Is it okay for Clinton to be critical abroad?

Bill Clinton broke protocol yesterday when he, a former President, spoke against Bush, the sitting President, while he (Clinton) was on foreign soil.

I don't care that he spoke on foreign soil.  But partisan conservatives will, as will many ordinary Americans.  And regardless if I or others don't care about protocol, Clinton's remarks as given on foreign soil will matter to many Americans.  That means that Clinton's actions be examined in the context of where he spoke.  He will be called a traitor.  He will be asked to apologize.  He will be used as a symbol to bolster the claim that Americans opposed to the war are actually Americans opposed to America.  And that requires that we not only respond to what Clinton said, but also to where and when he said it.

Clinton was answering questions at a forum in Dubai.  When asked about the war, Clinton said that it "was a big mistake." He said that Saddam being out of power is good, but that the US made mistakes.  Clinton spoke mostly of logistical failures, such as that the US did not plan for what to do after toppling Saddam.

This kind of criticism is old news.  The logistical failures are universally accepted, so Clinton was not breaking any new ground by making his statement.  In fact, had anyone other than a former President speaking outside of the US said the same thing, the comments would not be newsworthy.

Based on initial reports, Clinton did not say, that the war is a moral failure, a war of aggression that violated US and international law.  He didn't even say that George Bush is a failed President, that the war should be ended, that troops should be recalled or that the US has failed the world morally. Instead, Clinton's remarks (at first blush - I have not read a transcript of the event) focused on tactical mistakes that had occurred years ago, more historical analysis than political speech.

In fact, Clinton was not addressing the Dubai crowd in a foreign policy speech.  He was answering questions. Clinton flying out to Dubai to give a political speech about the US occupation of Iraq would be a far different thing than Clinton truthfully answering questions about what happened years ago.  

But there's more to the story than just what Clinton said and where he said it.  The other side of the story has to do with the Bush administration, which has been pulling up decade-old statements by Democrats to spread the blame for Bush's failures.  Yesterday, Rumsfeld brought up old news from the 1990s on Hannity's radio show in this blame spreading effort.  Any implication that Clinton got us into Iraq requires a response, and it's possible that Clinton choose these few comments, as part of a Q&A, as his response.  

If so, it would be the mark of political genius that know Clinton is.  By speaking the day after Rumsfeld made his comments, Clinton assures speculation of a connection.  And by speaking in a Q&A, he provides some cover for the treason charges that might be thrown his way.  And by speaking in Dubai, he provides fuel for those very treason charges, which create a clear wedge between Clinton and the Bush administration's war.  If you're being attacked for speaking against the war, you can't also be blamed for it.  If there is a big boil by conservatives over the place, time and content of Clinton's comments, the conservatives will be owning their war in order to charge Clinton of treason.

Even if Clinton's remarks were simply off hand remarks, a right wing response will be contrary to their current blame-the-other-guy-for-all-things-going-wrong strategy.  It will help make the war Bush's war more solidly in the minds of even more Americans.  And even if this is not the outcome, what Clinton said was the right thing to say and to do.  And that's because he spoke the clear truth.  There is nothing worse than Democrats joining in with Republicans by calling the sky pink instead of blue.

Disclosure: I'm a big fan of Bill Clinton, and that's why I work with Bill-for-First-Lady.com.

Cross posted: Political Porn

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Comments

6 Comments

The right thing to do
Clinton is acting appropriately by opening dialog into disagreements with how the war was handled and what to do next.  It is unfortunate that portions of the left keep getting louder with the "Bush lied people died" type of rhetoric.  Clinton is successfully threading the needle between what the masses of the American public feel is right and what the increasingly larger left wing of the Democratic Party feel is right.
by Classical Liberal 2005-11-16 08:02PM | 0 recs
Esquire Magazine
Esquire chose Bill Clinton as the most influential person on the planet.  Once again, Bill demonstrates why.
by David Kowalski 2005-11-17 05:21AM | 0 recs
Read
...But partisan conservatives will [care], as will many ordinary Americans...

Then tell them something they really don't want to hear: "read and try to understand the First Amendment of the United States Constitution".
by Michael Bersin 2005-11-17 05:44AM | 0 recs
Bush Slams Dems in Front of Troops
If George Bush can slam Democrats and liberals while standing on a U.S. military installation and in front of OUR troops, then a retired President should be free to say whatever he wants, wherever he wants about George Bush.
by Curt Matlock 2005-11-17 05:48AM | 0 recs
and of course...
no one ever spoke negatively of Clinton when he was in office, so how dare he!
by schroeder 2005-11-17 06:45AM | 0 recs
actually...
it is that you are not suppoded to criticize the President when he is traveling abroad.  I think you had this a little backwards, but I may be wrong!
by smm401 2005-11-17 09:50AM | 0 recs

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