The Tall Tale of Tuzla
Hillary Clinton's Bosnian misadventure should disqualify her from the presidency, but the airport landing is the least of it.
The punishment visited on Sen. Hillary Clinton for her flagrant, hysterical, repetitive, pathological lying about her visit to Bosnia should be much heavier than it has yet been and should be exacted for much more than just the lying itself. There are two kinds of deliberate and premeditated deceit, commonly known as suggestio falsi and suppressio veri. (Neither of them is covered by the additionally lying claim of having "misspoken.") The first involves what seems to be most obvious in the present case: the putting forward of a bogus or misleading account of events. But the second, and often the more serious, means that the liar in question has also attempted to bury or to obscure something that actually is true. Let us examine how Sen. Clinton has managed to commit both of these offenses to veracity and decency and how in doing so she has rivaled, if not indeed surpassed, the disbarred and perjured hack who is her husband and tutor.
I remember disembarking at the Sarajevo airport in the summer of 1992 after an agonizing flight on a U.N. relief plane that had had to "corkscrew" its downward approach in order to avoid Serbian flak and ground fire. As I hunched over to scuttle the distance to the terminal, a mortar shell fell as close to me as I ever want any mortar shell to fall. The vicious noise it made is with me still. And so is the shock I felt at seeing a civilized and multicultural European city bombarded round the clock by an ethno-religious militia under the command of fascistic barbarians. I didn't like the Clinton candidacy even then, but I have to report that many Bosnians were enthused by Bill Clinton's pledge, during that ghastly summer, to abandon the hypocritical and sordid neutrality of the George H.W. Bush/James Baker regime and to come to the defense of the victims of ethnic cleansing.
I am recalling these two things for a reason. First, and even though I admit that I did once later misidentify a building in Sarajevo from a set of photographs, I can tell you for an absolute certainty that it would be quite impossible to imagine that one had undergone that experience at the airport if one actually had not. Yet Sen. Clinton, given repeated chances to modify her absurd claim to have operated under fire while in the company of her then-16-year-old daughter and a USO entertainment troupe, kept up a stone-faced and self-loving insistence that, yes, she had exposed herself to sniper fire in the cause of gaining moral credit and, perhaps to be banked for the future, national-security "experience." This must mean either a) that she lies without conscience or reflection; or b) that she is subject to fantasies of an illusory past; or c) both of the above. Any of the foregoing would constitute a disqualification for the presidency of the United States.
Yet this is only to underline the YouTube version of events and the farcical or stupid or Howard Wolfson (take your pick) aspects of the story. But here is the historical rather than personal aspect, which is what you should keep your eye on. Note the date of Sen. Clinton's visit to Tuzla. She went there in March 1996. By that time, the critical and tragic phase of the Bosnia war was effectively over, as was the greater part of her husband's first term. What had happened in the interim? In particular, what had happened to the 1992 promise, four years earlier, that genocide in Bosnia would be opposed by a Clinton administration?
In the event, President Bill Clinton had not found it convenient to keep this promise. Let me quote from Sally Bedell Smith's admirable book on the happy couple, For Love of Politics:
Taking the advice of Al Gore and National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Bill agreed to a proposal to bomb Serbian military positions while helping the Muslims acquire weapons to defend themselves—the fulfillment of a pledge he had made during the 1992 campaign. But instead of pushing European leaders, he directed Secretary of State Warren Christopher merely to consult with them. When they balked at the plan, Bill quickly retreated, creating a "perception of drift." The key factor in Bill's policy reversal was Hillary, who was said to have "deep misgivings" and viewed the situation as "a Vietnam that would compromise health-care reform." The United States took no further action in Bosnia, and the "ethnic cleansing" by the Serbs was to continue for four more years, resulting in the deaths of more than 250,000 people.
I can personally witness to the truth of this, too. I can remember, first, one of the Clintons' closest personal advisers—Sidney Blumenthal—referring with acid contempt to Warren Christopher as "a blend of Pontius Pilate with Ichabod Crane." I can remember, second, a meeting with Clinton's then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin at the British Embassy. When I challenged him on the sellout of the Bosnians, he drew me aside and told me that he had asked the White House for permission to land his own plane at Sarajevo airport, if only as a gesture of reassurance that the United States had not forgotten its commitments. The response from the happy couple was unambiguous: He was to do no such thing, lest it distract attention from the first lady's health care "initiative."
It's hardly necessary for me to point out that the United States did not receive national health care in return for its acquiescence in the murder of tens of thousands of European civilians. But perhaps that is the least of it. Were I to be asked if Sen. Clinton has ever lost any sleep over those heaps of casualties, I have the distinct feeling that I could guess the answer. She has no tears for anyone but herself. In the end, and over her strenuous objections, the United States and its allies did rescue our honor and did put an end to Slobodan Milosevic and his state-supported terrorism. Yet instead of preserving a polite reticence about this, or at least an appropriate reserve, Sen. Clinton now has the obscene urge to claim the raped and slaughtered people of Bosnia as if their misery and death were somehow to be credited to her account! Words begin to fail one at this point. Is there no such thing as shame? Is there no decency at last? Let the memory of the truth, and the exposure of the lie, at least make us resolve that no Clinton ever sees the inside of the White House again.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Hillary Clinton by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images. Photograph of Clinton on Slate's home page by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.