J une brought the first real action from Robert Fiske. He had decided to conduct an independent inquiry into Vince Fosters death since so many questions had been raised about it in the media and by Republicans in Congress. I was glad Fiske was looking at it. The scandal machine was trying to get blood out of a turnip, and maybe this would shut them up and give Vinces family some relief.
Some of the charges and antics would have been funny except for the tragedy involved. One of the loudest and most sanctimonious of the Foster was murdered crowd was Republican congressman Dan Burton of Indiana. In an attempt to prove that Vince couldnt have killed himself, Burton went out in his backyard and shot a revolver into a watermelon. It was nutty. I never could figure out what Burton was trying to prove.
Fiske interviewed Hillary and me. It was a straightforward, professional session, and afterward I knew he would be thorough and believed he would finish his inquiry in a timely fashion. On June 30, he issued preliminary findings on Vinces death, as well as on the much-ballyhooed conversations between Bernie Nussbaum and Roger Altman. Fiske said that Vinces death was a suicide and found no evidence that it had anything to do with Whitewater. He also found that Nussbaum and Altman had not acted improperly.
From then on, Fiske was scorned by the conservative Republicans and their allies in the media. The Wall Street Journal had already pushed the press to be even more aggressive in writing stories critical of Hillary and me, however much they might later be overtaken by other facts. Some conservative commentators and members of Congress began calling for Fiskes resignation. Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina was especially vocal, spurred on by a new staff member, David Bossie, who had been Floyd Browns partner in Citizens United, a right-wing group that had already spread a lot of false stories about me.
On the same day that Fiske issued his report, I drove another nail in my own coffin by signing the new independent counsel law. The law permitted Fiske to be reappointed, but the Special Division of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals could also remove him and appoint another prosecutor, starting the process all over again. Under the statute, the judges on the Special Division would be selected by Chief Justice Rehnquist, who had been an extremely conservative Republican activist before he came to the Supreme Court.
I wanted Fiske to be grandfathered in, but my new head of legislative affairs, Pat Griffin, said some Democrats were afraid it wouldnt look good. Lloyd Cutler said there was nothing to worry about because Fiske was clearly independent and there was no way he would be replaced. He told Hillary he would eat his hat if it happened.
In early July, I returned to Europe for the G-7 summit in Naples. On the way, I stopped in Riga, Latvia, to meet with the leaders of the Baltic states and celebrate the withdrawal of Russian troops from Lithuania and Latvia, a move we had helped to speed up by providing a large number of housing vouchers for Russian officers who wanted to go home. There were still Russian troops in Estonia, and President Lennart Meri, a filmmaker who had always opposed Russian domination of his country, was determined to get them out as soon as possible. After the meeting there was a moving celebration in Rigas Freedom Square, where I was welcomed by about forty thousand people waving flags in gratitude for Americas steadfast support of their newfound freedom.
The next stop was Warsaw, to meet with President Lech Walesa and emphasize my commitment to bringing Poland into NATO. Walesa had become a hero, and free Polands natural choice for president, by leading the Gdansk shipyard workers revolt against communism more than a decade earlier. He was deeply suspicious of Russia and wanted Poland in NATO as soon as possible. He also wanted more American investment in Poland, saying the countrys future required more American generals, starting with General Motors and General Electric.
That night Walesa hosted a dinner to which he invited leaders of all political views. I listened with fascination to a heated argument between Mrs. Walesa, a feisty mother of eight children, and a legislative leader who was also a potato farmer. She was railing against communism, while he argued that farmers had been better off under communism than they were today. I thought they were going to come to blows. I tried to help by reminding the legislator that even under communism the Polish farms were in private hands; all the Polish Communists had done was to purchase the food and sell it in Ukraine and Russia. He conceded the point, but said he had always had a market and a good price for his crops. I told him he had never been under a completely Communist system like Russias, where the farms themselves were collectivized. Then I explained how the American system worked, and how all successful free-market systems also had some form of cooperative marketing and price supports. The farmer remained skeptical, and Mrs. Walesa remained adamant. If democracy is about free and unfettered debate, it had certainly taken hold in Poland.
My first day at the Naples summit was devoted to Asia. Kim Il Sung had died the previous day, just as talks with North Korea resumed in Geneva, throwing the future of our agreement with North Korea into doubt. The other G-7 member with a big interest in the issue was Japan. There had been tensions between the Japanese and the Koreans for decades, going back before World War II. If North Korea had nuclear weapons, there would be great pressure on Japan to develop a nuclear deterrent, an action that, given their own painful experience, the Japanese did not want to take. The new Japanese prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, who had become Japans first socialist prime minister by joining in a coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party, assured me that our solidarity on North Korea would remain intact. Out of respect for Kim Il Sungs death, the Geneva talks were suspended for a month.
The most important decisions we made in Naples were to provide an aid package to Ukraine and to include Russia in the political part of all future summits. Bringing Russia into the prestigious circle gave Yeltsin and other reformers pushing for closer ties to the West a big boost, and guaranteed that our future gatherings would be more interesting. Yeltsin was always entertaining.
Chelsea, Hillary, and I loved Naples, and after the meetings, we took a day to see Pompeii, which the Italians had done a marvelous job of recovering from the ashes of the volcano that engulfed the town in A.D. 79. We saw wall paintings with colors that had retained their rich texture, including some that were first-century versions of political posters; open-air food stands that were early precursors of todays fast-food restaurants; and the remains of several bodies remarkably preserved by the ashes, among them a man lying with his hand over the face of his obviously pregnant wife, with two other children beside them. It was a powerful reminder of the fragile and fleeting nature of life.
The European trip ended in Germany. Helmut Kohl took us to visit his hometown, Ludwigshafen, before I flew to Ramstein Air Base to see our troops, many of whom would soon be leaving the military in the postCold War downsizing. The servicemen and -women at Ramstein, just like their counterparts in the U.S. Navy I had met in Naples, mentioned only one domestic issue to me: health care. Most of them had children, and in the military they had taken health coverage for granted. Now they worried that because of defense downsizing they were going home to a country that would no longer provide health care for their kids.
Berlin was booming, full of construction cranes, as the city prepared to resume its role as the capital of a united Germany. Hillary and I walked with the Kohls out of the Reichstag along the line where the Berlin Wall had stood and through the magnificent Brandenburg Gate. President Kennedy and President Reagan had given memorable speeches just outside the gate on the western side of the wall. Now I was standing on a podium on the eastern side of unified Berlin, facing an enthusiastic crowd of fifty thousand Germans, many of them young people wondering about their future in a very different world from the one their parents had known.
I urged the Germans to lead Europe toward greater unity. If they did so, I pledged in German, Amerika steht an Ihrer Seite jetzt und fr immer. (America is on your side, now and forever.) The Brandenburg Gate had long been a symbol of its time, sometimes a monument to tyranny and a tower of conquest, but now it was what its builders had meant it to be, a gateway to the future.
When I returned home, the foreign policy work continued. Increased repression in Haiti had led to a new flood of boat people and the suspension of all commercial air trafc. By the end of the month, the UN Security Council had approved an invasion to dislodge the dictatorship, an action that seemed more and more inevitable.
On July 22, I announced a large increase in emergency aid to Rwandan refugees, with U.S. military forces establishing a base in Uganda to support round-the-clock shipments of relief supplies to the tremendous number of refugees in camps near the Rwandan border. I also ordered the military to establish a safe water supply and distribute as much clean water as possible to those at risk of cholera and other diseases, and announced that the United States would be delivering twenty million oral rehydration therapy packages over the next two days to help stem the cholera outbreak. Within a week we had delivered more than 1,300 tons of food, medicine, and other supplies, and were producing and distributing more than 100,000 gallons of safe water a day. The entire effort would require about 4,000 troops and cost nearly $500 million, but even after all the slaughter, it would still save many lives.
On July 25, King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin came to town to sign the Washington declaration, formally ending the state of belligerency between Jordan and Israel and committing themselves to negotiating a full peace agreement. They had been talking secretly for some time, and Warren Christopher had worked hard to facilitate their agreement. The next day, the two leaders spoke to a joint session of Congress, and the three of us held a press conference to reaffirm our commitment to a comprehensive peace involving all the parties to the Middle East conflict.
The Israeli-Jordanian agreement stood in stark contrast to recent terrorist attacks against a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, and others in Panama and London, all of which Hezbollah was believed to be responsible for. Hezbollah was armed by Iran and aided by Syria in conducting operations against Israel from southern Lebanon. Since the peace process could not be completed without an agreement between Israel and Syria, Hezbollahs activities presented a serious potential obstacle. I had called President Assad to tell him about the Israeli-Jordanian announcement, to ask him to support it, and to assure him that Israel and the United States were still committed to successful negotiations with his country. Rabin left the door open to talks with Syria by saying that the Syrians could limit but not end Hezbollahs activities. Hussein responded that not just Syria but the entire Arab world should follow Jordans lead and reconcile with Israel.
I closed the press conference by saying that Hussein and Rabin must have put peace in the air all over the world. Boris Yeltsin had just informed me that he and President Meri had agreed that all Russian troops would be withdrawn from Estonia by August 31.
In August it gets hot in Washington, and Congress usually leaves town. In 1994, Congress stayed in session almost the entire month to deal with crime and health care. Both the Senate and House had passed versions of the crime bill, which provided 100,000 more community police, tougher penalties for repeat offenders, and more funds for both prison construction and prevention programs to keep young people out of trouble.
When the conference committee met to resolve the differences between the Senate and House crime bills, the Democrats folded the assault weapons ban into the compromise bill. As Ive said, the ban had passed the House as a separate matter by only two votes, in the face of furious opposition by the National Rifle Association. The NRA had already lost the fight to defeat the Brady bill and was determined to prevail on this one, so that Americans would retain their right to keep and bear rapid-fire large-magazine weapons designed for one purpose only: to kill a great many people in a hurry. These weapons worked; crime victims shot with them were three times more likely to die than those whose assailants fired regular handguns.
The conference decided to combine the ban with the crime bill because, while we had a clear majority for the ban in the Senate, we didnt have the sixty votes necessary to break a certain filibuster by NRA supporters. The Democrats in the conference knew it would be much harder to filibuster the overall crime bill than the assault weapons ban standing alone. The problem with the strategy was that it forced the House Democrats from rural pro-gun districts to vote on the assault weapons ban all over again, risking the failure of the whole bill, and putting them at risk of losing their seats if they voted for it.
On August 11, the House defeated the new crime bill, 225210, on a procedural vote, with 58 Democrats voting against it and only 11 Republicans voting for it. A few of the Democratic no votes were liberals who opposed the bills expansion of the death penalty, but most of our defectors were voting with the NRA. A sizable group of Republicans said they wanted to support the bill, including the assault weapons ban, but thought it spent too much money overall, especially on prevention programs. We were in trouble on one of my most important campaign commitments, and I had to do something to turn it around.
The next day, before the National Association of Police Officers in Minneapolis, with Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York and Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, I tried to frame the choice as one between the police and the people on one side and the NRA on the other. Surely we had not reached the point where the only way to keep congressional seats safe was to leave the American people and police officers in greater danger.
Three days later, at a ceremony in the Rose Garden, the issue was put in even sharper focus by Steve Sposato, a Republican businessman whose wife had been killed when a deranged man with an assault weapon went on a shooting spree in the San Francisco office building where she worked. Sposato, who had brought his young daughter, Megan, with him, made a compelling appeal for the assault weapons ban.
Late in the month, the crime bill came to a vote again. Unlike health care, we were working on crime through good-faith bipartisan negotiation. This time we won, 235195, having picked up almost 20 Republican votes by negotiating a substantial cut in the costs of the bill. Some liberal Democrats were persuaded to change their votes on the strength of the bills prevention programs, and a few more Democrats from pro-gun districts stuck their necks out. Four days later, Senator Joe Biden shepherded the crime bill through the Senate, 6138, when 6 Republicans provided the votes necessary to break a filibuster. The crime legislation would have a profoundly positive impact, helping to usher in the largest sustained drop in crime on record.
Just before the House vote, Speaker Tom Foley and majority leader Dick Gephardt had made a last-ditch appeal to me to remove the assault weapons ban from the bill. They argued that many Democrats who represented closely divided districts had already cast a very difficult vote for the economic program, and had already defied the NRA once on the Brady bill vote. They said that if we made them walk the plank again on the assault weapons ban, the overall bill might not pass, and that if it did, many Democrats who voted for it would not survive the election in November. Jack Brooks, the House Judiciary Committee chairman from Texas, told me the same thing. Brooks had been in the House for more than forty years and was one of my favorite congressmen. He represented a district full of NRA members and had led the effort to defeat the assault weapons ban when it first came to a vote. Jack was convinced that if we didnt drop the ban, the NRA would beat a lot of Democrats by terrifying gun owners.
I was troubled by what Foley, Gephardt, and Brooks had said, but I was convinced that our members could win a debate with the NRA over the issue in their backyards. Dale Bumpers and David Pryor knew how to explain their votes to Arkansans. Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama, whom I had known almost twenty years, had an ingenious explanation for his support of the crime bill. He said he had never voted for gun control, but the crime bill banned only nineteen assault weapons, and he didnt know anyone who owned those weapons. On the other hand, the bill expressly prohibited restrictions on owning hundreds of other weapons, including every weapon I am familiar with.
It was a persuasive point, but not everyone could make it the way Howell Heflin did. Foley, Gephardt, and Brooks were right and I was wrong. The price of a safer America would be heavy casualties among its defenders.
Maybe I was pushing the Congress, the country, and the administration too hard. At my press conference on August 19, a reporter asked me a very perceptive question: I was wondering if youve thought about this, that as a President elected with 43 percent, you may be trying to do too much, too fast . . . exceeding your mandate, by pushing through so much legislation with so little Republican support. Even though we had accomplished a lot, I was wondering about that, too. I wouldnt have to wonder much longer.
While we were winning on the crime bill, we kept on losing with health care. In early August, George Mitchell introduced a compromise bill to increase the percentage of the insured population to 95 percent without an employer mandate, leaving open the possibility of imposing one in later years to get to 100 percent, if the bills voluntary procedures didnt succeed in doing so. I announced my support for Mitchells bill the next day, and we began to shop it to moderate Republicans, but it was no use. Dole was determined to defeat any meaningful reform; it was good politics. On the day the crime bill passed, the Senate recessed for two weeks with no further action on health care. Dole had failed in his efforts to kill the crime bill, but he had prevailed in derailing health care.
The other big news in August was in the parallel world of Whitewater. After I signed the independent counsel statute, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed Judge David Sentelle to head the Special Division that had responsibility for naming independent counsels under the new law. Sentelle was an ultra-conservative protg of Senator Jesse Helms, who had decried the influence of leftist heretics who wanted America to become a collectivist, egalitarian, materialistic, race-conscious, hyper-secular, and socially permissive state. The three-member panel also contained another conservative judge, so Sentelle could do whatever he wanted.
On August 5, Sentelles panel fired Robert Fiske and replaced him with Kenneth Starr, who had been a court of appeals judge and solicitor general in the Bush administration. Unlike Fiske, Starr had no prosecutorial experience, but he had something far more important: he was much more conservative and partisan than Fiske. In a terse statement Judge Sentelle said he was replacing Fiske with Starr to guarantee the appearance of independence, a test Fiske could not meet because he was affiliated with the incumbent administration. It was an absurd argument. Fiske was a Republican whose only affiliation with the administration was that Janet Reno had appointed him to a job he did not seek. Had the Special Division reappointed him, there would have been no more affiliation.
In his place, Judge Sentelles panel appointed someone with not an apparent but a real and blatant conflict of interest. Starr had been an outspoken proponent of the Paula Jones lawsuit, appearing on TV and even offering to write a friend-of-the-court brief on her behalf. Five former presidents of the American Bar Association criticized the Starr appointment because of its apparent political bias. So did the New York Times, after it emerged that Judge Sentelle had had lunch with Fiskes biggest critic, Senator Lauch Faircloth, and Jesse Helms just a couple of weeks before the Fiske-Starr switch. The three said they were just discussing prostate problems.
Of course, Starr had no intention of stepping aside. His bias against me was the very reason he was chosen and why he took the job. We now had a bizarre definition of an independent counsel: he had to be independent of me, but it was fine to be closely tied to my political enemies and legal adversaries.
The Starr appointment was unprecedented. In the past, there had been an effort to ensure that special prosecutors would be not only independent but also fair and respectful of the institution of the presidency. Leon Jaworski, the Watergate special prosecutor, was a conservative Democrat who had supported President Nixon for reelection in 1972. Lawrence Walsh, the Iran-Contra prosecutor, was an Oklahoma Republican who had supported President Reagan. I had never wanted the Whitewater inquiry to be a home game, in Doug Sosniks words, but I thought I was at least entitled to a neutral field. It was not to be. Since there was nothing to Whitewater, the only way to use the investigation against me was to turn it into one long away game. Robert Fiske was too fair and too fast for that job. He had to go.
Lloyd Cutler didnt eat his hat, but less than a week after the Starr appointment he left, too, having fulfilled his commitment to serve a brief stint in the counsels office. I replaced him with Abner Mikva, a former Illinois congressman and court of appeals judge with an impeccable reputation and a clearheaded view of the forces we were up against. I was sorry that, after such a long and distinguished career, Lloyd had to learn that people he thought he knew and could trust were playing by different rules than he was.
When Congress left town, we took off for Marthas Vineyard again. Hillary and I needed some time off. So did Al Gore. A few days earlier he had ruptured his Achilles tendon in a basketball game. It was a painful injury, requiring a prolonged recovery. Al would come back stronger than before, using his forced immobility to work out with weights. In the meantime, on crutches, he traveled to forty states and four foreign countries, including Egypt, where he brokered a compromise on the sensitive issue of population control at the Cairo Conference on Sustainable Development. He also continued overseeing the Reinventing Government Initiative. By mid-September, we had already achieved savings of $47 billion, enough to pay for the entire crime bill; begun a competitive venture with the automakers to develop a clean car; cut the application form for an SBA loan from a hundred pages to one; reformed FEMA so that it was no longer the least popular federal agency but the most admired one, thanks to James Lee Witt; and saved more than $1 billion through cancellations of unneeded construction projects under Roger Johnsons leadership at the General Services Administration. Al Gore was doing a lot on one good leg.
Our week on the Vineyard was interesting for several reasons. Vernon Jordan set up a golf game with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Americas wealthiest men. I liked them both, and was particularly impressed that Buffett was a die-hard Democrat who believed in civil rights, fair taxation, and a womans right to choose.
The most memorable evening for me was a dinner at Bill and Rose Styrons, where the guests of honor were the superb Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes and my literary hero, Gabriel Garca Mrquez. Garca Mrquez was friends with Fidel Castro, who, in an effort to export some of his problems to us, was in the process of unleashing a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States, reminiscent of the Mariel boat lift, which had caused me so many problems in 1980. Thousands of Cubans, at great risk to themselves, had set out in small boats and rafts for the ninety-mile voyage to Florida.
Garca Mrquez was opposed to the U.S. embargo on Cuba and tried to talk me out of it. I told him that I would not lift the embargo, but that I supported the Cuban Democracy Act, which gave the President authority to improve relations with Cuba in return for greater movement toward freedom and democracy there. I also asked him to tell Castro that if the influx of Cubans continued, he would get a very different response from the United States than he had received in 1980 from President Carter. Castro has already cost me one election, I said. He cant have two. I relayed the same message through President Salinas of Mexico, who had a good working relationship with Castro. Not long afterward, the United States and Cuba reached an agreement by which Castro pledged to stem the exodus, and we promised to take twenty thousand more Cubans each year through the normal process. Castro faithfully observed the accord for the remainder of my term. Later, Garca Mrquez would joke that he was the only man who was friends with both Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton.
After we discussed Cuba, Garca Mrquez lavished most of his attention on Chelsea, who said she had read two of his books. He later told me that he didnt believe a fourteen-year-old girl could understand his work, so he launched into an extended discussion with her about One Hundred Years of Solitude. He was so impressed that he later sent her an entire set of his novels.
The only business I did on vacation involved Ireland. I granted a visa to Joe Cahill, a seventy-six-year-old hero to Irish Republicans. In 1973, Cahill had been convicted of gunrunning in Ireland, and he continued to promote violence for years afterward. I gave him a visa because he now wanted to promote peace among the IRAs American supporters, as part of an understanding under which the IRA would, at long last, announce a cease-fire. Cahill came to America on August 30, and the next day the IRA announced a total cessation of violence, opening the way for Sinn Feins participation in the peace talks. It was a victory for Gerry Adams and for the Irish government.
When we returned from our vacation, we moved into Blair House for three weeks while the White House air-conditioning system was being repaired. A massive stone-by-stone restoration of the nearly two- hundred-year-old exterior, begun during the Reagan administration, was also still going on. A portion of the White House would be covered by scaffolding all through my first term.
Our family always enjoyed the time we spent in Blair House, and this extended visit was no exception, though it caused us to miss a dramatic moment back across the street. On September 12 an inebriated man who was disappointed with his life broke into a small airplane and took off for downtown Washington and the White House. He was trying either to kill himself by crashing into the building or to stage a landing on the South Lawn, like the one executed by a young German pilot in Moscows Red Square a few years earlier. Unfortunately, his little Cessna hit the ground too late for the landing, bounced over the hedge and under the giant magnolia tree on the west side of the entrance, then slammed into the large stone base of the White House, killing him instantly. A few years later, another troubled man with a pistol vaulted the White House fence before he was wounded and apprehended by officers of the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service. The White House was a magnet for more than ambitious politicians.
The crisis in Haiti came to a head in September. General Cedras and his thugs had intensified their reign of terror, executing orphaned children, raping young girls, killing priests, mutilating people and leaving body parts in the open to terrify others, and slashing the faces of mothers with machetes while their children watched. By this time, I had been working for a peaceful solution for two years, and I was fed up.
More than a year earlier, Cedras had signed an agreement to give up power, but when the time came to leave, he simply refused to go.
It was time to throw him out, but public opinion and congressional sentiment were strongly against it. Though the Congressional Black Caucus, Senator Tom Harkin, and Senator Chris Dodd supported me, the Republicans were solidly opposed, and most Democrats, including George Mitchell, thought I was just taking them out onto another precipice without public support or congressional authorization. There was even division within the administration. Al Gore, Warren Christopher, Bill Gray, Tony Lake, and Sandy Berger were for it. Bill Perry and the Pentagon were not, but they had been working on an invasion plan in case I ordered them to proceed.
I thought we had to go forward. Innocent people were being slaughtered in our own backyard, and we were already spending a small fortune taking care of Haitian refugees. The United Nations was unanimous in supporting the ouster of Cedras.
On September 16, in a last-minute attempt to avoid an invasion, I sent President Carter, Colin Powell, and Sam Nunn to Haiti to try to persuade General Cedras and his supporters in the military and parliament to peacefully accept Aristides return and Cedrass departure from the country. For different reasons, they all disagreed with my determination to use force to restore Aristide. Though the Carter Center had monitored Aristides overwhelming election victory, President Carter had developed a relationship with Cedras and was skeptical of Aristides commitment to democracy. Nunn was opposed to Aristides return until parliamentary elections were held, because he didnt trust Aristide to protect minority rights without an established countervailing force in parliament. Powell thought only the military and the police could govern Haiti, and that they would never work with Aristide.
As subsequent events would prove, there was some merit to their arguments. Haiti was deeply divided economically and politically and had no previous experience with democracy, no significant middle class, and little of the institutional capacity required to operate a modern state. Even if Aristide was returned without a hitch, he might not succeed. Still, he had been elected overwhelmingly, and Cedras and his crew were killing innocent people. We could at least stop that.
Despite their reservations, the distinguished trio pledged to faithfully communicate my policy. They wanted to avoid a violent American entry, which could make matters even worse. Nunn spoke to members of Haitis parliament; Powell told the Haitian military leaders in graphic terms what would happen if the United States invaded; and Carter worked on Cedras.
The next day I went to the Pentagon to review the invasion plan with General Shalikashvili and the Joint Chiefs, and, by teleconference, with Admiral Paul David Miller, the commander of the overall operation, and Lieutenant General Hugh Shelton, commander of the Eighteenth Airborne Corps, who would lead our troops onto the island. The invasion plan called for a unified operation involving all branches of the military. Two aircraft carriers were in the waters off Haiti, one transporting Special Operations forces and the other carrying soldiers from the Tenth Mountain Division. Air force planes were set to provide necessary air support. The marines were assigned to occupy Cap Haitien, Haitis second-largest city. Planes carrying Eighty-second Airborne Division paratroopers would fly out of North Carolina and drop them over the island at the outset of the assault. Navy SEALs would go in early and scan designated areas. They had already done a test run that morning, coming out of the water and onto land without incident. Most troops and equipment were to enter Haiti in an operation called RoRo, for roll on, roll off; troops and vehicles would roll onto landing vessels for the trip to Haiti, then roll off on the Haitian shoreline. When the mission was accomplished, the process would be reversed. Besides the U.S. forces, we had support from twenty-five other countries that had joined the UN coalition.
As the deadline for our attack approached, President Carter called me pleading for more time to persuade Cedras to leave. Carter desperately wanted to avoid a forced invasion. So did I. Haiti had no military capability; it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. I agreed to give him three more hours, but made it clear that any agreement he made with the general could not include another delay in the handover to Aristide. Cedras couldnt have more time to murder children, rape young girls, and slash womens faces. We had already spent $200 million taking care of the Haitians who had left their country. I wanted them to be able to go home.
In Port-au-Prince, as the three-hour deadline ran out, an angry mob gathered outside the building where the Americans were still talking. Every time I talked with Carter, Cedras had proposed a different deal, but they all gave him some wiggle room to hang around and delay Aristides return. I rejected them all. With the danger outside and the deadline for invasion at hand, Carter, Powell, and Nunn kept trying to persuade Cedras, to no avail. Carter pleaded for more time. I agreed to another delay, until 5 p.m. The planes with the paratroopers were scheduled to arrive just after dark, at about six. If the three of them were still there negotiating then, they would be in much greater danger from the mob.
At 5:30 p.m. they were still in place and already in greater peril, because Cedras knew the operation had begun. He had had someone watching the airstrip in North Carolina, when our sixty-one planes carrying the paratroopers took off. I called President Carter and told him that he, Colin, and Sam had to leave immediately. The three of them made one last appeal to the titular head of Haiti, eighty-one-year-old President Emile Jonassaint, who at last told them he would choose peace instead of war. When all the cabinet members but one agreed with him, Cedras finally relented, less than an hour before the skies over Port-au-Prince would have been filled with parachutes. Instead, I ordered the planes to turn around and come home.
The next day General Shelton led the first of the fifteen-thousand-member multinational force into Haiti without a shot being fired. Shelton cut a striking figure. He was about six feet five inches tall, with chiseled features and a slow southern drawl. Though he was a couple of years older than I, he still did regular parachute jumps with his troops. He looked as if he could have deposed Cedras all by himself. I had visited General Shelton not long before at Fort Bragg, after a plane crash at nearby Pope Air Force Base had killed several servicemen. On Sheltons office wall were pictures of two great Confederate Civil War generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. When I saw Shelton on television as he stepped ashore, I remarked to one of my staff that America had come a long way if a man who revered Stonewall Jackson could be the liberator of Haiti.
Cedras promised to cooperate with General Shelton and to leave power by October 15, as soon as the general amnesty law required by the UN agreement was passed. Although I almost had to forcibly remove them from Haiti, Carter, Powell, and Nunn had done a courageous job under difficult and potentially dangerous circumstances. A combination of dogged diplomacy and imminent force had avoided bloodshed. Now it was up to Aristide to honor his commitment of no to violence, no to vengeance, yes to reconciliation. As with so many such statements, this would prove to be easier said than done.
Because the restoration of democracy in Haiti occurred without incident, it didnt turn out to have the negative impact the Democrats had feared. We should have been in good shape going into the elections: the economy was producing 250,000 jobs a month, with unemployment dropping from over 7 percent to under 6 percent; the deficit was coming down; we had passed important legislation on crime, education, national service, trade, and family leave; and I was making headway on our foreign policy agenda with Russia, Europe, China, Japan, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Haiti. But despite the record and the results, we were in trouble heading into the last six weeks of the election, for a variety of reasons: many people hadnt felt the economic improvements yet; no one believed the deficit was coming down; most people were unaware of the legislative victories and didnt know or didnt care about the foreign policy progress; the Republicans and their media and interest group allies had constantly and effectively attacked me as a wild-eyed liberal who wanted to tax them into the poorhouse and take their doctors and guns away; and the general press coverage was overwhelmingly negative.
The Center for Media and Public Affairs issued a report saying that in my first sixteen months, there was an average of nearly five negative comments a night on the evening network news programs, far more than the first President Bush had received in his first two years. The centers director, Robert Lichter, said I had the misfortune of being president at the dawning of an age that combines attack-dog journalism with tabloid news. There were some exceptions, of course. Jacob Weisberg wrote that Bill Clinton has been more faithful to his word than any other chief executive in recent memory, but that voters mistrust Clinton in part because the media keeps telling them not to trust him. Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek, In less than two years, Bill Clinton had already achieved more domestically than John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush combined. Although Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan often had their way with Congress, Congressional Quarterly says its Clinton who has had the most legislative success of any President since Lyndon Johnson. The standard for measuring results domestically should not be the coherence of the process but how actual lives are touched and changed. By that standard, hes doing well.
Alter may have been right, but if so, it was a well-kept secret.