Clinton's profile in courage could stand some real guts


April 21, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

"There is an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan," John Kennedy said after his Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961.

Today, Bill Clinton has his own debacle. But he doesn't want to admit that he fathered it.

As far is Waco is concerned, Bill Clinton insists that he is pretty much a virgin.

So it must be Janet Reno's baby! It must be the FBI's baby! Because it can't be his.

Several hours after the compound in Waco had been reduced to cinders, Bill Clinton's issued a four-sentence statement.

The first sentence expressed sadness for the victims, but each sentence that followed carried a silent subtext with it:

"The law enforcement agencies involved in the Waco siege recommended the course of action pursued today."

Subtext: They did it, not me!

"The attorney general informed me of their analysis and judgment and recommended that we proceed with today's action given the risks of maintaining the previous policy indefinitely."

Subtext: She did it, not me!

"I told the attorney general to do what she thought was right, and I stand by that decision."

Subtext: So what was I supposed to do? Tell her to do what she thought was wrong?

While Attorney General Janet Reno was standing up bravely Monday afternoon and facing question after question in a press conference, Bill Clinton had no press conference. He was sending a message: This was her problem, not his.

Ordinary politicians prepare only for success. Extraordinary politicians prepare simultaneously for failure. And Bill Clinton is an extraordinary politician.

On Monday morning, not long after an armored vehicle smashed in the front door of David Koresh's compound, White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers was holding her regular morning briefing for reporters at the White House.

Though everything in Waco looked fine, Clinton's staff was already shaping its scenario of events just in case anything went wrong.

Asked if Clinton had given "the green light on Waco," Myers would not admit to it.

"Well, he was informed," she said.

"There was a report that the president's specific order or demand of the law enforcement officials was that there be no loss of life or that it be absolutely minimized," a reporter said.

Myers refused to confirm what was obviously a White House leak, but once again she put distance between Clinton and the decision.

The president had been informed, Myers said, "but it is a Justice Department-FBI operation."

Reporters went back and forth with Myers on this until one reporter said: "Well, if it's successful, will it still be a Justice Department-FBI thing?"

Everybody laughed.

By 1 p.m. EDT, everybody still was in a jovial mood when George Stephanopoulos, White House director of communications, held his regular afternoon briefing.

Stephanopoulos was asked if the president "had any input" in the Waco operation.

Stephanopoulos' answer, given some minutes before flames broke out in Waco, was carefully crafted:

"The attorney general informed the president yesterday that they were planning on going ahead with this kind of an operation, but it's a decision by the attorney general and the FBI." (Italics added.)

So even before things went bad, Clinton was preparing a back door he could escape through if needed.

Later Monday, after the compound had burned to the ground, Clinton was cornered at a public event and asked for a comment.

Ask the Justice Department and the FBI for a comment, Clinton said. "The decision was entirely theirs." (Italics added.)

Only yesterday, when it was apparent that Janet Reno was standing up and facing the music while Clinton was hiding out in the wings, did the president come forward and toughen up his stance -- but just a little.

"It is a decision for which I take responsibility," Clinton said from the Rose Garden. "I'm the president of the United States and I signed off on the general decision and giving her the authority to make the last call." (Italics added.)

Does Bill Clinton stand behind his people?

You bet.

Far, far, far behind his people.

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