President George W. Bush has more than three years to go before his second term in office is finished, yet these past few months have been instrumental in shaping the legacy by which he is likely to be remembered by historians.
This week in Iraq, citizens will vote on a national referendum to approve a constitution and bring the Iraqi people another step closer to self governance. The stakes are high. As an intercepted al Qaeda communique revealed, it is the goal of radical Islamic jihadists to drive Americans out of Iraq, take control of the government and the territory, and then expand the reign into surrounding countries. But a successful vote on the constitution means Iraqis are taking more control of their own fate. A free and stable government in Iraq will greatly deter the goals of the jihadists.
On the home front, Mr. Bush has been forced to react to Mother Nature’s fury and quickly marshal the resources necessary to do what hasn’t been done in generations — rebuild a major American city whose infrastructure was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. A major public policy initiative to save Social Security has been stalled temporarily, but even his critics give him credit for tackling an issue which most politicians were too afraid to touch. And the last few months have afforded the president the opportunity to appoint not just one, but two justices to the Supreme Court. Their impact on Mr. Bush’s legacy, however, may not be completely understood for several years.
Though their outcomes are not yet known, these issues — war and peace, retirement security, the future of the Court and the reconstruction of New Orleans — are the kinds of weighty, meaningful issues on which a presidency should be judged.
Compare that to the three major issues that have defined the legacy of Bill Clinton’s time in office — scandal, corruption and personal moral failings. That legacy was reinforced this week with the release of My FBI, a new blockbuster book by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
In his book, Freeh says that he had to go toe-to-toe with Clinton from the outset. "But almost from the very beginning, I felt uncomfortable spending private time with the president. There was always some new investigation brewing, some new calamity bubbling just below the headlines."
Freeh continued: "The problem was with Bill Clinton, the scandals and rumored scandals, the incubating ones and the dying ones never ended. Whatever moral compass the president was consulting was leading him in the wrong direction. His closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out."
When Clinton nominated Freeh to be director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1993, he called him a "law enforcement legend." But it didn’t take long for that belief to change, later referring to Freeh as "an insufferable Boy Scout." Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta told CBS News that the relationship between Clinton and the FBI chief deteriorated so badly the president always referred to him as "F-ing" Freeh.
But like many things in Bill Clinton’s life, he puts blame on others when he should put it on himself. It was Clinton’s own failings that forced the FBI, as Freeh reports, to collect a DNA sample from the president, to match against the DNA found on Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress. It was, he wrote, "like something out of a bad movie."
But that was just the start. Freeh believes Clinton abused the office in numerous ways. "Bill Clinton and his lawyers seemed to be inventing some new executive privilege every fifteen minutes or so," he writes. Freeh also takes great exception with Clinton’s use of the president’s power to pardon.
"I look back now on the 177 pardons and commutations Clinton issued as his final act of office, and I’m still stunned by the fact that neither the FBI nor the attorney general of the Department of Justice was ever consulted about a single one of them … Just as he had tainted the concept of executive privilege through his frequent and inventive use of it, so Clinton now tainted the old and honorable tradition of presidential mercy by his inability to rein in his own instincts, by his penchant for excess."
Freeh says he stayed on as FBI Director longer than he might have because he didn’t want Clinton to name his successor. He says he came to that conclusion after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. In order to investigate, the bureau needed Saudi cooperation to get to the right witnesses. But only a personal request from Clinton to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah would make it happen.
"Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he certainly understood the Saudi’s reluctance to cooperate. Then," according to Freeh, "he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still-to-be-built Clinton presidential library."
Then six weeks after the bombing, Freeh reports that evidence was gathered that "showed almost beyond a doubt that the Khobar Tower attacks had been sanctioned, funded and directed by senior officials of the government of Iran." The evidence was taken to Clinton’s national security advisor Sandy Berger, and upon reviewing it asked Freeh, "Who knows about this?" Instead of acting upon what had been learned, Freeh says, Berger devised a plan to prevent the evidence from leaking out.
Despite this wholesale indictment, the so-called mainstream media is not listening. If they are not attacking Freeh, they are ignoring him. But the public isn’t. Sales of Freeh’s book are brisk. The store at which my copy was purchased had dozens of copies already reserved and eager readers standing in line. Readers won’t even have to finish the first chapter before they realize that a presidential legacy is a terrible thing to waste.