(Via kottke.org.) David Remnick follows Bill Clinton on a multi-state visit to Africa in support of his AIDS/poverty relief post-Presidency initiatives and profiles Clinton for The New Yorker. It’s a long article but there’s much to find fascinating here – apart from more examples of Clinton’s now-legendary abilities in political communication, there’s a good analysis of the various strands of the will-she-won’t-she Hillary candidacy web, a visit to Lucy’s bones (as in, the African hominid Lucy) in Addis Ababa where Clinton’s fun facts on bonobo group sex result in awkward silence, and a rather endearing last paragraph which I won’t spoil for you.
Here’s an excerpt about Clinton’s official apology to Rwanda for his inaction during the genocide:
We landed at the airport in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, after dark. This was Clinton’s fourth visit in eight years. The first was in 1998, when, in the middle of an extended Presidential tour of Africa, he came to the airport to apologize for American inaction during the hundred-day genocide, four years earlier. “It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family,” he said that day, “but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”
Later, when I asked Clinton about Rwanda, he said that the calamity in Somalia and the crisis in the Balkans had been distractions but that his inaction in Rwanda was the worst foreign-policy mistake of his Administration.
“Whatever happened, I have to take responsibility for it,” he said. “We never even had a staff meeting on it. But I don’t blame anybody that works for me. That was my fault. I should have been alert and alive to it. And that’s why I went there and apologized in ’98. I’ve always been surprised at how much they wanted me to come back, accepting my help on their holocaust memorial. Every time I ask, they say, “You know, we did this to ourselves, you didn’t make us do it – I wish you’d come.” And then they always say, “Besides, you were the only one who ever apologized. Nobody else even said they were sorry.” So all I can do is – I just have to face it. It was just one of those things that happen. It is inexplicable to me looking back, but when we lived it forward, in the aftermath of Somalia, trying to get the support from a fairly isolationist Congress at the time – including some elements in both parties – to get into Bosnia, where I felt we had an overwhelming national interest and a moral imperative, we just blew it. I blew it. I just, I feel terrible about it, and all I can ever do is tell them the truth, and not try to sugarcoat it, and try to make it up to them.”
Here’s a bit about Clinton’s opinion on Bush Jr:
When opponents of the Bush Administration express nostalgia for the Clinton era, it sometimes has less to do with policy than with the stark contrast between the two men as public speakers, as intelligences. Even Clinton’s critics who feel that he squandered his promise never speculate, as Bush’s critics often do, that he is stupid. When I asked Clinton if he thought intellect was an essential part of being President, he proceeded carefully.
“I think it’s important to be curious, I think it’s important to ask questions, I think it’s important to be secure so that you like being around people that know more about every subject than you do and still in the end you trust your own judgment once you hear them out,” he said. “So I think intellect is a good thing, unless it paralyzes your ability to make decisions because you see too much complexity. Presidents need to have what I would call a synthesizing intelligence.”
“I keep reading that Bush is incurious, but when he talks to me he asks a lot of questions,” Clinton went on. “So I can’t give him a bad grade on curiosity. I think both he and his father, because they have peculiar speech patterns, have been underestimated in terms of their intellectual capacity. You know, the way they speak and all, it could be, it could just relate to the way the synapses work in their brains.
“I’ve never been worried about his intellect so much as his ideological bent. I think he believed – and perhaps correctly – that his father was defeated in ’92 because he lost the right. And he made up his mind that he’d never lose it. Kind of like George Wallace did when he was beaten for governor.
“I also think that he was genuinely more conservative on questions like concentrations of wealth and power, weakening of environmental and health regulations – things of that kind – than any President we’ve had in a very, very long time. Even more conservative than Reagan, probably, and way to the right of his father and Nixon and Eisenhower. But the thing that bothers me about having an ideology as opposed to a philosophy is that, if you have an ideology, then the outcome is dictated before the facts are in, before the arguments are heard. And that, I think, can cause problems.”
Clinton said that Bush, despite employing the slogan ‘compassionate conservatism,’ never hid his radical-right agenda. “He said, ‘Vote for me, and I’ll give you judges like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”