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Friday, April 11, 2008

Bill's Bosina

Bill Shoots from the Hip
Michael Dobbs, Washington Post

The Facts
As documented in previous posts, Hillary Clinton gave exagerrated, partly erroneous accounts of her Bosnian trip on at least three different occasions. She gave the most colorful version in a St. Patrick's Day speech on Monday, March 17, when she described running across the tarmac with her head down at Tuzla airport to avoid sniper fire. It was not until the following Monday, March 24, that Clinton acknowoledged that she "misspoke," saying that she had made "a minor blip."

To set the record straight, I called the Clinton campaign the day after the St. Patrick's Day speech to raise questions about her account of coming under sniper fire. Having reported from Bosnia in the aftermath of the 1995 Dayton Peace agreement, I knew that the country, and particularly the Tuzla area, was firmly under the control of NATO troops by March 1996. The campaign put me in touch with former Army Secretary Togo West, who emphasized the risks run by the former first lady but did not remember any "sniper fire."

I dug up an old photo of Hillary Clinton being greeted on the tarmac of Tuzla airport by an eight-year-old Bosnian girl, which I published on Friday, March 21. I gave the maximum four Pinocchios to Hillary for her version of events, which I described as "simply not credible." But it was not until the following Monday, after CBS News ran old news footage of the arrival ceremony, that the Clinton campaign conceded that the candidate may have made an error.

You can read two different versions of the Bill Clinton defense of his wife over on Jake Tapper's Political Punch here. To summarize the principal factual errors made by Bill Clinton:

1. Hillary gave misleading versions of her Bosnia trip more than once, talking about a harrowing "corkscrew" landing under sniper fire.
2. She gave her St. Patrick's Day speech not "late at night," as her husband claimed, but in the middle of the morning.
3. There was no "immediate" apology from the Clinton camp for the misstatement. On the contrary, the campaign stood by her version of events for a full week.
4. The first lady visited Bosnia not in 1995, when the country was still at war, but in 1996, when the situation was quite peaceful.
5. Hillary was not the first first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to "go into a combat zone." Pat Nixon visited the troops in South Vietnam in 1969, while that country was still at war.
6. As evidence of the dangers associated with Hillary's trip, the former president mentioned the deaths of three American "peacekeepers" as they drove into Sarajevo along a mountain road "because they could not go the regular way." He was citing a story told by Gen. Wesley Clark, a prominent Clinton supporter, about three U.S. diplomats (not peacekeepers) killed in August 1995 when their car hurtled down a ravine. But Clark's story misses the point. Traveling around Bosnia was indeed very dangerous in the middle of 1995. The war was still going on at that time. The risks were minimal in March 1996, four months after Dayton.

I could go on, but you get the point.

By now, even the irrepressible Bill Clinton has decided he has had enough of the Tuzla tale. Questioned by reporters in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Friday, he said he would not talk about the trip any more. "Hillary called me and said, 'You don't remember this, you weren't there. Let me handle it.' And I said 'Yes ma'am,'"
The Pinocchio Test

Bill Clinton accused the media of treating Hillary as if "she'd robbed a bank" in shooting down the Tuzla sniper story. But the wounds were largely self-inflicted. Instead of backing down gracefully, the campaign stood by a discredited story for several days. Through his over-zealous attempt to defend his wife, the former president succeeded only in re-igniting the controversy. It is difficult to know whether he actually believes his aggrieved version of history or was simply shooting from the hip. I will be charitable and award him three Pinocchios.

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