Hillary Clinton is taking unfriendly fire these days for her recent claim, since retracted, that she had to duck sniper fire after landing at a NATO air field in Bosnia in 1996. The embarrassing retraction became inevitable, thanks to re-broadcasts of old television video clips that showed viewers that Sen. Clinton was not ducking anything, except perhaps what really happened that day. The former First Lady’s most recent attempts to inflate her resume to show that she had real foreign policy experience in the White House appear, well, once-again inflated.
In the same vein, a closer look at Clinton’s own independent record as an advocate of women’s rights — which she has put at the core of her current presidential campaign — suggests that her claims should not necessarily be accepted at face value. On the very important issue of women’s rights as essential participants in the global economy — referring to both impoverished women overseas who need jobs in clothing factories, and also poorer American women who are hurt by regressive U.S. taxes on the clothes and shoes they buy for themselves and their families — Clinton’s record is heavy on spin, light on substance. This record began in the White House, and continues in Clinton’s present role as U.S. Senator and a candidate for president.
Clinton’s foreign policy record as First Lady in the White House is illuminated by her recently released official appointment logs. The logs also reveal some telling fresh details of the First Lady’s first experience with the threat of international terrorism: a controversial 1993 visit she made to the Langley, Va. headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. This was a telling, if brief, episode, and one that Clinton did not mention in her Living History memoir.
Moreover, a quick glance at what the logs show of the First Lady’s role in the White House also helps frame presidential candidate Clinton’s current stance on women’s international economic issues in an understandable political context.
On Thursday, March 19, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the National Archives opened 11,046 pages of Hillary Clinton’s White House schedules from 1993 to 1998. Given the current dispute between presidential Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Clinton over whether then First Lady Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement when her husband pushed it through Congress in November 1993, it’s hardly surprising that Nafta drew the first headlines. And it didn’t take long for Clinton’s critics to rough her up in no uncertain words.
“Clinton Lie Kills Her Credibility on Trade Policy,” proclaimed the March 20 headline in The Nation magazine. “Now that we know from the 11,000 pages of Clinton White House documents released this week that [the] former First Lady was an ardent advocate for Nafta,” wrote John Nichols, Hillary Clinton has been revealed as “a liar — a put-in-boldface type ‘L-I-A-R’ liar.” The Obama For President campaign quickly agreed. Obama senior strategist David Axelrod told Associated Press reporter Pete Yost that Clinton’s claim that she was a Nafta skeptic back in 1993 was the “political equivalent of consumer fraud.” Clinton now “owes an apology to the people of Ohio and an explanation to the people of this country,” Axelrod added. In case anyone missed the point, Obama’s communications director said that now that the White House papers have been released, “we know that one thing that she was hiding was the truth.”
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer retorted that Obama was the one who couldn’t be trusted on the Nafta dispute. “Senator Obama said that he would not engage in personal attacks, Singer told the AP. “Now, after losses in Ohio and Texas, the Obama campaign is explicitly attacking Senator Clinton’s character.”
So who was right? What did the papers really show? I’ve read them carefully, and can report with confidence that…
President George W. Bush and his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, are determined to do everything in their power to wrap up the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round of trade liberalizing negotiations before the president leaves office in January 2009, only ten months away. The possible good news, at least for incorrigible optimists, is that there are signs emanating from the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva that the long-troubled negotiations, now in their seventh year, may be rousing from their familiar torpor. So now the president is hoping to set the Doha agenda for the next likely occupant of the Oval Office, who would recognize soon enough that failing to push the deal through Congress would risk serious damage to America’s international economic prestige.
Toward this end, Bush and Bolten brought a new negotiating weapon into the National Security Council last May, in the name of Dan Price. As the deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, Price’s NSC portfolio ranges from dealing with global warming to energy security issues. But increasingly, Price is playing an important behind-the-scenes White House role as a would-be closer in the Doha negotiations. When he speaks to WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, and other top-level representatives of key WTO members from New Delhi to Sao Paulo, the foreigners are made to understand clearly that Price is speaking for the president of the United States. The news about Price’s powerful role, which has received scant publicity, comes from a series of off-the-record interviews with diplomats from Europe and Asia who have spoken with Price, and a handful of Washington lobbyists who have been made privy to the White House’s inside game on Doha. It is confirmed by well-connected administration officials who shrugged and said while they usually don’t talk about their inside strategy, they saw no reason to deny a (rare) story that portrays the Bush White House in a positive light.
Naturally — Washington being gossipy Washington, where perceptions shape all policy discussions — the first question that arises is whether by placing such confidence in Price, the White House is undercutting the president’s top trade negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Sue Schwab. After all, that’s what sometimes happened during the predecessor Clinton administration, when President Clinton’s White House chief of staff John Podesta and economic adviser Gene Sperling at times famously undercut the negotiating authority of U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.
The short answer to the present question about whether Schwab is being sidelined is…