The stage was set — literally, and at two separate events — for Democrats to tee off on President Bush for admittedly leaking once classified information on the war in Iraq, but neither former President Clinton nor former Ambassador Joe Wilson, perhaps Bush’s most vocal critic, pounced on the opportunity.
In fact, both Clinton and Wilson, who were speaking at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Cal State Northridge, respectively, on April 6, the very day that the Bush White House declined to deny Bush’s authorization to have former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby leak sensitive information to a reporter, chose instead to sidestep major pronouncements, with Wilson encouraging people to vote Republicans out of office come the November elections.
Wilson, however, called for “serious investigation” into what he called “treasonous acts” by Bush and his administration.
During his presentation, Clinton’s tone was largely deferential toward Bush.
But Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s wasn’t.
“I remember when we had a president who sent our young men and women into battle for the same reasons we gave them. I remember when we had a president who believed in science and who was known far and wide for his intellectual curiosity. I remember when our sense of the future wasn’t clouded by fear. But I have hope that we may even see Bill Clinton back in the White House someday, in a much more historic role,” the mayor said in his introduction of the former president.
That comment hinted at the widespread speculation about a possible run for the White House in 2008 by Hillary Clinton, which would make the former President the first First Husband in the nation’s history. Perhaps keeping his wife’s electoral prospects in mind, his speech had an inspirational, largely apolitical tone.
During his presentation, Clinton’s tone was largely deferential toward Bush, only mentioning the current administration and its policies in his prepared remarks when he spoke of how much bureaucratic waste eats into funding to fight AIDS in Africa.
Speaking as part of the Music Center Speaker Series, Clinton fielded only a few inquiries from the more than 300 questions submitted by audience members. No one appeared to seek out his opinion on a Bush censure or impeachment, instead focusing their interest on how he would handle the Iraq War.
To that, Clinton said the US needs to stay there ,“or risk a far worse destruction there than if we’d never gone.”
Clinton also touched on the issue of illegal immigration, noting that “it’s a problem without a very satisfactory solution.” He spoke of the need to tighten the Mexican border against narcotics and “terrorists masquerading as Mexicans,” but he also said many of the Republican proposals are taking a completely wrong approach to the crisis.
“There’s one proposal out there that would send [illegal immigrants] home who have been here less than two years. Now I hate to pass a law that you can’t enforce,” said Clinton. “Try sending 8 million people home at once. It’s just not possible, and I’ll be a damned fool if they get it going. Instead, we need legislation with a clear path to citizenship and we need to beef up the Labor Department to enforce the laws we already do have and make everyone’s lives better.”
The husband of former CIA agent Valerie Plame whose identity was revealed soon after Wilson started criticizing the administration’s rationale for waging war in Iraq, spent two and a half years in Iraq during the Desert Shield part of the first Gulf War. He was nominated to be ambassador by President George Herbert Walker Bush, and later praised as a “true American hero” by the president for his work during the war, which included freeing 150 American hostages and making sure Saddam Hussein understood what the consequences would be if he didn’t pull out of Kuwait. It was this experience and that of his time as ambassador in Africa that convinced him to re-enter the public square four years after his retirement in 1998 from the U.S. Diplomatic Service.
“Once the drums of war started beating strong again in 2002, it was apparent to me the people beating those drums didn’t know squat about the region or about what the possible consequences of our actions would be,” said Wilson to a packed Performing Arts Center on the CSUN campus. “I felt I had real experience with the Iraqi regime to offer as part of Bush Senior’s team in the first Gulf War. I spent three years on the ground working with that sociopathic son of a bitch Saddam Hussein and the thuggish goon regime he surrounded himself with.”
Wilson said he was willing to give up his anonymity because he believed that “when a government makes the most awesome decision any government ever has to make, that decision to send our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines off to kill and die in the name of the American people, we owe it to them and to ourselves to fully understand what it is we’re asking them to do and what the potential consequences of those actions are.”
With that, the young crowd erupted in applause.
“It is not enough to tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree and say, ‘I support the troops.’ The best way to support them is to ensure you never send them off unless and until our national security depends on it,” he said to more thunderous applause.
Wilson then offered some ideas regarding Iraq that he’s been mulling over the past four or five months. He said the US military should stop putting Americans unnecessarily in harms way and stop unnecessarily killing Arabs. They should be focused on training the Iraqi military, providing logistical support for the Iraqi military, help them develop an intelligence institution to enable them to go after jihadists and insurgents, and provide the last ditch security in the event the Green Zone is overrun by insurgents and civil warriors.
“Once we’ve determined what the tasks are for the military, we need to rededicate our efforts to finding a political solution, which will be very difficult,” he said. It is made ever harder each passing day we don’t address ourselves to that task.”
He suggested that everyone should be at the table discussing solutions: America, the Iraqi government, the insurgents, Egypt, Western Europe, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. He charged Condoleezza Rice to get to work building the coalition necessary to form a compromise.
Wilson concluded speech by taking a final jab at Bush and the Republicans, saying, “The future of our country is worth the fight and these sons of bitches ain’t that tough.”
When asked about impeachment, Wilson replied, “The Republican majority has decided that loyalty to the president far exceeds their constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch. You cannot hope there will be an investigation into the White House’s activities. We have to win the midterm elections this November. When that is done, and I have every confidence in the world that it will be done, then we can look to the next two years to seriously investigate these people who I believe have so badly mistreated my democracy.”
Elle Young, a CSUN political science major, enjoyed what she called a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear Wilson speak.
“I really liked how [Wilson] didn’t just talk shit about Bush, which he could have,” she said. “He offered some well thought out ideas based on his personal experience in the region about how to turn this quagmire in Iraq around.”