The Evolution of a Commander in Chief
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Middle East Times intelligence correspondent Sale (Traitors: The Worst Acts of Treason in American History from Benedict Arnold to Robert Hanssen, 2003, etc.) urges a much higher ranking for President Clinton as a commander in chief.

Notwithstanding the president’s lack of foreign-policy experience and famously awkward relations with the military, Sale contends that by his departure from office the president’s diplomacy and carefully calibrated use of force place him among the more influential commanders in chief of the 20th century. It’s a somewhat surprising verdict given the evidence amassed here about Clinton’s deficiencies, about a lackluster first term and about a broadly defined foreign-policy team so lame the president once declared there “wasn’t a winner among them.” A wide cast of characters take a beating in the narrative: Anthony Lake, Les Aspin, Warren Christopher, William Cohen, Louis Freeh, Hugh Shelton, Colin Powell, James Woolsey, John Deutch, Sandy Berger and Madeline Albright, to a degree, all come in for a hammering. Only Al Gore, Leon Fuerth, Richard Clarke, William Perry, Richard Holbrooke, Peter Galbraith and Wesley Clark survive undiminished, as Sale details the rivalries among Clinton’s advisors and recounts the administration’s response to crises in Haiti, Somalia and especially the Balkans and the Middle East where, the author argues, Clinton’s covert operations made a crucial difference. The book’s most interesting and meticulously reported passages deal with Clinton’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering to topple Saddam Hussein, to kill bin Laden, to cajole NATO allies and to arm Croat ground forces against the Bosnian Serbs. Sale convincingly likens Clinton’s force of personality, love of subterfuge and shrewd understanding of public opinion to FDR, and he makes the case that the first truly post–Cold War administration confronted unique foreign-policy challenges. By the time of the war in Kosovo, which brought the loathsome Milosevic to heel, Sale depicts the president as surely more accustomed to wielding power on the world stage, but he fails to wholly persuade us that the war’s favorable outcome was attributable to a newly tough and purposeful Clinton.

A sympathetic, well-reported appreciation of the 42nd president’s exercise of America’s hard and soft power.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-37366-5
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2009


NonfictionTHE UNQUIET AMERICAN by Derek Chollet
by Derek Chollet