The F.O.B.s (Friends of Bill) were astounded.
Red-eyed and hoarse after joining an 80th birthday bash in Tel Aviv for his buddy Shimon Peres, former President William Jefferson Clinton laid out some startling personal political plans before a group of veteran supporters that included the Labor Party chief – who can only dream of winning a national election for the first time – and several influential American Jewish leaders and potential campaign contributors.
“Hillary will return to the White House as president and I’ll be elected US senator from Arkansas,” Clinton said on Tuesday, September 23, as the room fell silent and jaws dropped.
“Once in the Senate, I’ll be elected house majority leader – and it could all happen much sooner than you think,” he said, hinting at a run in 2004 rather than in 2008.
Only one US president, John Quincy Adams, chose to run for Congress after leaving the White House. Adams – like George W. Bush the only president whose father also held the post – won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1830, a year after completing a single term in the Oval Office.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that Clinton described as “not serious” remarks he was quoted as making in support of the presidential candidacy of retired general Wesley Clark at an intimate dinner party with a small group of advisers at the family residence in Chappaqua, New York last week. “Hillary and I support him because he is a good man – and we would support any good candidate. But if we were really thinking along those lines, I wouldn’t have planned the important political trip I’m on now, from Bosnia to the Gulf to Tel Aviv,” Clinton said.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, Clinton described his junket as “a preliminary probe on the road back to the White House”. Asked by one of the F.O.B.s if he meant that he was blazing a path for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to become president, Bill just stared at his questioner for a couple of seconds and said nothing.
Clinton, 57, has made no secret of his frustration over the 22nd Amendment, passed after Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term. Two terms, Clinton has said publicly, is simply not enough time to carry out presidential policy to the full.
“I think since people are living much longer… the 22nd Amendment should probably be modified to, say, two consecutive terms instead of two terms in a lifetime,” he said in a speech in May in Boston. He also said at the time he did not think such a change would apply to him, but benefit future generations instead.
Only one man, Grover Cleveland, has been elected to non-consecutive terms as president. He served as the 22nd president from 1885 to 1889 and as the 23rd occupant of the Oval Office from 1893 to 1897.
Clinton sounded particularly presidential in describing to his friends in Tel Aviv his visit earlier this week to Srebrenica, where he participated in a memorial for the 7,000 men, women and children massacred by Bosnian Serbs in 1995. He spoke at length about his special relationship with the Muslim community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and especially his friendship with former prime minister Alia Izetbegovic, whose health has deteriorated recently.
Izetbegovic, Clinton said, “was a man we could work with”.
“Instead of confrontation, ways must be found to cooperate,” Clinton said, adding: “In many ways, the Balkans are no less important than the Middle East.”
It was Clinton’s way of hinting that the war in Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein should not be the main arena for the US battle against Muslim terrorism.
In a speech some 16 hours earlier at the American University in Dubai, Clinton said about Iraq: “What we need is for the UN to nominally supervise the security situation and NATO to be used as an instrument.”
His comments were a clear reference to the way his administration handled the crisis in Kosovo. It was invaded by NATO in 1999 and Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was deposed. Now he is on trial at The Hague for war crimes.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton said, should also be solved through the use of international forces. “International forces should be invited to enforce agreements and see through a transitional period,” he said.
His listeners in the room had no doubt Clinton was setting forth what he regarded as policy lines he expected to be able to enforce in the future. Summing up, Clinton said he knew the fight he and Hillary planned to wage against President George W. Bush would not be an easy one, but he was certain they could count on the help of all their loyal friends, and “with strong international backing” return “to the position we once held” in Washington.
As dawn broke after the late-night meeting with Bill, one of the participants shook his hand warmly and said: “Next year in Washington.”
“You bet,” Clinton replied.