Very few men in history have the opportunity to lead the most powerful nation on Earth. The chance to shape the destiny of a front-running country and to influence world policy is indeed rare. But William Jefferson Clinton was born under lucky stars. It was in his destiny to become the most powerful man of the planet. His childhood, though, conveyed anything but that. An absentee mother and a drunkard and abusive father are hardly ideal founding stones of a great future. Clinton, in his usual resilient way, overcame all initial hiccups. He won a Rhodes scholarship to law school and, soon after, entered politics. His career graph was meteoric. His qualities - of hard-work, intelligence, guts and vision - evident. And his report-card as president remains impressive.
- At the national level, Clinton left the most significant mark on the economy. For the first time since 1969, Clinton turned a deficit federal budget into a surplus. Both the GDP and the dollar value witnessed a steady increase in his regime. At the global level too, Clinton helped Mexico through its bankruptcy, dealt with the Asian economic crisis, signed the North American Free Trade Policy and supported China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation.
- His stewardship in foreign affairs is well known. Among his greatest achievements remain his roles in the Good Friend Agreement of Ireland and the Oslo Accord of West Asia. The Accord won Yitzak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize. The historic Arafat-Rabin handshake was Clinton’s contribution.
- Clinton proved his credentials as a tough decision taker in the Yugoslav episode. Nato’s military intervention freed Kosovo from the clutches of Serbia. It also proved to be the end of President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton followed his predecessor’s policy in keeping Iraq in check, by ordering missile attacks as and when Saddam raised the head of dissent. He also managed to constructively engage China by giving special thrust to economics.
- As far as India is concerned, it took a Bill Clinton to put old suspicions between the two largest democracies finally in the coffin. He laid the foundation stone for a new era of partnership. Alas! Only in his last days as president.
- It is not that his reign has been without blemishes. Clinton could not push through social security and medicare policies. He regrets sorely the US intervention in Somalia, where 18 US soldiers lost their lives. Despite his best efforts till his very last days of presidency, Clinton could not thrash out a solution for West Asia. His controversial National Missile Defence policy nearly aborted the security dialogue with China. He has had to defer any decision to the new administration. At a personal level, he was accused of financial irregularities. The infamous episode came to be known as the Whitewater scandal. Clinton could clear his name only after 6 years of probe, which ended because of lack of evidence. Despite these problems, Clinton’s overall performance as president remained one of the best ever. But personal weakness has a way taking its toll. And all good work done gets washed away. So has been the unfortunate case with Clinton. Perhaps the most permanent stigma in his life will remain the various scandals linked with his sexual exploits. They were not just mistakes, they brought disgrace. One after the other, skeletons tumbled from the Clinton cupboard. The episode got murkier by the day. Court cases and compensations weighed heavy on his pocket. His denial and his subsequent admission of inappropriate behaviour with Monica Lewinsky cost him his reputation. It branded him liar and made him a butt of jokes world over. It is a rather sad end of such an illustrious life in office. No other President has been so maligned in the history of the United States. No other, perhaps, ever will be. And that too, for such frivolity of character. The House of Representatives impeached him. The Senate saved his skin. Clinton’s humiliation was complete. It is paradoxical that a man with such a distinguished career had to encounter such a harsh downfall. Everything he strove to build so tediously and determinedly has just frittered away. And when history remembers Clinton, it will not be for his outstanding achievements or statesmanship, but for this one personal inadequacy. Somewhere, his lucky stars deserted him.