The Open And Shut Case Against Hillary Clinton

by James Kirchick | February 12, 2008

A key component of Hillary Clinton's campaign message is that she would be tougher on foreign policy than Barack Obama. She has spent a lifetime constructing this hawkish image (see Mike's excellent piece from last year on the formation of Hillary's views on the exercise of American power), in full knowledge that she would have to neutralize fears of her being a radical peacenik if she ever wished to make a serious run for president. Remember last August (how can you forget?) when she chided Barack Obama as "irresponsible and naive" for saying he would meet with America's enemies?

If there is only one article that you read today -- or this week -- make it Debra Burlingame's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. It concerns the pardon that President Clinton handed out to 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group that was resonsible for a string of armed robberies as well as 146 bombings that killed 9 people and injured hundreds in its quixotic fight for independence from the United States. Some 25 years before another, far more devastating terrorist attack on Lower Manhattan, FALN planted a bomb in the Fraunces Tavern restaurant which detonated during lunch-hour, killing 4 and injuring 60, it's most infamous and deadly attack.

This was truly the sleaziest of Clinton's pardons (which is saying something). But it lacked the glitz and intrigue of the Marc Rich pardon, and perhaps for that reason, it is among the less notorious. But the FALN pardon was indisputably the worst. Rich, after all, was just another example of money corrupting politics. The FALN pardon was far worse; it represented nothing less than the surrender of American honor and prestige to terrorists for political gain. Its effect -- in the midst of the African embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, Khobar Towers et. al. -- was to confirm Osama bin Laden's declaration two years later that the United States was a "weak horse." The U.S. Sentencing Commission, the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Attorney all opposed the pardon. Even the terrorists themselves -- who, after all, did not recognize the legal jurisdiction of the United States (the reason why they waged war against it) -- did not request the pardon.  

How does Hillary fit into all of this? Well, she is the reason -- the only reason -- that the pardon was ever granted. She had a senate race to win, after all, in a state with over 1 million Spanish-speaking voters. Characteristic of White House thinking at the time was an email sent by an adviser concluding that the pardons would be "fairly easy to accomplish and will have a positive impact among strategic communities in the U.S. (read, voters)." One can already imagine the attack ads that the McCain campaign and the RNC are devising right now, if they haven't produced them already. God forbid Hillary wins the nomination, they will be a welcome addition to the public discussion about who Hillary Clinton is and what ultimately drives her, lest anyone genuinely believe she's in this because "It's about our country. It's about our kids' future. It's about all of us together." I should admit at this point that I've been largely ambivalent about the Democratic primary, and have never understood the Hillary-hatred that drives the right. But, after reading Burlingame's piece, how can anyone trust the Clintons in power? To use one of Hillary's rhetorical flourishes when she questioned the honesty of General David Petraeus last year, that this woman would claim to be tougher than Barack Obama in dealing with America's Islamist enemies when she and her husband sold out the country and its honor to a bunch of two-bit, Hispanic terrorists "requires the willing suspension of disblief."

--James Kirchick

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