You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Hillary And Bosnia Revisited

Someone called my attention today to an interesting nugget in Sally Bedell Smith's new book about the Clintons, For Love of Politics. It sheds a new ray of light on the mysterious subject of how Hillary Clinton developed her foreign policy worldview. Bedell Smith writes that in the spring of 1995, when Richard Holbrooke--then an assistant Secretary of State and now one of Hillary's key foreign policy advisors--"began secretly meeting with Hillary.":

Two years earlier, Hillary had been dovish on Bosnia. Worried about getting into another Vietnam-style quagmire, she had helped  persuade Bill to back away from the "lift and strike" plan to remove the ban on weapons to Muslim fighters while launching air strikes against Serbian military targets. Now the atmosphere had changed. Republicans as well as Democrats in the Senate were poised to pass a measure allowing the Bosnian Muslims to obtain weapons to fight the Sebs more effectively, and Bill's continued inaction threatened to harm him politically.

After several conversations with Holbrooke, Hillary became "an advocate for the use of force in Bosnia," said one of Bill's top advisors. By the end of June, Holbrooke told Hillary bluntly that Bill needed to show "engagement, not procrastinating and ducking and waiting for something better to happen"....

We already knew Hillary pressured Bill to act in Bosnia. What I, at least, hadn't known was that Holbrooke (according to Bedell Smith) had so strongly influenced her. Moreover, this account suggests that politics, not morality, mainly drove Hillary's change of heart.

That, however, is not how Hillary tells the story in her own memoir. I don't have a copy at hand, but I did write this in my March TNR story on her foreign policy:

Her memoir recounts hearing a speech by Elie Wiesel in April 1993 in which he invoked the Holocaust as he pleaded with the president to take action in the former Yugoslavia. "Sitting in the gray drizzle," Hillary writes, "I agreed with Elie's words, because I was convinced that the only way to stop the genocide in Bosnia was through selective air strikes against Serbian targets."

So what's the truth? Well, it's not entirely clear. Which I suppose is the point Barack Obama and John Edwards have been trying to make by pressing her to reveal more about her role as First Lady.

--Michael Crowley