There will be much to say over the next few weeks about Bill Clinton, because he has much to say about himself. I consider he was a failure as President, with the partial exception of economic policy. His Treasury appointees were of high quality - Larry Summers, a brilliant economist, was probably the most-qualified man ever to hold the post of Treasury Secretary - and fiscal and monetary policy, and international economic diplomacy, were conducted skilfully. The only obvious caveat is that an opportunity was missed to curb the growth of welfare entitlements. Beyond that, Clinton's administration lacked competence (witness the healthcare debacle), and Clinton himself - the worst human being ever to be President - debased his office.
The Guardian carries what it bills as an exclusive interview with Clinton, in which the following passage appears:
We start with the one area that came tantalisingly close to handing him a golden legacy: the Middle East. With trademark Diet Coke in hand, Clinton rattles off the details of the Israel-Palestine conflict as confidently as he did when he was leading the global effort to end it. Percentages of territory, death tolls on both sides - he is a walking database. It's hardly a surprise. The attempt to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians was one of the constant threads of his presidency, bringing one of its greatest successes - the 1993 handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn - and a lethal failure, the ill-fated peace talks at Camp David in 2000.
My Life is full of fond reminiscences of the early days of that effort: how he advised Arafat not to wear a pistol for that signing ceremony, how he and his aides devised a physical manoeuvre that would prevent the Palestinian leader attempting to kiss Rabin as well as shake his hand.
But he also details the deterioration of the process, giving his account of the Camp David debacle that led to the outbreak of the intifada that still rages. Clinton's version is that Israel's Ehud Barak was ready to make enormous concessions but that Arafat was not able to "make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman ... he just couldn't bring himself to say yes".
Just before Clinton left office, Arafat thanked him for all his efforts and told the president he was a great man. "'Mr Chairman,' I replied, 'I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.'"
I record this without comment, for it has the hallmarks of truth. For all that, and characteristically, Clinton lacks the insight necessary to see that Arafat's behaviour was not an idiosyncrasy but a pathology. Arafat didn't make peace, because Arafat can't make peace. He is a corrupt and squalid autocrat. The day must come when a pacific Palestinian state is established alongside Israel in something close, but not identical, to the borders of the pre-1967 armistice. But there is no virtue in pretending that an agreement can be reached regardless of current political exigencies. Failure has a price; the tragedy is that the price of Arafat's obduracy and duplicity must be paid by others.