The Clinton Years Revisited

As bad as the past eight years have been, it may be fruitful to remember what U.S. national security policy was like under Bill Clinton, as it is very possible that Washington will soon be returning to that gold standard for underachievement. Under Bill, Serbia was bombed in 1999, killing more than 500 civilians in support of no identifiable U.S. national interest. The result of that bombing and its aftermath has been the forceful and quite likely illegal creation of Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim state in the heart of Europe that harbors more than its share of terrorists, drug dealers, and weapons smugglers. Clinton also arranged for a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant to be attacked to turn the public’s attention away from the stains on a blue dress. He vetoed several plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and instead pulverized a number of Afghan mud huts with cruise missiles at a half million dollars a pop after two U.S. embassies and the Khobar Towers were blown up by terrorists. If Hillary Clinton is campaigning on Bill Clinton’s record, and she is, there is not a whole lot to celebrate except for the fact that Bill did not invade Iraq (though he did think about it, according to his secretary of state).

A number of Clinton relics continue to appear on talk shows and write op-eds for leading newspapers, which suggests that they are still dangerous. Richard Holbrooke, a hawkish Democrat who was heavily involved in the Balkan misadventure, is Hillary’s principal foreign policy adviser, and it is widely believed that he will be secretary of state if she is elected. Several others have gravitated toward their natural home at pro-Israel think tanks. Dennis Ross, for example, is counselor and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which was founded in 1985 by Martin Indyk when he was the director of research for AIPAC. WINEP claims to be impartial on the subject of the Middle East, but it rarely deviates from pro-Israel advocacy.

In an astonishing testament to the resiliency of the Clinton era neocon-lites, several of the better-known examples have recently surfaced in Doha. Qatar hosts an annual conference called the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, which was just concluded, running from Feb. 16-18. This year, for the first time, there was a co-sponsor, the Saban Center of Washington’s Brookings Institute. The Saban Center, far from an objective observer of the Middle East, is funded by Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, who said in a 2004 interview, "I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel." Saban is extremely close to the Clintons and is also reported to be the largest contributor to the Democratic National Committee. When Bill was in office, Saban and his wife slept in the Lincoln bedroom on a number of occasions. Like its founder, the Saban Center is Israel-centric in its policy analysis, sponsoring bilateral meetings in Jerusalem to discuss issues of common concern.

Saban is headed by Martin Indyk, who opened the U.S.-Islamic World conference. Other Doha speakers included Clinton alumni Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger. It should be recalled that Indyk was born in England, became an Australian citizen, and eventually wound up in Washington as a full-time advocate for Israel, first as research director of AIPAC and then as the founder and first executive director of WINEP. In spite of his tenuous claim to American citizenship and possible concerns that his actual loyalty might not be to the United States, Indyk was naturalized by Congress in 1995 so that Bill Clinton could name him U.S. ambassador to Israel. Former Secretary of State Albright is famous for her judgment that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children due to U.S. enforced sanctions were "worth it."

But the presence of Sandy Berger in Doha is even more astonishing than that of Albright or Indyk. Berger, an international trade attorney who was a principal lobbyist for China, was named deputy national security adviser by Clinton in 1993 and national security adviser in 1997. While deputy national security adviser in 1996, Berger was informed that China had acquired designs for a number of U.S. nuclear warheads, considerably enhancing its military capabilities. The information was presumably obtained through successful espionage, with serious security implications, but Berger inexplicably failed to tell the president about the discovery until more than a year later.

In November 1997, Berger was fined $23,000 for his failure to divest himself of stocks that would have caused a potential conflict of interest due to his position in the government. He claimed that he "forgot." In 2003, after he left office, he was observed at the United States National Archives stuffing official documents into his trousers. He was convicted of stealing classified material and fined $50,000, and his security clearance was suspended for three years. Many felt that the sentence was little more than a slap on the wrist, as Berger could well afford the fine, and the remainder of the punishment only amounted to a misdemeanor. Berger may have been deliberately destroying and altering documents because the records in question detailed Clinton administration mistakes in dealing with terrorism prior to 9/11. In one instance, he took all five copies of a single report, suggesting that he was interested in altering the official record permanently. He reportedly smuggled the reports out of the Archives in his trousers and then hid them under equipment at a construction site, picking them up later. Several documents were destroyed by cutting them up with scissors. Berger’s incredible behavior has been sometimes viewed as symptomatic of the culture of personal irresponsibility that was part and parcel of the Clinton regime. In May 2007, Berger gave up his law license, reportedly under pressure, claiming that he hadn’t used it in 15 years.

Berger lives in Georgetown and is the chairman and owner of a company called Stonebridge International that works as an advisory service for investors seeking opportunities in a number of countries overseas. He also sits on several boards and is reportedly doing quite well financially.

In light of his conviction for theft and destruction of classified documents relating to the historical record, Berger would appear to be a particularly poor choice to be selected to speak in Doha, or anywhere else. To be fair, the organizers of the conference included many diverse voices on the panels and as speakers, including the University of Maryland’s Shibley Telhami, but one must wonder about having Saban as a partner for any kind of dialogue on U.S.-Islamic relations. Indyk provided opening remarks, Albright spoke on "The Conflicts That Divide Us," and Berger spoke twice, on the "Presidential Candidates’ Foreign Policy Agendas" and "Managing Global Insecurity."

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.