they can count them as in-kind contributions.