Alex Massie

Clinton: My Wife’s Part in Ulster’s Downfall

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Daniel Larison points out an extraordinary passage from Bill Clinton's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show on Friday. Bafflingly, Clinton seems to believe that the Northern Irish peace process qualifies his wife to be President:

Clinton:...The only way to overcome our differences is not basically to try to erase the past, it's to get used to working together. I mean it's kind of a metaphor for the Hillary argument. If you look at last Monday, the...

Charlie Rose: You are people are pushing me, so it's not my --

Bill Clinton: The new leaders of Northern Ireland came to Washington to see the president. They -- it represents a stunning change. I think everybody we met, right, stunning change in Northern Ireland.

Charlie Rose: It's unbelievable.

Bill Clinton: And they asked to see another person. They asked to see Hillary, because she played an independent role in their peace process when I was president, independent of me. Now who were these new leaders? Ian Paisley, who was a long time leader of their conservatives, and Martin McGuinness, who is one of the toughest guys in the Sinn Féin. They are the co-leaders of Northern Ireland. The Northern Irish didn't think that to turn the page, they had to throw out the people who had represented their respective points of view. They thought they were more likely to work together to effect positive change because of what they had done in the past....I like all these Democrats. I will support whoever gets nominated. I think we are fortunate in having people who want to turn the page and take a new direction. I think the relevant question from me is who would be the best president based on who has a proven record of making change in the lives of other people. Therefore, I think she would be the best president. But that is, to me, what it all comes down to. And if you think about the Northern Ireland deal, they didn't go out and find two guys that happened to be a Protestant, and happened to be a Catholic.

Well! Hillary certainly "played an independent role" in the Norther Irish "peace process" if by "independent role" you mean "position of no importance whatsoever". The idea that Hillary can claim any credit for whatever successes or progress there has been in Northern Ireland is preposterous. But only marginally more idiotic than the former President's apparent belief that he alone was responsible for the Good Friday Agreement. Since he's happy to exaggerate his useful, supplementary - but scarcely decisive - contribution presumably it is easy to similarly gild his wife's importance.

Secondly, Charlie Rose is right to say that what's happened in Northern Ireland is "unbelievable". It's just unbelievable in ways that I suspect neither Charlie Rose nor Bill Clinton will ever understand. It is indeed stunning that a DUP-Sinn Fein "partnership" at Stormont is hailed as a great achievement. To listen to Clinton's babble you would think that installing a government of bigots and terrorists is a good thing.

But of course it's actually evidence of the profound, dreadful failure of the peace process. Naturally, this means it must be called victory. Still, no matter what politicians in London, Dublin or Washington may say, installing Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness is a failure - a failure that may, perhaps, have been inevitable but that was, however unwittingly, aided and abetted by leaders in all three capitals.

Indeed, when the Downing Street Declaration or, years later, the Good Friday Agreement were signed, you had said that the result would be a Sinn-Fein & DUP administration in Belfast, everyone would, quite rightly have been horrified. Such an outcome would have been considered proof that the process had failed, not that it had succeeded.

Now, however, we are supposed to think differently and remember that we were wrong then and everything is fine and dandy now. After all, at every stage we'rereminded that an imperfect peace is better than a return to violence. Well, so it may be. But even if you accept that the Paisley-McGuinness alliance is preferable to some alternatives (a return to car bombs and snipers and all the rest of it) that doesn't mean it was preferable to all alternatives.

It didn't have to be this way. Now, of course, a settlement may have to involve talking with distasteful folk, including terrorists such as McGuinness (something more than Clinton's cheer "toughest guys in the Sinn Fein") and bigots such as Paisley (the "leader" of "their conservatives" [sic] largely because no-one thought it wise or sensible to support David Trimble and the OUP; preferring instead to assuage and sweet talk Sinn Fein at every step) but, as I say, this doesn't mean selling the store. Well before the end, however, the process had become more important than the result. In fact, the result didn't matter so long as the process itself continued.

The peace process was supposed to restore - or even, in some respects, create - Northern Irish civil society. Instead it ensured that it was, in the end, taken over by the very people that threatened or made impossible the idea of civil society itself. Truly, an unbelievable success.

Needless to say it would have been better had the Northern Irish people thrown out the buggers responsible for creating the chaos the peace process was supposed to end. Instead, for various reasons (not all of them unpredictable), the decent centre was weakened to pacify the indecent extremes.

So, anyway, Clinton's argument that his wife should be supported because she is the McGuinness/Paisley figure in this campaign is bizarre. Is she a terrorist or a bigot? Or both?  What does Bill know that we don't?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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