By Ray O’Hanlon
Back in 1970, as the North’s torment was raging with all the energy of a newborn war, Henry Kissinger accompanied President Richard Nixon to Ireland on the latter’s roots-finding mission.
Kissinger later wrote that the Irish visit had "no great international significance." To Kissinger, the conflict just a few miles from Nixon’s Milhous roots in the Irish midlands might just as easily have been on the dark side of the moon.
A little over 20 years later, Bill Clinton would start to change all that. His early moves on Ireland perplexed and infuriated the British government. The consequences of this were indeed international, and most certainly significant.
As Clinton soon discovered, though, it wasn’t just the British who were reluctant to accept that finding a way out of the Irish/British impasse necessitated better-late-than-never U.S. intervention.
Many of those who represented orthodox U.S. foreign policy thinking viewed Clinton’s Irish interest as a nagging distraction from bigger and, in their view, more important foreign policy issues. The State Department in particular was a hotbed of reluctance, not least because the White House-based National Security Council had virtually hijacked Irish policy from the start.
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This would find reflection in the press, an example being a New York Times article by columnist Thomas Friedman in which Clinton’s Irish policy was derided as being a "Pet Boutique" project.
However, as Clinton makes a second landing in Ireland this week, there are clear signs that his six-year commitment to the quest for peace is finally being accepted as legitimate, important, indeed of potentially profound historical significance.
The New York Times the other day suggested that Clinton’s presidential record would be heavily padded by his largely successful Irish gamble. "The President’s hand in the fragile Ireland peace effort, the stabilization of Bosnia and his promised campaign against international terrorism may yet come to seem among the most substantial parts of his legacy."
Ireland atop the foreign policy league table is no longer considered strange or absurd. A few days after the Times report, Dick Morris, Clinton’s former close adviser, wrote in the New York Post that Clinton’s presidency was unraveling, not so much because of the Monica Lewinsky business, but because the distraction this was causing was resulting in core domestic and foreign policy initiatives coming apart at the seams.
The Middle East was top of Morris’s foreign policy list. But Ireland came in second ahead of North Korea, nuclear proliferation in South Asia, the Balkans, Japanese and Asian recession and instability in Russia (the piece was written before the latest Russia crisis).
Clearly, a successful visit to Ireland this week, one in which Clinton plays healer of wounds — a role in which he usually excels — will go some way to repairing the perceived damage to the foreign policy side of his presidency.
The visit was to be a lap of honor. But recent tragic events have raised the stakes significantly.
Yes, the Irish and Irish America owe Bill Clinton. But if the Irish provide Clinton with the proper backdrop this week, respond positively to his renewed appeals for a final push toward a permanent peace, he will owe them something to. Bye-bye, Al; hello, George?
The New York Post is getting stuck into Al Gore big time now that there is a suggestion that he might be investigated over funny money fund-raising. The Post’s Washington bureau chief, Deborah Orin, speculated that if things get too hot for Gore, he might have to do a Spiro Agnew and step aside. She then went on to list who might fill Gore’s vice-presidential office in the event of such a catastrophe befalling the Clinton administration. One name she mentioned was "Ireland peace mediator George Mitchell." Now there’s a thought: Vice President George Mitchell. Of course, there are no certainties in all this. Indeed, the only certainty is that an ignominious exit for Al Gore would be something of a disaster for all who would like to see a continuation of President Clinton’s Irish policies.
Gore turned up to the Irish-American political forums held before both the 1988 and 1996 elections. He is familiar with Irish-American issues and concerns. Irish America, on the other hand, is as yet unaware of how most other potential candidates for the 2000 presidential election feel about the wee North and the wee, wee South.
Tiocfaidh our time
"IF" is always, eh, watching out for a bargain and could not help noticing the ad on the back page of the Irish People newspaper for all sorts of goodies on sale at the Irish Northern Aid Homefront Library. One item is a "Sinn Féin Logo Watch." For a mere $24.95 you too can proudly wear the timepiece that features "Green and black Sinn Féin logo on gold-trimmed watch with black band. Men’s and Women’s sizes." Presumably, if the watch ever runs slow, you can always pull the little knob and, um, move the situation forward.
Lightning strikes thrice
First it was Tommy Makem’s. Then it was Eamonn Doran’s. Now it is O’Lunney’s of Times Square. Is there nowhere left where you can grab a quiet pint without a grim reaper — accountant, developer — walking in the door? O’Lunney’s was, up to a few days ago, housed at 204 West 43rd St., which happens to be the one spot on the planet where Reuters and Rudin are planning a high-rise office building. Like we need another of those. O’Lunney’s owner, Hugh O’Lunney, is now on the hunt for new digs in the Times Square area.
"The Irish government is determined to do everything we can, working closely with the British government, to defeat this murderous conspiracy. We have decided to take strong action at the security and legislative levels, action that will significantly improve the capacity of the security services to deal decisively with those who organized and carried out this merciless attack." Taoiseach Bertie Ahern reacting to Omagh in a Boston Globe op-ed.
€ "We were quite cynical in our stories and we took a few personal digs at Gerry Adams." Michael O’Lapain, who ran a web page sponsored by the Irish Republican Web Action Committee until it was pulled last week by the web server company GeoCities. From a report in the Village Voice.