Thursday, April 3, 2008

The power of monsters (or the monster of Power)

A few weeks ago, I criticized Samantha Power, erstwhile adviser to Barack Obama, for calling Hillary Clinton "a monster." I wrote then, "She's seen the effects of letting real monsters act freely. While America may have done too little during many of the world's genocides, that's a long way from equating Hillary with machete-wielding evildoers."

In reviewing Power's book ("A Problem from Hell") earlier this week, I failed to link the book to the "monster" comment properly, probably because I didn't have anything to say. The book is a damning indictment of America's neglect of genocide around the world, but Hillary doesn't show up at all. Bill Clinton is blamed for his deficiencies in dealing with Rwanda and Bosnia, but credited, to some extent, for leading the way in intervening in Kosovo. But there is no mention of his "co-president."

Now comes Christopher Hitchens in Slate and, whatever else one can say about Hitchens (I weighed in last week with some ideas about his book), it isn't that he holds wishy-washy opinions. He writes about, as he puts it, "her flagrant, hysterical, repetitive, pathological lying about her visit to Bosnia." I, like many others, found the juxtaposition of her words ("landing under sniper fire," "ran with our heads down") and the video, where the First Lady and her 16-year-old daughter saunter off the plane, hilarious and sad. (Hilarious for obvious reasons, sad because I find it discomfiting to watch anyone abase themselves, even when it results from non-entitled desperation and disappointment.)

Hitchens contends that Hillary, in misremembering sniper fire, must be either a sociopathic liar or a deluded fantasist (or both), thus making her unsuitable for the post of president (I resist the temptation to make a comment about, as Garrison Keillor calls him, the Current Occupant).

It's what he goes on to say that is troubling. As has been well chronicled (and not just by Power), Bill Clinton made certain promises about Bosnia that he failed to keep. Whether genocide or not, Bosnia in 1992 was a hellhole, and the Clinton campaign promised to do something about it. History tells us that didn't happen. Why not?

Apparently, Hillary, not wanting to get bogged down in a Vietnam-like situation at a time when it would interfere with her signature health care plan, pushed her husband to turn his back on Bosnia. (She only visited four years later, when the fighting was largely over.) Hitchens cites a couple of pieces of evidence to support that.

I can't evaluate that, as I'm sure Hillary could trot out people who would argue otherwise. But there is a disturbing trend developing here, that Hillary tried to bend the White House agenda around her health care initiative; we have now heard that both NAFTA and Bosnia took a back seat.

One of the key jobs of a president is to balance and prioritize, to deal with a multitude of issues without letting any one of them dominate the agenda or fall through the cracks. If the accounts are true, Hillary would seem to have some issues on that score. If a health care plan, important as that might be, can force everything else to the back burner, then you have nothing better than a president who, say, would let a war in Iraq distract him from every other pressing concern.

As for Samantha Power, we may now have an explanation for her "monster" comment. It could well be that, despite a lack of reference to it in her book, she blames Hillary for the inaction on Bosnia (perhaps Rwanda as well), and truly does, for right or wrong, believe her to be a monster.

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