By Don Klein
They used to call him The Comeback Kid. Recent events proved that he still is. The Obama team thought they left him vanquished in the dust after trashing him mightily for the crime of supporting his wife’s candidacy for president during last year’s primary race. Bill Clinton proved them wrong.
He has what no living ex-president has – the golden touch – and is still the most successful Democratic leader since Harry S. Truman. Overseas he is the most honored and revered American leader even though he holds no high office nor any power except for the high regard with which he is held in the international community.
Even President Obama can’t match him on that score at this point in time.
Ronald Reagan spent his post-White House years making speeches at $2 million a shot. Bush-41 couldn’t draw a crowd if he sat on top of a 100-foot pole and sang all four roles of the Ode to Joy. Bush-43 is exiled to Texas from where most hope he never emerges. Jimmy Carter travels around the world putting his foot in his mouth and often defying US foreign policy.
None of them are preferred for their uniqueness or specialties.
Bill Clinton is the exception. His stature makes him a welcome American emissary wherever he travels. His charisma is what eventually led to the release by North Korea of two American journalists arrested and convicted of entering the country illegally and sentenced to 12 years at hard labor.
No one else could have accomplished the deed.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il made it clear to the US that if they wanted the captive women back, it would take a visit by Bill Clinton to fetch them. Acting as a private citizen on a humanitarian mission he made the trip. Spent less than a day with the Korean potentate and the release was accomplished.
Kim Jong-il wanted to meet Clinton for more than a decade. When Clinton was president he sent condolences when Kim’s father died and the tyrant never forgot it. He invited Clinton to visit when he was still in the Oval Office but it never could be arranged.
Clinton’s goodwill gesture never was forgotten by Kim and when the Swedes, representing the US which has no relations with North Korean, urged the released of the held reporters Kim jumped at the chance to fulfill his desire to meet Clinton, his unrequited hero. The deal was eventually made to everyone’s satisfaction.
I liked Clinton when he was president. I liked him in his post-presidency years. I still like him. I obviously am not alone. Kim likes him also, as do many other political leaders of all stripes around the world. He is a known factor and an accomplished international leader, a role that the present president, in office only six months, has yet to attain. In time Obama could surpass Clinton in world eclat, but he has not yet reached that level.
There isn’t a soul who watched the arrival of the freed correspondents, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, at Burbank airport the other day and the reunion with their loved ones who would not be touched by the significance of Clinton’s accomplishment. Big Bill is back on center stage which he relishes like Teddy Roosevelt once did and is in a role he should be destined to play for the rest of his life.
Way back when Obama was elected last November I flat out contended that the new president had an advantage that not many other beginner presidents had. Bill Clinton was available as a worldwide trouble shooter and if used intelligently would be a great asset. Obama insiders rejected such a role. Clinton would suck all the oxygen out of Obama’s glory and foreign policy, they believed.
At the time there was no way to predict the situation that evolved in North Korea with the two journalists, but it was exactly where the Clinton role would be best used.
Back then I saw Clinton as an envoy without portfolio who would be a natural American of influence to be sent to worldwide tinder boxes and brewing trouble spots that needed the uppermost attention. I saw him as a peacemaker among the Israelis and Palestinians or as a mediator of Pakistani-Indian tensions or as a goodwill ambassador in the Persian Gulf.
Who would be more effective in rebuilding American stature in Europe which was so badly weakened by eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime? Which American would have more influence in just about any region of conflict in the world? The answer always seemed to be Bill Clinton, and the North Korean incident was vivid proof.
Clinton and Kim met at the latter’s insistence and a terrible situation was neutralized within hours. That’s what makes past presidents of repute so important. Presidents never serve more than eight years. If they are young enough and physically able to travel and handle the work, as Clinton obviously is, they should not be put to pasture. Like retired generals and admirals, they should always be available to be called to active duty for spot opportunities.
Even though Clinton had to deal with a degenerate foreign leader like Kim he served America with dignity and correctness. Although Kim beamed in Clinton’s nimbus, the former president never gave the dictator anything but a grim and determined gaze. Kim got the photo opportunity he wanted but Clinton walked away with the cool victory of freed Americans and no reciprocal rewards for the tyrant.
The vision of Ms. Lee upon her return to California freedom hugging her four-year-old daughter, Hana, gave the innate value of Clinton’s feat. Americans should be proud we have Bill Clinton to stand up for us.