Monday, April 11, 2005

April 10, 2005

A Yankee Abroad

There he was in all his bubbaesque glory. Bill Clinton, big as life strolling the streets of Rome. The Bush’s were in town as well, but the American getting the most attention was Bill. As I watched the footage and listened to the interviews with Clinton I have to admit, a wave of nostalgia and longing wafted over me. The damn guy drove me nuts when he was President, but oh how I miss him now.

Yeah I still hate his guts too. Not for being a bad president, but for being such a self-indulgent putz. His bad-boy behavior just gave the right wingers the keys to kingdom. That and the stickman he picked to be his successor.

But then there’s the Bill Clinton I so miss…. personified in an answer he gave to a question yesterday about what he liked most about the Pope. His response, “The guy really knew how to build a crowd.”

Holy heresy! But also what a breath of fresh air. After days of canned, predictable pious crapola from a long list of phony stinkpots like Tom DeLay, the Bush’s and chief pedophile-protector Cardinal Bernard Law, Clinton’s breezy, honest response was sweet music to my ears.

Clinton, also knows how to build a crowd. And that’s just what he was doing in Rome this week.

While Romans were unlikely to catch a glimpse of President Bush - he moved only in motorcades and appeared only at a few official events - Mr. Clinton was clearly reveling in the fact that shoppers, tourists having lunch at outdoor cafes and Italian business people walking to meetings all stopped to greet him. "Isn't this a great city?" he said. Along the streets, people starting yelling "Bill, Bill, Bill," and a few shouted "U.S.A.!" (Washington Post)

It was a bitter-sweet reminder how, not long ago, the US was both respected and liked abroad. What a difference five years has made. Imagine if President Bush tried strolling down those same streets in Rome, or any other European city, yesterday. Do you think he’d make to the end of the first block without someone spitting on him -- or worse? Forget about it. Not since Hitler has a national leader been so hated by most Europeans. And, I dare say, that is not hyperbole but measurably true.

Now I am no a unqualified fan of the European community. They too have plenty to be ashamed of. Like the way the were more than willing to allow ethnic cleansing to proceed unchallenged in the former Yugoslavia. Clinton had to shame them into action there.

But in Clinton Europeans also saw a man willing to engage with them on issues of common concern, like the environment.

- Clinton or Gore would have signed the Kyoto protocols – the first genuine attempt by the world community to begin reversing the damage done by industrialized humanity. Bush refused.

- Clinton approved of the Court of International Justice. On 31 December 2000 then President Clinton signed the Rome Statute, a step towards establishing the court, which would hear cases alleging war crimes, among other criminal acts. However, on 6 May 2002, George Bush took the unprecedented step of repudiating Clinton’s signature on the Rome Statute and began a worldwide campaign to weaken the Court and obtain impunity for all US nationals from the jurisdiction of the Court. (After Abu Ghraib we now know why.)

Bush supporters would ask, and rightly so, “Yes, but what would Clinton, or Gore, have done in response to 9/11?"

A fair question, and one deserves a response. I suspect neither Clinton or Gore would have attacked Iraq, which of course had nothing to do with 9/11. But would either man have attacked Afghanistan, which richly deserved a thorough shellacking?

Yes, and no. Let’s assume the worst for the moment, that a President Gore would have responded with a few cruise missile strikes against Taliban and al Qaida targets and then turned back to limp-wrist diplomacy. How would the world be different today?

Not so different. The Europeans first response to a crisis is always the same -- wait to see if the US is willing to do all the heavy lifting so they can sit back and criticize. But Europeans understood that 9/11 was not just an attack against the US, but against the West, of which they are part. Countries like France, England and Germany each have growing Muslim immigrant communities and they were all wondering when they would be next on the hit list.

Once they saw that President Gore was not going to spend US money and lives to clean out the al Qaida strongholds in Afghanistan, pressure would have quickly built for NATO to do the job. Afganistan was a cancerous tumor that was a lot closer to Europe than the US. So, the Taliban would have ended up just where they are today under a President Gore. The only difference is it would have been the US as part of a NATO action that kicked their ass.

Now, Iraq. There would have been no attack on Iraq under a President Gore because there would not have been any justification for one. Without political pressure from the White House to cook the WMD intelligence, a CIA under President Gore would have served up conclusions about Iraq that were far more balanced and circumspect. There certainly would not have been the imaginary smoking gun President Bush used to justify launching full scale war. Instead the whole matter would have stayed right where was, at the UN.

Oh I know the UN was running a huge Oil for Food scam, but hell, the money being stolen there was chump change compared to the $200 billion our grandkids will still be repaying for the US going it alone in Iraq.

And yes, Saddam would still be sitting pretty like Mr. Piggy in his palaces, and that would be too bad -- but hardly catastrophic.

Finally, since we now know there were no WMD in Iraq, not attacking would not have resulted in a less secure world, though attacking has certainly resulted in a less secure Iraq.

Bush' supporters are left only with this excuse now; “But Saddam was an undemocratic, brutal dictator!” Well, if that’s the burr under Bush’s saddle he has a sterling opportunity to scratch that itch right now while he is in Rome. He can whack Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, who is also attending the Pope's funeral. How handy. Here is a genuine mean-ass dictator who just stole another election back home. He will be right there, within Bush's arm’s reach, a pew away. Go get him cowboy. (Oh, wait. There’s no oil in Zimbabwe. Besides, the place is chuck full of Africans.)

So, I conclude that if Gore had won instead of Bush the world would not be much different, except for few incidentals:

* About 10,000 Iraqis – mostly civilians- would still be alive
* Over 150,000 US men and women would be home with their families rather than stuck in Iraq
* Over 1500 American soldiers would still be breathing.
* Hundreds of American soldiers would still be in possession of all their limbs
* The national checking account would have a positive balance
* The air would be cleaner and on its way to getting even more so.
* Neither Clarence Thomas nor Anthony Scalia would have a prayer of being Chief Justice of the US.
* A bunch of low-brow, knuckle-dragging evangelicals would not be making US policy on women’s reproductive rights.
* And, if Gore had been elected, Bill Clinton still would have been the most popular American in Rome this week.

One final scene from Rome makes my point. After a formal state dinner yesterday with the Italian leader, Bill Clinton headed out for a second private dinner with newly elected Ukrainian President, Viktor A. Yuschenko. Vik had come to Rome fresh form a photo-op tour to the US where President Bush gushed all over him for bringing Democracy to his former Soviet vassal state. But it wasn’t George W. Bush Yuschenko smoozed with on his own time, but Bill Clinton. And smooze they did, late into the night. It was well after midnight when the two men’s Chianti fueled chat ended.

Can you imagine Yuschenko smoozing with GW Bush until after midnight? Not a chance. Too slim a pickin’ between those two ears. But Bill Clinton.. there’s mind worth mining.

So I miss Bill, or at least I miss most of him. I just wish we could saw this guy into two halves, keeping everything from the waist up and leaving the bottom half with an open tab at a well-stocked French whorehouse. Then, finally, everyone would be happy.

But if I had to make a choice between all of Bill and all of George running my nation, give me all of Bill. Humanity can easily survive the errors of a randy genius. But I am less certain we can survive the antics of an idiot prince.

By Stephen Pizzo
Raconteur at Large

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