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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK

UK Politics

Hitchens: Clinton could sell out Blair

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton deny any split over Kosovo

Political commentator Christopher Hitchens tells BBC News Online's Edward Main why he believes that US President Bill Clinton may betray UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Nato over Kosovo.

"War criminal, criminal psychopath and rapist" are descriptions of Bill Clinton that you won't find in the Starr report.

Kosovo: Special Report
They are all charges made by Christopher Hitchens whose new book on the US president, No One Left To Lie To, is riding high in the American bestseller lists.

After years of Clinton-watching, The British-born journalist is convinced that the most powerful man in the world is incapable of grasping the concept of morality as anything more than an easily-dispensable slogan.

The Vanity Fair columnist believes that despite his rhetoric the president has no interest in the latest Balkans crisis and desires a quick exit above all else.

Clinton's 'invertebrate style'

[ image: Christopher Hitchens: Gave evidence to the Clinton impeachment inquiry]
Christopher Hitchens: Gave evidence to the Clinton impeachment inquiry
Mr Clinton, Hitchens argues, has from the start shown signs of being willing, if necessary, to "sell out" his allies and their joint promises to see the Kosovo Albanian refugees safely home.

"Clinton has had the orphaned Kosovo issue forced on him for adoption. But his heart, his gut, and his nerve are not involved in at all. He wishes it could have been avoided," Hitchens says.

"He is signalling every kind of weakness and invertebrate style while Tony Blair has been out there every day saying 'This is a matter of principle and we must stand firm.'

Christopher Hitchens: I wince for Mr Blair when he compares himself to Mr Clinton
"I mean to say, as directly as I possibly can, that with Clinton the concept of matter of principle does not exist. He would not in his own mind be able in his own mind to formulate such a thing, in my view.

"It's a foreign idea to him. If he is in shot when he hears an expression like matter of principle or character or integrity he wonders what face to put on now and will it be convincing."

Transatlantic 'split' over partition

Hitchens says Mr Clinton has made noises that he would accept an ethnic partition of Kosovo rather than send in ground troops if negotiations fail to produce a settlement based on Nato's aims.

[ image: Dividing up Kosovo would mean many refugees could never return to their homes]
Dividing up Kosovo would mean many refugees could never return to their homes
But it is a compromise which the UK insists is totally unacceptable.

Other Nato members would also be likely find it repugnant to allow the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to keep some of the spoils of his latest ethnic cleansing campaign.

Mr Blair would also be unwilling for Kosovo to be split into two areas overseen separately by Nato and Russian forces - who might be more sympathetic to Belgrade's point of view.

"Nothing is acceptable if it is de facto partition," he said at the EU summit in Cologne.

Mr Clinton and Mr Blair have gone to pains to deny reports that they are divided over Kosovo.

Brits in Balkans
But Hitchens believes the UK Government must be harbouring concerns about its ally's intentions.

"Robin Cook and Blair must have been thinking, 'Now wait a minute these are our reputations he is playing with as well as his own.' I don't think that can be overstated.

"If Blair isn't worried then he is as immune to scepticism as Mr Clinton is to self-criticism."


A settlement achieved through the division of Kosovo would have several merits for the president, Hitchens believes.

"I think Clinton makes a shrewd calculation that anything that could be presented as peace with honour or a victory would be embraced by the American electorate in its aggregate form," he says.

Christopher Hitchens: Milosevic should have been taken out years ago
"There would be many people who might denounce it as a sell-out or a betrayal.

"But anything that could be argued was a solution that could also be attributed to the bombing campaign I think he would accept.

"It would also be an opportunity for him to repair the extremely damaged relations that have arisen between the US and China and the former Soviet Union.

"So in that sense for him it would be another temptation for pseudo-statesmanship."

No friend of Bill

Anyone who dismisses this analysis as the product terminal cynicism would be wise to read No One Left to Lie To, Hitchens insists.

This punchy polemic is unlikely to find shelf space in the memorial library which in presidential tradition will be built to honour Mr Clinton when he leaves office.

Rushed to press in the wake of the impeachment trial it argues that Mr Clinton's deceit over his affair with Monica Lewinsky is among his lesser sins.

It accuses Mr Clinton of being ever ready to make or break almost any promise to gain or maintain power.

[ image: Juanita Broaddrick: Mr Clinton has denied her claims that he raped her in 1978]
Juanita Broaddrick: Mr Clinton has denied her claims that he raped her in 1978
Hitchens argues that in his "reign of mendacity" Mr Clinton has habitually betrayed his liberal supporters, pursuing a right-wing policy agenda aimed at sleazy campaign fund donors.

He also backs hotly-denied allegations that Mr Clinton has sexually assaulted a series of women.

Most gravely of all the book alleges that, more than once, Mr Clinton has ordered or allowed the deaths of innocent people to create a distraction to get himself out of a tight corner.

The weapons factory that never was

As an example, Hitchens cites the US missile strike against the El Shifa chemical factory in Sudan in August 1998.

He also believes it was an incident that was a valuable lesson for Mr Blair about the "masochism of the special relationship".

[ image: The bombing coincided with Monica Lewinsky's second grand jury appearance]
The bombing coincided with Monica Lewinsky's second grand jury appearance
The attack, supported by Mr Blair, was claimed as a reprisal for the bombings of two US embassies in Africa.

Hitchens says that its real purpose was to provide an instant boost to the president's image on the day that Ms Lewinsky made her second grand jury appearance.

The evidence produced to back White House claims that the plant was linked to the bombings suspect, Islamic dissident Osama bin Laden, and that it produced chemical weapons not medicines has all been discredited, he says.

So much so that the US has unfrozen the assets of the factory's owner who is suing for compensation in the American courts.

Hitchens says that the four services heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were reportedly kept in the dark about the attack.

The CIA has also let it be known that it opposed the air strike, he adds.

Christopher Hitchens: Mr Clinton told five layers of lies to cover up his war crimes
The rockets were launched without warning against a country with which the US had diplomatic relations and which had previously expelled Mr bin Laden at Washington's request.

The FBI was also reportedly furious that Mr Clinton ordered the missiles in before it could warn its agents in Africa.

"Take away all the exploded claims about Sudan and the question 'What was the hurry?' practically answers itself," says Hitchens.

Deadly legacy

Hitchens says that the deadly consequences of what he sees as a presidential PR stunt will be suffered for a long while yet.

[ image: Hitchens says the bombing destroyed Sudan's ability to fight a meningitis outbreak]
Hitchens says the bombing destroyed Sudan's ability to fight a meningitis outbreak
The bombing flattened a factory which he says produced 60% of the medical supplies for a country ravaged by civil war and famine.

This means Sudan has been unable to effectively combat what he Red Cross has described as a "furious meningitis epidemic" which has claimed the lives of at least 2,000 children and young people, he says.

"So not only were there people killed needlessly in the bombing itself but people also have been and are dying down the road and all of them to save President Clinton's face," he says.

"Look at that face and ask how many people would you allow to die to save it and you are asking the right question. And you would be asking a question that the Foreign Office and the prime minister did not ask, but one that required an answer."

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