Fighting Words

Serving the Clintonian Interest

The last thing we need is a Clinton in charge of foreign policy.

Hillary and Bill Clinton

It was apt in a small way that the first endorser of Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state should have been Henry Kissinger. The last time he was nominated for any position of responsibility—the chairmanship of the 9/11 commission—he accepted with many florid words about the great honor and responsibility, and then he withdrew when it became clear that he would have to disclose the client list of Kissinger Associates. (See, for the article that began this embarrassing process for him, my Slate column “The Latest Kissinger Outrage.”)

It is possible that the Senate will be as much of a club as the undistinguished fraternity/sorority of our ex-secretaries of state, but even so, it’s difficult to see Sen. Clinton achieving confirmation unless our elected representatives are ready to ask a few questions about conflict of interest along similar lines. And how can they not? The last time that Clinton foreign-policy associations came up for congressional review, the investigations ended in a cloud of murk that still has not been dispelled. Former President Bill Clinton has recently and rather disingenuously offered to submit his own foundation to scrutiny (see the work of my Vanity Fair colleague Todd Purdum on the delightful friends and associates that Clinton has acquired since he left office), but the real problem is otherwise. Both President and Sen. Clinton, while in office, made it obvious to foreign powers that they and their relatives were wide open to suggestions from lobbyists and middlemen.

Just to give the most salient examples from the Clinton fundraising scandals of the late 1990s: The House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight published a list of witnesses called before it who had either “fled or pled“—in other words, who had left the country to avoid testifying or invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination. Some Democratic members of the committee said that this was unfair to, say, the Buddhist nuns who raised the unlawful California temple dough for then-Vice President Al Gore, but however fair you want to be, the number of those who found it highly inconvenient to testify fluctuates between 94 and 120. If you recall the names John Huang, James Riady, Johnny Chung, Charlie Trie, and others, you will remember the pattern of acquired amnesia syndrome and stubborn reluctance to testify, followed by sudden willingness on the part of the Democratic National Committee to return quite large sums of money from foreign sources. Much of this cash had been raised at political events held in the public rooms of the White House, the sort of events that featured the adorable Roger Tamraz, for another example.

Related was the result of a House select committee on Chinese espionage in the United States and the illegal transfer to China of advanced military technology. Chaired by Christopher Cox, R-Calif., the committee issued a report in 1999 with no dissenting or “minority” signature. It found that the Clinton administration’s attitude toward Chinese penetration had been abysmally lax (as lax, I would say, as its attitude toward easy money from businessmen with Chinese military-industrial associations).

Many quids and manyquos were mooted by these investigations (still incomplete at the time of writing) though perhaps not enough unambivalent pros. You can’t say that about the Marc Rich and other pardons—the vulgar bonanza with which the last Clinton era came to an end. Rich’s ex-wife, Denise Rich, gave large sums to Hillary Clinton’s re-election campaign and to Bill Clinton’s library, and Marc Rich got a pardon. Edgar and Vonna Jo Gregory, convicted of bank fraud, hired Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony and paid him $250,000, and they got a pardon. Carlos Vignali Jr. and Almon Glenn Braswell paid $400,000 to Hillary Clinton’s other brother, Hugh, and, hey, they, respectively, got a presidential commutation and a presidential pardon, too. In the Hugh case, the money was returned as being too embarrassing for words (and as though following the hallowed custom, when busted or flustered, of the Clinton-era DNC). But I would say that it was more embarrassing to realize that a former first lady, and a candidate for secretary of state, was a full partner in years of seedy overseas money-grubbing and has two greedy brothers to whom she cannot say no.

Does this sibling and fraternal squalor have foreign-policy implications, too? Yes. Until late 1999, the fabulous Rodham boys were toiling on another scheme to get the hazelnut concession from the newly independent republic of Georgia. There was something quixotically awful about this scheme—something simultaneously too small-time and too big-time—but it also involved a partnership with the main political foe of the then-Georgian president (who may conceivably have had political aspirations), so once again the United States was made to look as if its extended first family were operating like a banana republic.

China, Indonesia, Georgia—these are not exactly negligible countries on our defense and financial and ideological peripheries. In each country, there are important special interests that equate the name Clinton with the word pushover. And did I forget to add what President Clinton pleaded when the revulsion at the Rich pardons became too acute? He claimed that he had concerted the deal with the government of Israel in the intervals of the Camp David “agreement”! So anyone who criticized the pardons had better have been careful if they didn’t want to hear from the Anti-Defamation League. Another splendid way of showing that all is aboveboard and of convincing the Muslim world of our evenhandedness.

In matters of foreign policy, it has been proved time and again, the Clintons are devoted to no interest other than their own. A president absolutely has to know of his chief foreign-policy executive that he or she has no other agenda than the one he has set. Who can say with a straight face that this is true of a woman whose personal ambition is without limit; whose second loyalty is to an impeached and disbarred and discredited former president; and who is ready at any moment, and on government time, to take a wheedling call from either of her bulbous brothers? This is also the unscrupulous female who until recently was willing to play the race card on President-elect Obama and (in spite of her own complete want of any foreign-policy qualifications) to ridicule him for lacking what she only knew about by way of sordid backstairs dealing. What may look like wound-healing and magnanimity to some looks like foolhardiness and masochism to me.