With the endless war and economic hardships of the arrogant, openly scandalous, and reactionary Bush administration of 2000-2008, the Clinton administration has mysteriously developed a positive legacy. It has become common for some people to think of the Clinton years as ones that were opposite in every possible way to the Bush years. People remember Clinton for fixing the budget, keeping employment up, prioritizing education, assisting African Americans – it seems the only flaw the media and the public pin on Clinton is his dishonesty during the scandal with his white house aide, Monica Lewinsky.
What the records show, however, is that the Clinton administration consistently carried out a pro-business economic agenda and an aggressive imperialist foreign policy, one in which corporate interests were at the top of the list. Rather than representing something new, Clinton was a continuation of the same effort to channel more wealth away from the working class and poor and into the pockets of corporations.
Bill Clinton was elected and re-elected with under 60 percent of the eligible voters participating – that’s over 40 percent deciding not to vote at all. In both elections, he was elected by less than 50 percent of those who voted. He too was hardly a popular president.
In his 1992 election campaign, he tried to appear as an outsider to Washington, someone who could bring a new perspective to old problems. He criticized other candidates for being indebted to corporate interests through campaign contributions. Attempting to maintain this outsider façade, he pledged not to take any Political Action Committee (PAC) money during the 1992 primaries. PACs are loosely defined, informal organizations set up to funnel money into individual campaigns – they can be directly linked to specific corporations, wealthy individuals, lobbying groups. Clinton’s decision to avoid PAC money in the primary was simply a campaign strategy to try to distance himself from the other Democratic nominees.
In fact, months before the first primary took place, Clinton had already raised more money than any of his Democratic rivals. Early on in his campaign, he heavily solicited Wall Street, Hollywood, the high-tech companies, telephone companies, computer companies, media conglomerates, and many others. His outsider image was nothing more than an election strategy based on a lie, as most election strategies are.
Clinton wasn’t an outsider to Washington or big business. More than half of his campaign advisers were regulars in Washington, many of them with fulltime jobs working for foreign corporations and governments, the tobacco industry, insurance companies, oil and gas firms, investment banks and other corporate interests. As Governor of Arkansas, Clinton developed strong relationships with the elite clique of big businessmen and landlords ruling Arkansas. One other big supporter was Tyson Foods, the largest company in Arkansas, ranked 110 on the Fortune 500 list in 1995. During his 1992 presidential campaign, a spokesman for Martin Marietta Corporation (an enormous weapons manufacturing company) expressed Clinton’s relationship with corporations best: “I think the Democrats are moving more toward business and business is moving more toward the Democrats.” Clinton was no outsider to Washington or Big Business; he was in fact their tested and approved servant.
Balancing the Budget
When Clinton came to office there was already a four trillion dollar deficit racked up under the Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations primarily from massive increases in government spending. Clinton promised to eliminate this deficit. Two obvious solutions would be to either massively cut military spending, which caused the bulk of the deficit, or increase taxes to the super-rich, the top one percent, the only group whose wealth had been steadily rising while everyone else’s decreased. Instead, the Clinton administration decided to impose massive cuts in social services to the poorest and most vulnerable layers of the population, and impose no new taxes for the super-rich. The military budget was reduced, but it was a much smaller reduction than expected.
Before Clinton came into office, the Soviet Union had officially collapsed, ending the decades-long Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Thus, the pretext for maintaining such high levels of military spending no longer existed. In fact, the previous administration of George H.W. Bush, under what was called a “Peace Dividend,” had began to reduce military spending under the rationale that the Cold War was coming to an end. The Bush administration cut military spending by about 17 percent by the end of its term.
Under the Clinton administration, there was good reason to expect a significant reduction in military spending. At the time, there were projections of large increases to education, urban renewal, and the much needed social programs. Instead, by the end of Clinton’s second term, military spending was only reduced by seven percent. Most of the cuts came through closing obsolete military bases, retiring old Navy ships, and decreasing the overall number of active troops. Beyond these cuts, military spending stayed at Cold War levels. These reductions were a far cry from significantly reducing military spending. In fact, more of the military budget became concentrated in the corporate sector responsible for armaments production.
The flipside to this small “Peace Dividend” was what could be called a “War Dividend.” Under Clinton, the U.S. became the world’s unprecedented, biggest arms dealer, selling more weapons than the rest of the nations combined. This rapid increase came from the U.S. replacing the Soviet Union as an arms dealer to many nations. Under Clinton, a ban on sales of advanced weaponry to South America was lifted. For the first time, U.S. corporations were producing more arms for other countries than they were producing for the Pentagon. This was a clear handout to weapons manufacturers and a devastating blow to poor people around the world who had to live under the brutal dictatorships that received these weapons.
Another component of Clinton’s strategy for reducing the four trillion dollar deficit was to funnel money away from the poor. Clinton cut over five billion dollars to education in 1997. Health care was denied to ten and a half million uninsured children. Housing assistance programs, which were cut under Reagan and Bush, were eliminated under Clinton.
The biggest attack on the poor was Clinton’s virtual elimination of welfare. These cuts occurred on many levels. Clinton cut welfare benefits to illegal and legal immigrants. Over one million legal immigrants received letters explaining that their food stamps and financial assistance would be cut off in a few months unless they became citizens. The condition of becoming citizens was just a ruse because it took longer than a few months to become a citizen.
The bulk of the cuts to welfare came under the law with one of those all too familiar hypocritical titles: “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.” This bill cut off families’ benefits after two years, reduced lifetime benefits to only three years, and cut food stamps to people without children to only three total months in any three-year period. These cuts alone eliminated over ten billion dollars per year in social spending.
The official reasoning for pushing millions of the poorest of the population into further desperation was to provide them with employment, and eliminate their dependency on the government for assistance. The administration argued that once off welfare, people would be pushed to find jobs. This was commonly known as the “welfare to work” program: that is, get off of welfare and go to work. But this logic was completely backwards. People weren’t unemployed and underemployed because they were on welfare – they were on welfare because they were unemployed and underemployed. There weren’t enough jobs to employ all of the people who needed them, and the majority of those who did have jobs saw their incomes decrease every year since the 1970’s. Every time there were job openings more people applied than would be hired. In New York, over 100,000 people applied for 2000 job openings at the Sanitation Department. In Chicago, over 7,000 people showed up for 550 jobs at a restaurant chain. Overall, there was very little transition from welfare into employment. There was only a transition from poverty to even greater poverty.
Clinton did eventually balance the budget. But he did so by forcing millions of people into desperate poverty.
Send the Poor to Prison
Some may wonder what happened to the people who were eventually kicked off of welfare and couldn’t find jobs. Unable to find work, with no money to live, many turned to petty crime. And with increases in police forces and new harsh sentencing laws, many of the poor ended up in prison.
Under Clinton, the prison population skyrocketed, growing larger than the previous twelve years of Republican administrations combined. Clinton administered the largest increase in the prison population in U.S. history. Reagan ended his second term with approximately 49,000 federal prisoners. Clinton ended his second term with over 147,000 new federal prisoners, over 500,000 new state prisoners – about two million people locked up behind bars, with over 4.5 million people in the parole system. Over 70 percent of these new prisoners came from extremely poor neighborhoods. Under Clinton, for the first time, more money was being spent for prison construction than education. In 1996, $2.6 billion was spent on prison construction and only $2.5 billion on the construction of universities. Under Clinton, for the first time, prison construction became a full-blown industry, with private companies responsible for construction, providing guards, food and clothing.
The rapid growth of prisons and the number of inmates are direct consequences of Clinton’s cuts to social services.
Prelude to the USA PATRIOT Act
Before the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, there was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This bill was signed into law by Clinton following the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. It eliminated habeas corpus for those suspected of being terrorists, which meant people could be arrested and imprisoned without any evidence being produced. Individuals could not challenge the accusation of being a terrorist because the law allowed the state to use secret evidence against the individual, evidence they would never have to produce or explain. The law also expanded the definition of terrorism to make it easier for the government to charge a person with being a terrorist. Together, these changes make it almost impossible to defend against the charges of being a terrorist.
The law also imposed new statutes of limitations for all inmates, regardless of their cries, on when they can appeal their convictions. It limited appeals on death penalty convictions to six months, and appeals to all other convictions to one year. This means that after this time, anyone convicted could no longer file an appeal. This was a huge blow to many prisoners on death row, who are wrongly convicted and need a lot more than six months to put together their appeal. At the same time, it also prevented appeals that were based on new evidence.
Even though only U.S. citizens were convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing, the law vastly expanded the ability of the state to deport immigrants. It allowed the deportation of any immigrant ever convicted of a crime, regardless of how long ago or how serious the crime was. Even legal permanent residents who had married U.S. citizens were not exempt from the deportation.
It was the Clinton administration that paved the way for the severe stripping away of civil liberties after 2001.
NAFTA and Corporate Plunder Around the World
One reason for the rising unemployment was because many industries in the U.S. were closing down factories, chasing larger profit margins through employing cheaper labor in poorer countries around the world. U.S. administrations have had a consistent policy of facilitating the entry of U.S. corporations into other countries, to both exploit the resources and wealth as well as expand export markets without restrictions. The Clinton administration’s NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) serves as an example of how these policies work.
NAFTA practically removed all restrictions for U.S. corporations and products to enter Canada and Mexico. Overall, NAFTA increased unemployment both in the U.S. and Mexico, and pushed millions more Mexicans into despair.
One goal of NAFTA was to crush Mexico’s agricultural market. This mechanism can be seen through the example of corn. Before NAFTA, corn (or maize) was the largest crop in Mexico and the corn industry was one of the biggest sources of Mexican employment. But when NAFTA eliminated trade restrictions and tariffs with Mexico, U.S. agribusinesses flooded Mexico with corn exports, sold at artificially low prices because U.S. agribusinesses receive farming subsidies from the U.S. government. This influx of artificially cheap corn wiped out most of Mexico’s small farmers because they couldn’t compete with such low prices. Mexico quickly turned from a country that produced its own corn into a country that imported corn. Over one million farmers and workers connected to agriculture soon lost their source of income.
The overall result of NAFTA was millions of poor farmers and workers leaving the land in search of a livelihood. Many farmers were forcibly kicked off by the Mexican Army. Many of these plots of land were eventually sold off to U.S. companies for further agricultural development. People who had farmed the lands for centuries were kicked off only to come back to work on the same land for a U.S. company, at poverty level wages.
As part of NAFTA, U.S. corporations set up factories throughout the country, and even created a new hub of factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, known as maquiladoras. These areas are like extensions of U.S. territory because they have no tariffs for products brought into the U.S. As millions were being kicked off of the land, the number of unemployed in Mexico skyrocketed, and the number of people desperately in need of wages increased. U.S. corporations profited from this desperation by hiring these workers for extremely low wages. The Mexican government enforces very minimal labor legislation, safety regulations, wage standards, and environmental restrictions. U.S. corporations took advantage of these policies, and they were backed by the Mexican state, with its army and police to impose harsh working conditions.
One obvious result of NAFTA was an increase in the emigration of Mexico’s population. With no land left to live on, no crops to sell, and intense competition for jobs in new U.S. factories in Mexico, many Mexicans fled the country looking for new work. Most of them, of course, headed to the U.S. The Clinton administration was well aware that this would happen as soon as NAFTA took shape. This is why, just a few months after the passage of NAFTA, Clinton passed the law called “Operation Gatekeeper.” This massively increased the militarization at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. It doubled the budget of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to $800 million, and also doubled the number of border agents, and the length of the border fence, and tripled the number of underground sensors and surveillance equipment.
One year after NAFTA was passed, Clinton helped to establish the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO establishes various rules over the trade relations between countries. These rules, however, benefit the members of the WTO that hold the most sway. The U.S. uses the WTO as a way to enforce trade and economic policies that benefit U.S. corporations. This is a process whereby U.S. corporations take over the economies of foreign countries. The Clinton administration’s policy under NAFTA was just an example of U.S. international economic policy in general. Practically every part of the so-called developing world has been forced to surrender its economy to rules that benefit U.S. corporate interests. And the creation of the WTO made it even easier for U.S. corporations to carry out these policies.
Foreign Policy as Usual – Destruction, Devastation, Domination
Together we must also confront the new hazards of chemical and biological weapons, and the outlaw states, terrorists and organized criminals seeking to acquire them. Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade, and much of his nation’s wealth, not on providing for the Iraqi people, but on developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them…I know I speak for everyone in this chamber, Republicans and Democrats, when I say to Saddam Hussein, “You cannot defy the will of the world,” and when I say to him, “You have used weapons of mass destruction before; we are determined to deny you the capacity to use them again.”
This is not a quotation from George W. Bush before the U.S. waged war on Iraq a second time in March of 2003. This is from Bill Clinton’s State of the Union speech in 1998.
Clinton became president immediately following the first Gulf War in 1991. The invasion lasted six weeks; about two thousand tons of bombs were dropped per day, and over 250,000 people were killed – Iraq was left in ruins. Throughout its two terms, the Clinton administration maintained economic sanctions against the devastated country. It was clear early on that the sanctions – which restricted trade with Iraq and banned many important chemicals used in basic medicines and water treatment – were making the lives of the majority of the deeply impoverished population even worse. After twelve years of sanctions, over 750,000 children died from starvation and disease. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, said in 1996, that even though 500,000 children had died from the sanctions, “the price is worth it.” The sanction’s also strengthened Saddam’s regime, uniting the people against this outside threat.
But imposing economic sanctions on Iraq was not the extent of Clinton’s policy towards Iraq. Under Clinton, Iraq underwent the longest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam. With opposition from the majority of the United Nations, the U.S. and British militaries bombed suspected targets in so-called “no-fly zones.” These were areas where the U.S. decided to forbid Iraq’s military from flying and carrying out any military operations. Thousands of bombs kept dropping on Iraq throughout Clinton’s presidency, killing numerous civilians. In 1993, Clinton ordered U.S. warplanes to destroy Iraqi intelligence centers.
Another part of the sanctions policy required Iraq to be opened up to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors, to seek out and dismantle any facilities that could produce weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM was supposed to be used simply to dismantle Iraq’s weapons production facilities. But instead, under Clinton, the CIA secretly used UNSCOM as a means to get access into Iraq and spy on Saddam’s regime. They set up secret operations inside UNSCOM facilities, wire-tapped their communications, and had CIA agents pose as UNSCOM inspectors. The information the CIA gathered throughout this process was used to identify the “no-fly zones,” the targets for continuous bombardment by the U.S. and British military.
In 1998, Clinton’s covert policy of “regime change” in Iraq became overt. On October 31st, Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” which made it an official policy of the U.S. to bring about “regime change” in Iraq. Clinton ordered a massive four-day bombardment all over Iraq in December of 1998, once again aimed at weakening Saddam’s regime and possibly assassinating Saddam Hussein. Clinton claimed the reason for the bombing was because Saddam Hussein had kicked out the UNSCOM weapons inspectors and had refused to comply with the inspection teams when they were in the country, implying that his weapons production facilities still existed. But according to chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, inspection teams were able to identify and dismantle the majority of Iraq’s weapon facilities, eliminating any military threat from Iraq. They were kicked out only because of the CIA’s use of UNSCOM for spying. Ritter resigned in 1998, before the bombing, when he found out about the CIA’s infiltration and manipulation of UNSCOM.
Clinton’s policy towards Iraq laid the foundation for the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq in 2003. And once the 2003 invasion of Iraq was underway, Clinton was quick to appear on 60 Minutes and assure viewers he supported President Bush’s decision to go to war.
Kosovo: The So-Called Humanitarian War
With the obstacle of the Soviet Union removed in 1991, the U.S. quickly set its sights on setting up military bases and establishing new economic relationships in the former Soviet Bloc. Ongoing ethnic tensions in the area of former Yugoslavia were seen as an opening for U.S. intervention.
A major dispute flared up in Serbia, a part of former Yugoslavia. In the province of Kosovo, there was overwhelming support for independence from Serbia, based on ethnic tensions between the majority Albanian Kosovars and the Serbs. Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, ordered an attack on Kosovo and killed about 2000 people in 1999. Milosevic had already demonstrated his ruthlessness toward opposition movements in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, killing thousands.
Using NATO, the U.S. proposed to take over full control of Kosovo, and occupy all of Yugoslavia. This proposal was rejected by the Serbian government as an obvious attempt by the U.S. to occupy the country, and they issued a counterproposal, denying NATO occupation, but calling for negotiations. The counterproposal was rejected by the U.S. influence in NATO, and NATO forces, led by the U.S., were ordered to begin bombing the country.
The bombing was portrayed in the U.S. media as a means to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, the forced removal of the Albanians from the area. But by two months after the bombing, over 800,000 Albanians were forced to leave Kosovo anyway. In reality, the bombing campaign hastened and exaggerated the attacks on the Albanians and their removal from Kosovo. Thousands of civilians were killed by the NATO bombing.
The motives for the attack on Yugoslavia were revealed immediately after the bombing. The U.S. began to station thousands of troops all over former Yugoslavia. The U.S. military seized 1,000 acres of farmland in southeast Kosovo, and immediately began building Camp Bondsteel, the largest U.S. military base at that time. It stations nearly 7,000 troops – three quarters of all the U.S. troops in Kosovo. It has over 15 miles of roads and over 300 buildings. It is so big that it has three different downtown areas, retail outlets, a bowling alley, a 24-hour gym, a church, a library and one of the best-equipped hospitals in Europe. Soon after the base was operational, the U.S.-owned, Albanian-Macedonia-Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) went ahead to finalize plans to build the major “trans-Balkan” pipeline from the Black Sea to the Adriatic Sea, passing through former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo.
What was sold to U.S. citizens as a bombing campaign of morality was nothing more than a move by the U.S. to establish a military and economic presence in the former Soviet Bloc.
In 1993, the Clinton administration used the U.S. military to lead a disastrous intervention in a civil conflict in Somalia for the benefit of U.S. oil corporations. By the end of 1990, nearly two thirds of Somalia’s countryside had been allocated to U.S. corporations (Chevron, Amoco, Conoco, and Phillips) for oil exploration under Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre. In January of 1991, after years of drought and desperate poverty throughout Somalia, Barre was overthrown by one of several clan-based Somali rebel groups. At that point, the country descended into a chaotic battle between various factions of these rebels. So long as Somalia was being torn apart by internal warfare, all plans for U.S. oil exploration had to be halted. So, in 1993, the Clinton administration ordered the U.S. military to intervene in the conflict. The official reason for the U.S. mission in Somalia was to provide humanitarian assistance to the country’s impoverished population. But quickly the real purpose for the U.S. military’s presence in Somalia was clear: to overthrow some of the rebel groups, end the conflict, and reopen U.S. oil exploration.
The U.S. attacked a meeting of tribal elders on one side of the conflict, bombing the house and then shooting almost everyone inside. This only incensed the population against the U.S. Later the U.S. ordered an attack on one of the leading rebel groups in Somalia’s capitol and most populated city, Mogadishu. The attack was a disaster and led to the deaths of 19 U.S. soldiers and over 2,000 Somalis.
In 1991, Jean Bertrand Aristide was Haiti’s first democratically elected President, following decades of U.S. backed military dictatorships in the country. Aristide was a well-known minister with roots in the poor Haitian population. The U.S. was not sure they could trust him since he was elected on promises to divert some of Haiti’s wealth to pay for services to the poor. Immediately after his election as President, he was overthrown in a coup backed by the CIA. The coup installed an extremely brutal dictatorship for four years. During that time (1991-1994), the situation in Haiti went from bad to worse. The coup government began to pillage the economy and expand the production and trade of drugs. It was obvious their policies were destabilizing the country, pushing the population towards further social unrest.
When Clinton was in office, in 1994 he met with Aristide and negotiated a deal to re-install him as the President. Aristide had to agree to cooperate with the U.S. to control the Haitian economy, which meant diverting the wealth into the bank accounts of U.S. corporations and away from the masses living in destitute poverty, in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
Clinton initiated a negotiation between Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman, Yasir Arafat. The myth is that Israel, once again, offered the Palestinians a generous peace agreement that would include over 90 percent of their original land. And for encouraging such a generous offer, Clinton was portrayed as a powerful leader, accomplishing what many thought was impossible. The reality, however, was the offer made to the Palestinians was nothing more than a Palestinian state in name. The offer would have carved up Palestine into four disconnected pieces, still separated by Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints. The major Israeli settlements, housing over 300,000 Israeli settlers on Palestinian land, were to remain in place. And the 300 miles of roads connecting the settlements would stay put as well. The Palestinians who were kicked out of their homes for the construction of these settlements still had no right to return. The so-called generous offer was, once again, nothing more than a way to get Palestine to formally accept being reduced to a permanent colony of Israel.
Following decades of colonial occupation by Belgium, the population of Rwanda was forced to live in extreme poverty. Typical of colonial and imperialist occupation, various ethnic rivalries in Rwanda were pitted against each other as a means to keep the population divided. In the early 1990s, this conflict broke out into open civil war. In 1994, the civil war intensified and reached genocidal levels. Over the course of 100 days somewhere between 500,000 to over one million Rwandans were murdered by extremist militia groups. This massacre was far worse than the so-called “ethnic cleansing” going on in Yugoslavia or the warlord war in Somalia. The Clinton administration did nothing to defend against the genocidal slaughter, firmly showing their claims of humanitarian motives in foreign policy were based on U.S. economic interests and not concerns over human life.
Global Warming – Not a Severe Threat
It is no secret that the United States is the world’s largest emitter of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. When carbon is released into the atmosphere it bonds with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which is the most significant gas responsible for global warming.
Part of the false Clinton legacy is his administration’s supposedly pro-environment agenda. This myth has gained support ever since Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore, released a film called An Inconvenient Truth. In this film, Gore exposes some of the economic causes of Global Warming, and in the process paints himself as a committed environmentalist.
The actual record, however, of the Clinton administration on the environment is horrendous. First, one minor motivation behind the various trade agreements the Clinton administration supported was to allow U.S. corporations to avoid environmental restrictions. When U.S. corporations gained improved access to developing countries around the world, an additional benefit was the avoidance of environmental laws governing production. Once they established production in developing countries, most often U.S. corporations could operate with complete disregard for the environmental impact on those countries. Just some of the consequences of this freedom include polluted rivers, destroyed forests and grasslands, flooded cities, and the wiping out of endangered species.
The Clinton administration is also remembered as being a supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, which was an international agreement placing limited restrictions on pollution in countries around the world. Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. did sign the agreement. But the Clinton administration never even submitted the protocol to the Senate to be ratified, so the signature was meaningless.
So, ultimately, Clinton’s policy towards the environment was one of environmental destruction not preservation.
In his two-terms as President, on all fronts – social services, foreign-policy, the environment and even civil liberties – Clinton ruthlessly defended the interests of the ruling elite of the U.S.