Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Watch CNN for the Peace Deal, Tony

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Watch CNN for the Peace Deal, Tony

Article excerpt

So what, I keep being asked by BBC radio and television from London, is President Clinton's "exit strategy"? What is his "endgame"? I find that my answer neatly resolves into two parts. First, he still doesn't have any strategy. He's bumbling from day to day, winging it and simply hoping things will turn out all right in the end - just as Gennifer, Monica and the other political crises in his career always have.

He's the only man in the world with the power to dictate how the Kosovo conflict could either escalate or end soon - but the truth is that the ol' boy who came into the White House direct from Little Rock, Arkansas, hasn't got the faintest idea. Ditto his secretary of state, Mrs Notverybright, his always-embarrassed-looking defence secretary, General Henry Shelton - a decent but tough soldier who now looks as though he wishes the world would swallow him up.

Part two of my answer, though, is to go on to suggest that Clinton does now have an exit strategy of sorts. Rather than a noble plan to rescue the Kosovar refugees from their plight, however, it is to do what he knows best - political damage-control. It is governed by two abiding negatives. First, he wants to leave the White House on 20 January 2001 without being known solely as the US president who had an "inappropriate relationship" with a woman less than half his age."

Second, he most definitely does not want to be known as the president who had an inappropriate etc, etc, and also landed America in a very nasty ground war like Vietnam.

If he has any kind of positive exit strategy, it is to bequeath the White House into the hands of Al Gore next year and Congress to the Democrats. Might history then end up viewing him, I suspect he asks himself as he gazes at that red nose in his mirror every morning, as not such a bad president after all?

This explains why my early predictions here last week - that a peace deal was and is in the works - have turned out to be so accurate. Viktor Chernomyrdin shuttles from Slobodan Milosevic on Friday to Clinton on Monday to Kofi Annan on Tuesday; Air Force One lifts Clinton off to Brussels.

Do you believe me now, you doubting Thomases of the British media, that while Tony Blair has been squeaking on about war (I can't resist that, after Pat Buchanan's "mouse-that-roared" analogy) and making glam photo-op trips to the Balkans, his supposed best-mate Bill has suddenly woken up to the mess he has got himself into? And that Bill is now determined that the Kosovars, Milosevic and co will be forgotten by 20 January 2001, even if it all suddenly flares up again on, say, 24 January 2001?

These political pressures have begun to converge on Clinton. The House of Representatives symbolised a highly divided United States when it voted 213-213 on a motion to support Clinton's policy (if that's the word); it's almost unprecedented for elected representatives not to support the administration in such a way when American servicemen and women are in danger. …

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