August 6th, 2009
02:44 PM ET
5 years ago

Analysis: Bill Clinton as a diplomatic fix-it man

WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was a heartwarming sight: Laura Ling and Euna Lee landing on U.S. soil and being reunited with their families.

Then, after an appropriate amount of time for hugs and kisses, Bill Clinton appeared, descending from his movie-producer friend's plane like an angel from heaven.

An emotional Ling practically referred to the former president as a messiah, describing to the media and well-wishers waiting at the airport how she and Lee thought they were being sent to a hard-labor camp, only to walk through a door to find Clinton. The crowd broke into loud applause.

For all of those who wondered what Bill would do in Hillary Clinton's diplomatic world, wonder no longer.


As details of the Clinton mission came out, it was revealed that the North Koreans themselves asked for Clinton, promising amnesty for the women upon delivery of the former president, whose visit eluded them while he was in
office. The deal was done even before Clinton stepped on the plane.

So what is next for Bill Clinton?

If the mere thought of a meeting with him is enough to move a regime notorious for never moving, can the Obama administration use that star power to rescue three American hikers who ventured into Iran and are believed to be held
by Iranian authorities? Can Clinton head off two Russian attack submarines cruising in the Atlantic off the East Coast of the United States?

Former presidents are used as envoys and undertake humanitarian missions all the time.

Then-President Clinton used former President Jimmy Carter to travel to North Korea in 1994 to negotiate the end to the first nuclear crisis. Clinton and his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, were tapped by Bush's son, then-President George W. Bush, to lead relief efforts to help Asian and African nations devastated by the 2004 tsunami and again in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

But the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Obama is complex, to say the least. After a bitter-fought battle during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton supporters were looking for a robust role for her in exchange for her support of Obama, with many even suggesting her as a possible candidate for vice president.

That idea was short-lived. The Obama team wanted Hillary far from the West Wing. And they wanted Bill even farther.

When Obama tapped Hillary to be his secretary of state, there was no shortage of critics who asserted that her husband's global foundation and role as a high-paid public speaker would present a conflict of interest. The Clintons agreed to strict rules of the road to avoid such conflicts going forward.

However Hillary never demurred in her praise for what her husband has accomplished, both during his eight years in the White House or post-presidency. Hillary herself has said she considered her husband a trusted adviser and could even consider him using him where appropriate. He is a former president, after all.

Bill Clinton has largely stayed out of the limelight, quietly continuing his globetrotting on behalf of the world's poor and downtrodden. In May, United

Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appointed him as the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti in an effort to refocus international attention on the Caribbean country's deep economic problems and environmental decay.

But with the success of his North Korean mission so quick and easy, it's conceivable that Bill Clinton could add the role of "diplomatic cleaner" to his resume - a version of Harvey Keitel's role as Winston Wolfe in the movie "Pulp Fiction" - a fixer of messy problems, which he solves with a combination of stylish charisma and lucid thinking under pressure.

The Obama administration has no shortage of messy foreign policy problems that Hillary Clinton knows could use a Winston Wolfe.


Filed under: Bill Clinton
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. DiBiase/Bad Newz, VA

    I wouldn't call him Mr. Fix-It just yet. There are still 3 American journalists in Iran. Now if he can negotiate their release, that's news.

    August 6, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  2. tom

    It is amazing that the GOP can find fault in this. If it were your family member would you care if it were George Bush or Bill Clinton? The party of no is so bad some people have said they should have stayed in prison for breaking Korean Law. How many laws have Cheney and Bush broke?

    August 6, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  3. Expat American

    Bill Clinton remains a true statesman. We love you Mr. President.

    The volatile, dirty lying Bush administration lacked any such statesman.

    August 6, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  4. Grammi

    This proves that Hillary Clinton is the wrong selection for Secretary of State. North Korea thinks of her as a silly woman; she needed Slick Willy to pull off the deal. Ling and Lee need to stay home if they can't observe country lines. How much did it cost the USA to bail them out of the jam they got themselves into? Do I think they deserved 12 years of hard labor? Or course not.

    The media needs to stay out of the way of diplomatic relations. I am scared.

    August 6, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  5. Robert

    Boy are you streaching your movie analogies.

    Pulp Fiction???? Are you nuts!

    August 6, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  6. JLS

    Let's replace Hillary with Bill, if he's that good. This seems like he's getting way too much credit here, but he was able to get those two girls back, so that can't be a bad thing.

    August 6, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. aware

    Bill Clinton isn't perfect but at least he knows what he is talking about when he opens his mouth!

    He isn't a trained parrot like Obama! :)

    August 6, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. John Jensen

    I am surprised that there has been little comment about the warm interactions between Al Gore and Bill Clinton. It had long been known that relations between the two have been frosty.

    August 6, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  9. Hero, are you kidding me?

    Bill is a hero for going over and being the backseat driver in the PRE-ORDAINED pickup of two beautiful and wonderful women?

    HERO, are you morons serious, the heroes in my world are overseas doing battle everyday, this BS about him being a hero is borderline insane. (And yes, I also proudly volunteered and served for 8 years).

    Did a good thing happen here, YES, but he is NO hero.

    Why did Gore put them in harms way and why did HE not over as a Nobel prize winner and former VP?

    Photo-ops for Bill and the corrupt midget of North Korea and nothing else should be said but WE are glad the ladies are safe and home.

    August 6, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  10. Maria - Proud Democrat

    President Clinton is and will always be the best statesman in the world.

    Thank you Mr. Clinton for getting these journalists home, we will forever be indebted to you.

    August 6, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  11. Lynne

    What a one sided analysis. Everyone with a brain knows that the whole deal was decided on by the Obama administration and the Sec. of State before the former President stepped on the plane.

    Everyone with a brain knows that any official of the gov't could not have made this trip. It is people like you in the press who can not accept that Pres. Obama and the Clintons have buried the hatchet and are working together for their country.

    So pathetic that people like the author of this peice lack the character to realize this and want to denigrate anyone who shows character and valyes beyond self interest.

    August 6, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  12. Neutralizer

    Bubba was a good President. Although he made mistakes (banking deregulation), I consider him the ONLY shining President of his party. Clinton talks and walk it, Obambi just plain talk and talk.

    August 6, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  13. John

    Clinton Presidential Library -------
    Photos of Laura Ling and Euna Lee landing on U.S. soil and being reunited with their families. 8)

    G.W.Bush Presidential Library -----–
    Photos of Iraqi Journalists Throwing Shoes. :D

    August 6, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  14. Tracy

    I'm outta here. I used to depend on you for news. Now you're simply trying to get faux news ratings. I used to laugh during the elections because people accused you of being "in the tank" for Obama or McCain, but now your partisan views are blatant. Going back to good ol' broadcast news and Brian Williams - see ya!

    August 6, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  15. Mississippi Mike

    Isn't it funny that the only person who can be an effective diplomat is the husband of the Secretary of State? Does anyone else find this comical?

    August 6, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  16. Dennis

    What did we give the North Koeans in exchange for the journalists? Were the NKs just so awe struck with Bill Clinton that they handed the girls over?

    August 6, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  17. Susie

    Thank the Lord for Bill Clinton!!!! HE does things!!! He accomplishes!!!
    Mr. Obomba does NOTHING but spend oil/gas to FUEL HIS travels. This money could have been SAVED if he stayed at home in this Oval Office he desperately begged for. Thank you, Bill, at least we still have YOU to count on!!

    August 6, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  18. CNN hates Kelby's comments...that's why they don't post my comments

    Bill Clinton is cool. 'Cool' is a concept that eludes conservatives and republicans, much like the word 'empathy' and 'hypocrisy'.
    Bill Clinton is hated by friends on the right for being so cool and playing on the other team

    August 6, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  19. Shirley In California

    I have to totally agree with Reality's blog yesterday. They had no business there. While I am glad this administration gets a gold star – they should NOT have entered NK in the first place.

    August 6, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  20. Willy Brown

    Can only imagine what he sold the USA out for over there just to get his name in the news papers.

    August 6, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  21. Dee

    I don't care WHAT Clinton haters say...the man has a magic touch. None of us are perfect and this man makes up for all his shortcomings by being a hero to many. Way to go Billy Boy!!

    August 6, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  22. Regressive Party Refugee (Former Republican)

    Excellent use for one of our most erudite presidents. Too the witch hunting democrat hating neocons wasted so much of our money and his administrations time with their useless witch hunts. Ironic now seeing as how their party is so riddled with hypocritical sex scandals. Where's the impeachment trials for these bible-thumping adulterers?

    August 6, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  23. me

    I deeply admire Mr. president Bill Clinton. FOr what he did, does for people and world. For his aura, his intelligence, his charisma, his personality, his passion to help...and all. He is one of the best in world.

    August 6, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  24. Shirley In California

    I have to totally agree with Reality's blog yesterday. They had no business there. While I am glad this administration gets a gold star – they should NOT have entered NK in the first place.

    On another note – what are we paying Bush and Cheney for? We can't send them to ANY other country to be of ANY use because they would both be returned on slabs "feet first." I can certainly see why there is so much hatred towards our new president and his staff. It must be real hard to watch President Obama and his staff succeed but get used to it because he is and he will continue to do so.

    August 6, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. Joyce from South Carolina

    He was an amazing President!!!! Now he is an amazing former President!!!!

    August 6, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
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