“Former President Bill Clinton’s comment that his wife’s 'first thing' as President would be to send him and former President George H.W. Bush on a worldwide fence-mending tour has a political subtext,” reports investigative journalist Robert Parry. “It signals that a second Clinton administration would give a free pass to the second Bush administration on its abuses.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry. His latest book is called Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. He is editor of consortiumnews.com. He’s been closely following the presidential campaigns, joining us as well from Washington, D.C.
Bob Parry, you’ve been looking at the foreign policy records of the various candidates. Can you give us a quick assessment?
ROBERT PARRY: Of the various positions on foreign policy?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
ROBERT PARRY: Well, I think, Amy, one of the interesting things here is that some of the foreign policy issues have reflected back on some of the larger character issues, if you will, about some of the candidates. One of the concerns, for instance, about Senator Hillary Clinton has been her ties to the Washington establishment, whether she is too much of a calculating politician. And one of the surprising issues that emerged early in the debates was her support of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was a resolution to declare the Iran Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. And she was seen as sort of playing to, again, this sense that she would be part of that Washington establishment of how these kinds of issues are approached. She seems to be playing into the hands, again, of the neoconservatives. So that became a defining issue early on, in terms of dealing with Senator Clinton and whether she really has broken from her earlier support for the Iraq war in a serious way and whether she really has become a skeptic of how President Bush has conducted himself. So that was used, I think, not only to point out her actions on that one issue, but also to show that she might not have been as fully understanding that the policies she had followed in 2002 and 2003 were mistaken. So I think we’ve seen that sort of issue.
We’ve seen people like Senator Obama be able to say that he was not part of that and try to distance himself further from the Washington establishment. So that, in a sense, reinforced his idea that he was somewhat of a different candidate, someone who had tried to bring change. The other candidates, in the case of Senator Dodd and Senator Biden, they also — they did oppose that resolution, the Kyle-Lieberman resolution. But it was sort of surprising to see an issue that seemed so minor for people in Washington to resonate so much on the campaign trail.
AMY GOODMAN: You also talked about President Clinton — that’s President Bill Clinton’s statement on December 17th. Explain what he said.
ROBERT PARRY: Well, he was asked what his wife would do if she became president, and he said the first thing that President Clinton — I guess you might say Clinton 44 — would do would be to have him, Clinton 42, and former President Bush, Bush 41, go off on a worldwide fence-mending tour, in effect, around the world to sort of clean up some of the problems that had been created by Bush 43. And again, it reflected a kind of sense that they’re all in this together, that there wasn’t the kind of breaking from the policies of the Bush administration that some of the other Democrats have been advocating. It suggested that, in effect, that a Clinton presidency would not hold Bush 43 accountable in a serious way. It would be very difficult to recruit Bush 41 into this kind of an operation, if the new administration was pursuing possible criminal or other actions against Bush 43.
AMY GOODMAN: You also have written further about this following in line with the first — well, President Clinton, when he was in office, his so-called bipartisan approach.
ROBERT PARRY: Right. One of the most troubling things to me about the first Clinton administration was that in late ’92 and early ’93, after the election and after Bill Clinton won, he had a real opportunity to do many things. First, there were a number of investigations that were still underway. The Iran-Contra investigation was still alive. Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was beginning to actually open up new areas of his investigation, including going after a possible obstruction of justice by then-President Bush. There was also the Iraqgate investigation was being pursued, that was the arming — helping to arm Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. And there were other ones, like the October Surprise investigation, of whether some of those contacts between the Republicans and the Iranians went back to 1980 in the campaign then, and also the Passportgate investigation, which was a dirty trick that the Bush administration had tried to pull by searching through Bill Clinton’s passport file to find dirt that they could use against him. So all those investigations were going.
Plus, Bill Clinton had the opportunity, because he was the first president elected after the end of the Cold War, he had a real chance to do a serious historical review, a truth commission, if you will. He essentially threw all those things aside, as did other Democrats in Washington. They were looking, as they said, to the future, not to the past. They didn’t really want to get into these kind of, what they thought, refighting the old battles of the ’80s. And essentially they swept much of this very important history and these very serious issues of wrongdoing by the Reagan-Bush administrations under the rug.
And the results of that, while they may have thought it was very clever at the time, the result was to essentially establish Reagan’s legacy in a very positive light, to establish George H.W. Bush’s legacy quite well, and that opened the door — left open the door for the restoration of the Bush dynasty in 2000. So what Bill was doing in terms of his efforts to play politics, if you will, with this information, and even if he had a good intention of trying to use that to increase chances of passing domestic legislation, what he really ended up doing was giving the American people a false history of that era and enabling the Republicans to reorganize and to come back with — based on what essentially were false narratives of that period.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, of course, this is not a comment about what his wife, the New York senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, would do if she were president.
ROBERT PARRY: Right, but if he indeed is telling the truth — and I presume they have talked about this — that if the first thing, as he put it, she would do would be to have him and George H.W. Bush go off on this worldwide trip, it suggests again an unwillingness to really hold this administration, the second Bush administration, accountable. There are many serious issues that will be left hanging, in terms of possible criminal proceedings against this president: his involvement with torture, the possibility there was obstruction of justice in terms of investigations of things like that, the pending issues about Valerie Plame and her exposure, and any number of others. So you have — you can have either an effort to really dig into that and hold them accountable, or you can have this effort to sort of all be in this together and sweep it under the rug and move on, which seems to be what Bill Clinton is talking about.
AMY GOODMAN: The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has made the candidates’ positions on Pakistan something of a campaign issue in Iowa. Clinton and Obama, as well as the Republican contender Mike Huckabee, all weighed in on Pakistan on the campaign trail this week.
MIKE HUCKABEE: It is in our best interest for there to be some stability. Right now, Musharraf, despite some of the concerns we have about him, represents at least some level of security, more so than if he were ousted immediately. And I don’t think it’s in the United States’s best interest to try to get rid of him.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: My main concern is making sure that the opposition parties feel comfortable that they have the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections. That also means, by the way, that we reinstate an independent judiciary in Pakistan, that they are making sure that there is a free press, that the campaigning can proceed, because our primary interest is making sure that whatever government emerges in Pakistan is viewed as legitimate. And one of the things that we haven’t focused on is that the vast majority of the Pakistani people are moderate and believe in rule of law.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: And, of course, you know, on Thursday, we had the terrible tragedy of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It was a stark reminder of the price that people pay around the world still today to run for office, to attend a political event like this, to dare to exercise their right to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee responding to the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. Robert Parry, can you comment, and can you start by talking about Huckabee? According to one poll in the Des Moines newspaper, he is well ahead. Others don’t put him ahead of Mitt Romney.
ROBERT PARRY: Well, in terms of his policy on Pakistan?
AMY GOODMAN: No, just in general, but also then talk about their views on Pakistan.
ROBERT PARRY: Well, one of the interesting things I’ve written about with Mike Huckabee is, he has now selected Ed Rollins to be the chairman of his campaign. And this goes back again to these historical issues that never seem to get resolved in Washington. And one was that Ed Rollins, in his memoir that he published in 1996, he described how he was having a conversation with a Filipino businessman back in 1991, I think he said. And this was relating to his time as Ronald Reagan’s — the chairman of Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1984. And the Filipino told Huckabee — sorry, told Rollins that he had delivered a $10 million payment to Ronald Reagan from Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator of the Philippines. And Rollins describes, with some amazement, this thing which he said he did not know about, but he did not divulge the name of the Filipino businessman, and he did not divulge the name of the Republican businessman or lobbyist who had handled the transaction for Reagan.
So here’s this information, which is quite remarkable, a $10 million payment from a foreign dictator to an American president, and it’s divulged in the book written by the chairman of Ronald Reagan’s ’84 campaign. And one might think that would be pursued, that there would be an effort to get to the bottom of this. There’s been a lot of also evidence previously that the Reagan campaigns in ’80 and ’84 may have been helped by Marcos. Instead of that, in 1996 the Clinton administration did not pursue this. They let it lie. But here we have Ed Rollins now, who’s never been really pressed on this, returning to the political forum as a lead figure in Mike Huckabee’s campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, the issue of the candidates and Pakistan, Bob Parry.
ROBERT PARRY: The candidates in Pakistan?
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, the candidates’ positions on Pakistan and how this has entered the race right now with the assassination last week.
ROBERT PARRY: Well, again, a big issue here becomes Iraq with Pakistan, because going back to 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, there was an opportunity to deal with that issue and deal with that conflict in a much more serious and thorough way. But President Bush, because of other desires he had and the pressures from the neoconservatives within his administration, turned his attention then to Iraq, essentially diverting American military and intelligence forces away from Afghanistan and into Iraq. That was supported by many of the people running on the Democratic side and obviously supported by people on the Republican side, as well. But you had here a major decision not to pursue al-Qaeda to a conclusion and to go after Saddam Hussein instead, under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and might provide them weapons of mass destruction.
The irony here is that that allowed the al-Qaeda to reestablish its bases inside Pakistan and to build its political force there. It is now able to threaten Pakistan’s stability, which — and Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation. It’s believed by many that al-Qaeda had some hand in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but certainly it’s also true that al-Qaeda, going back to the 1980s, had close ties to the Pakistani intelligence services during the Afghan war. So you have that problem that was allowed to fester, while the war in Iraq proceeded. And this has been sort of touched on. It again brings back issues of judgment by Senator Clinton, Senator Dodd and Senator Biden, who supported the Iraq operation, and again, in this case, Senator Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, although not inside the Senate at the time, is able to point out that he did not make those kinds of judgments.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you feel that any of these candidates overall have raised any of these issues as a kind of teaching moment or looking at foreign policy and what the US foreign policy has been around Pakistan?
ROBERT PARRY: Well, certainly not enough, Amy. I think it requires really understanding some of that history and how the Afghan war had been allowed to go during the 1980s. During that time, the Reagan administration turned a blind eye to the development of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. It shut down some of the CIA analysis that was warning the nation, warning the government about the fact that the Pakistanis were pressing ahead on a nuclear bomb. So all these kinds of short-term judgments that were made that may have seemed to make sense in a context of getting Pakistan’s support for the Afghan rebels, we now see have had very dangerous effects long-term. And I think that’s the teaching lesson. The lesson should be that we need to know honestly and accurately what happened during these periods, so we can understand how to avoid them in the future. But I think that’s a tough one for the candidates to really go into at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Parry, I want to thank you for being with us, veteran investigative journalist, co-author of the new book Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. And before that, Deepak Bhargava, who is director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change.