It used to be the custom that ex-presidents did not criticize their successors. Harry Truman, for example, is said to have despised Dwight Eisenhower, yet kept his opinions of Eisenhower private. George Bush the elder refrained from criticism of his successor, despite what must have been severe temptations to speak out about Bill Clinton’s performance.
But ex-president Clinton apparently doesn’t think that custom applies to him. In recent weeks, he has unleashed harsh criticisms of President Bush’s foreign policy and even predicted that the Bush administration is preparing to invade North Korea. Clinton has given two speeches recently in which he laid out his case against the Bush administration. For the most part, the liberal media have ignored both speeches, although Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post did wonder about the timing of Clinton’s public criticism of the Bush administration.
In early April, Clinton gave a speech at the University of Florida in which he charged that the Bush administration was preparing to invade North Korea. Clinton did offer some tepid support for the war in Iraq and the liberal media played up that part of his speech. But it ignored the main themes stressed by Clinton. A few days later, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl told WOR-NY radio host Bob Grant that Clinton’s comments about North Korea could undermine efforts to ease tensions in North Asia. Kyl said that North Korea’s leader is so paranoid that he might actually believe the U.S. intends to carry out Clinton’s prediction.
In Florida, Clinton charged that the Bush administration has rejected multilateral diplomacy in favor of a unilateral use of force to solve the world’s problems. Clinton claimed that the Bush approach to foreign policy could best be described as “We’ve got the power, we’ve got the juice, and we should do the job.” Clinton pronounced himself “more in the other camp.” He said “I think we ought to bend over backward to build a world where we are sharing responsibility, sharing benefits, and sharing values.”
Then Clinton expanded and elaborated on his Florida critique at a symposium in New York. Initially, his remarks were reported only by Agence France Presse, but were later picked up by the Washington Times, the Fox News Channel, and even the Post’s Kurtz. Clinton charged that the Bush administration “mistreated” France and Germany before the war and that the White House is spending too much on defense. He said that the administration is unable to fight the war on terrorism and tend to domestic affairs at the same time.
He claimed that our policy is that if the rest of the world doesn’t quote “agree with us they can go straight to hell.” He again emphasized that we live in an interdependent world and “you cannot kill, jail, or occupy all your adversaries.” All this from a president whose foreign policy was a miserable failure and left his successor to fight terrorism, deal with North Korea, and finish off Saddam Hussein. Commentators on Fox News’ Special Report said that Clinton continues to disgrace the presidency and all agreed that the former president should just shut up and go away.