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.
Clinton’s White House logs, hardly surprisingly, reveal that her foreign policy role as First Lady was mostly ceremonial. She greeted wives of visiting foreign dignitaries at the White House diplomatic reception entrance. She helped work so-called “rope lines” at diplomatic receptions on the South Lawn and in the Blue Room, where the President and First Lady would have their pictures taken with ambassadors. When President Clinton would meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin at G-7 international economic conferences, Hillary would meet with Yeltsin’s wife, and so on. Such duties, of course – however demeaning to any professionally educated woman — came with the territory dating to the first First Lady, Martha Washington. Perhaps the more interesting question involves how former President Clinton would adjust to his ceremonial roles, should he become the First Spouse. Imagine how Bill Clinton would feel, playing the role of Forrest Gump.
Speaking of demeaning ceremonial duties that perhaps offer a glimpse into character, the First Lady’s first brief brush with the world of international terrorism is worth recounting. “If the place was too small, too dangerous or too poor — send Hillary,” the former First Lady boasted in her Living History, by way of supporting her claims to having had serious foreign affairs experience in war-torn places like Bosnia. Today, she’s got the phrase down pat, for audiences on the 2008 campaign trail. But Clinton’s first official visit to a place where people knew a thing or two about how dangerous the world can be was only a few minutes drive along Virginia’s George Washington Parkway, to CIA headquarters in Langley.
On January 25, 1993, the Clintons had been in the White House for all of five days. During that morning’s rush hour, a gunman from Pakistan who wielded an AK-47, opened fire outside the front entrance to the CIA. Lansing Bennett, a 66-year old intelligence analyst, and Frank Darling, 28, a member of the clandestine service, were killed. Three other CIA employees were wounded.
The cold-blooded murders sparked a national outrage. But President Clinton didn’t consider the tragedy important enough to show up at the funeral services, which were held at CIA headquarters on Feb. 4. The president’s conspicuous absence was noticed. “It is hard to exaggerate how much fury this created at headquarters,” reported Tim Weiner in his history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes. When another CIA operative in Tbilisi, Georgia was shot later in 1993, Director of Central Intelligence Jim Woolsey “made a point of flying halfway around the world to receive his mortal remains,” Weiner added.
Neither President Clinton nor Hillary mentions the murders at the CIA in their memoirs. In his 957-page My Life, Bill Clinton mentions Jim Woolsey once, noting that when Clinton became president and staffed his administration, “the CIA job was filled last.” In the index, Woolsey — who was famously kept out of the White House loop by the president he served — is misidentified as “John Woolsey.”
The White House logs that have now been released add a few sparse-but-telling detail to the episode. Hillary Clinton was dispatched to CIA headquarters for the Feb. 4 funeral services. She arrived at 9:40 a.m., and was greeted by Woolsey. Clinton then met with the families from 9:45 to 9:55, ten minutes. The service was held from 10:00 to 10:30, during which, the White House logs report, the First Lady was “welcomed but has no formal role.”
Immediately after the services, Hillary Clinton was driven back to the White House, where she met with the wife of President Mubarak of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarack. By noon, the First Lady was back to meeting on the one subject where she played an important policy role: health care.
To her credit, Hillary Clinton worked successfully as First Lady to carve out a role for herself as a spokeswoman for women’s rights. And while still in the White House, Clinton began to establish her own record by speaking out for women’s rights in the international economy. Unfortunately, there is more spin than substance to this record.
In May 1999, the First Lady flew to a refugee camp in Macedonia that was crowded with refugees who had been dislocated by NATO’s bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo. Clinton was troubled when she learned that the disruption was going to force the American clothing and fashion giant, Liz Claiborne Inc., to shut down its Macedonian clothing operations. She reacted quickly, working with Paul Charron, who was then Liz Claiborne’s chairman, to keep the operations open. The U.S. Agency for International Development chipped in some $881,000 to pay for production costs. The clothing was donated to Kosovars who became perhaps the most stylishly dressed war refugees in history.
Liz Claiborne was a natural company for any advocate of women’s rights to support. Headquartered in New York, the apparel and fashion enterprise had been launched in 1976. Now a giant multinational with annual sales approaching $5 billion, Liz Claiborne first became famous for its line of clothing for professional working women who were then beginning to make their presence felt in the American work force — women like Hillary Clinton. Liz Claiborne was also a pioneer in establishing modern global supply chains that have brought world-class fashions to millions of women in rich America and Europe. The corporation has also offered much-needed jobs to women from the poorer parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa who have wanted to sew their ways out of poverty. Toward that end, Liz Claiborne has also been an industry pioneer in policing the inevitable sweatshop issues that come with the territory of garment manufacturing.
Clinton’s commendable humanitarian interest in helping Macedonian women was touted in a press release. In that release, Harriet Babbitt, then USAID’s deputy administrator, was proud to say that the First Lady’s gesture would provide some “tangible, short-term relief” for the women. [A Liz Claiborne spokeswoman reports that the company hasn’t sourced clothing from factories in Macedonia for “many years” now. “As the Euro increased in value, the factories in Macedonia moved away from U.S. based companies and focused on making product for European companies.”]
Regrettably, only a few months after her visit to Macedonia, Hillary Clinton would express scant interest in extending an official helping hand for poor women elsewhere. Such women, it seems, stood in the way of her own political ambitions — and the agenda of the U.S. textile lobby.
In August 1999, I learned about a woman named Zejna Kasic, who was then a 51-year-old Muslim war refugee from a village in Bosnia — the same age as Hillary Clinton, who was hoping to escape her her own refuge in the White House for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Kasic was a dignified woman who was knitting sweaters to eke out a living. And talk about a hard living. The Muslim woman needed the job to support her husband, who was nearly blind, and also a 19-year old retarded daughter. Although she was Clinton’s age, Kasic looked perhaps a decade older, her hard life reflected in her face.
Kasic and some 500 Bosnian women war refugees were working for an intrepid start-up enterprise called Bosnian Handicrafts. These Muslim women only wanted the opportunity to earn a decent living. (For further details, see Textile Titans Trump Bosnia’s Knitters, a column that I wrote for the Wall Street Journal Europe on August 3, 1999, which is reprinted in the “Articles” section of www.rushfordreport.com.)
But those women soon learned that to sell clothing to rich Americans wasn’t such a simple proposition, thanks to U.S. tariffs on clothing that were (and still are) often higher than 30%. The last time I checked, several years ago, Bosnian Handicrafts had managed to survive the American trade barriers — no thanks to Hillary Clinton.
In August 1999 I called Clinton’s White House chief of staff, Melanne Verveer, to see what the First Lady had to say about how high U.S. clothing tariffs affected Bosnian war refugees. Nothing, it turned out.
Verveer basically related that the First Lady — then considering a run for the U.S. Senate — had no interest in tariff cutting as part of her women’s rights advocacy. “Nobody,” at least until I called, Verveer said, had suggested that Clinton speak out about how the costs of textile protectionism affect poor women workers. As for her involvement with the Liz Claiborne clothing operations in Macedonia earlier in 1999, Clinton had only been “trying to make a simple gesture” to the war refugees, Verveer explained. People call the First Lady all the time asking that she get involved in this-or-that issue, Verveer added, but Clinton had her own interests and priorities.
Those interests and priorities, it soon became evident, were basically those of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which strongly supported high U.S. clothing tariffs — and was soon to support Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign.
Clinton wasn’t the only prominent figure in Bill Clinton’s White House who wasn’t interested in helping dismantle U.S. tariff barriers to boost the job prospects of female Muslim war refugees from Bosnia. Gene Sperling, who then headed the White House’s National Economic Council, did not respond to repeated telephone calls and written questions relating to U.S. tariffs and reconstruction in the Balkans.
Gene Sperling is now an economic adviser to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. Melanne Verveer also remains in Clinton’s inner circle. And the high U.S. tariffs on clothing, and also shoes, remain on the books. They are taxes on poor working women around the world who seek employment in sewing factories to help improve their lives, and also on poorer women in the United States, for whom the tariffs mean higher prices to clothe their families.
Currently, there is an important, if little publicized, effort in the Congress to cut tariffs on shoes. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would eliminate some $700 million in annual import duties on low-priced shoes. The effort is fueled by a coalition that includes U.S. importers of lower-end shoes like Target and Stride Rite, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, and also the Sandler, Travis law firm. It derives intellectual support from a series of thoughtful studies published by the Progressive Policy Institute. The PPI is a free-trade oriented think tank that is affiliated with the Democratic Party.
[The AFL-CIO, the lobby that basically controls the Democrats’ international trade agenda, likes high tariffs. The unions unquestionably are strong enough inside the party to make sure that the so-called New Democrats who support the PPI on trade issues are ignored. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s top trade official, Thea Lee, has dismissively referred to the PPI as the “corporate wing.” of the Democratic Party.]
“Currently, the United States applies a unique regressive tax to footwear imports, meaning that it charges higher rates for lower-valued merchandise,” explained a joint press release last June issued by the two House members who introduced the Affordable Footwear Initiative. “Some of these rates range as high as 67.5%, translating into higher costs for retailers and consumers,” declared Reps. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat, and Texas Republican Kevin Brady.
The lawmakers noted that importers had paid about $1.9 billion in duties on footwear in 2006, thanks to the tariffs. That also “means families are paying an estimated $4- to $5 billion in unnecessary taxes,” Crowley and Brady stressed. They traced the origin of the high tariffs to the 1930s, noting that there was no longer any economic rationale for the taxes, as the shoes that Americans buy mostly come from places like China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The legislation is also sponsored in the Senate by Oregon Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Maria Cantwell, who is from Washington state.
Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York has declined to co-sponsor the Affordable Footwear legislation. Clinton at least, is not alone in looking the other way on one of the most important international economic issues that involves mostly women. The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, Sen. John McCain, hasn’t signed onto the bill (Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is an important McCain ally who is known for his willingness to carry water for the protectionist domestic textile lobby). Nor has Clinton’s Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, who is also courting union support, spoken out on the adverse impact that high U.S. tariffs on clothing and shoes have on the poor.