Was Carter Worse? Listening to someone on CNN the other day describe the ceremony surrounding the impeachment process, we realized that at last America has its answer to British royal coronations. CNN's reporters had exactly the same hushed intonation that Richard Dimbleby used to describe proceedings in Westminster Abbey: "And here comes Black Rod, carrying the ewer of holy oil, in a tradition that has continued unbroken since Richard II." "And now the group of 13 Republicans presenting the charges against President Clinton is entering the Senate chamber in a tradition unbroken since Andrew Johnson..." It's wonderful to see how Bill Clinton of all people has reinvested the presidency with historical dimension and dignity. The other day at the post office we actually heard two people arguing about Reconstruction.
Their poll ratings have plumetted, but Republicans must be in awful shape if they are reduced to inviting Pat Caddell to tell them the shape of things to come. President Jimmy Carter's pollster attended the recent Republican gathering in Phoenix, The Weekend.
It was Caddell, you may recall, who urged Jimmy Carter to one his most foolish acts, the speech in which he announced that America was in the grips of spiritual malaise. Thanks to Caddell, this was pretty much the end of Carter. Frankly, we prefer Bill Clinton. Caddell's man, Jimmy Carter (a) founded the Nicaraguan Contras, ordering the CIA to recruit Argentinean torturers as the first trainers, (b) plunged the CIA into its most expensive single operation ($3.5 billion) in Afghanistan, (c) revived the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnamese had invaded Cambodia in 1979 and virtually destroyed it.
At the start of January the New York Times' Seth Mydans filed some dispatches on the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, pegged to the return of two Khmer Rouge high-ups to the Cambodian capital. One of Mydans' prime themes concerned the question of whether these Khmer Rouges should be put on trial for war crimes, or whether it is time to move on.
It was remarkable how steadfast Mydans was in confining his narrative to the period ending in 1979, with nothing more than the vaguest allusions to assistance subsequently provided from Thailand to the reeling Khmer Rouge. The truth was that Carter and his national security aide, Zbigniew Brzezinski had moved to restore the battered Khmer Rouge force almost as soon as it had arrived at the Cambodian-Thai border hotly pursued by the Vietnamese. This was done under the supervision of a joint U.S./Thai operation known as Task Force 80. The operation continued over the next 10 years, latterly under the supervision of a U.S. intelligence official named Denny Lane. Prominent in Washington among the partisans of the Khmer Rouge were the Heritage Foundation and that fountainhead of political sewage, former Congressman Stephen Solarz, whose pretense was that the U.S. was supporting the "non-communist resistance." This so-called "non-communist resistance" was in military terms merely an extension of the Khmer Rouge. Simultaneously, the United States, as Mydans fleetingly conceded, did work to keep the Khmer Rouge as the internationally recognized government of Cambodia with a seat in the UN. Small wonder present U.S.-originating stories about the Khmer Rouge end abruptly in 1979.
So, yes, given this record, we'd take Bill Clinton over Carter or Christopher Hitchens' heroes Reagan and Bush. Hitchens sets Bill above George Bush and Ronald Reagan in war criminal ranking, declaring in his Nation column that "in the precedent cases of Libya and Iraq, Reagan and Bush gave ample warning and offered, at least, open and extensive proof".
We take this sentence to mean that when Commander-in-Chief Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli in l986, he had offered clear reasons for doing so before the elected representatives of the American people. In fact Reagan had done nothing of the sort. He undertook the bombing on the basis of what was highly ambiguous evidence that the Libyans were responsible for a bomb explosion in a Berlin discotheque.
These days Hitchens writes in tones eerily reminiscent of Bill Bennett or Emmett Tyrell, as in "Nor was Holtzman, a woman of obviously low mentality, just speaking her own untidy mind." It seems that on MSNBC Liz Holtzman was chiding Hitchens for being disrespectful of the President while American troops were in the field.