When the tsunami hit parts of Asia and Africa in December 2004, President George W. Bush asked his predecessors, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, to travel to the stricken region and bring relief and hope to the victims.
The tsunami, a giant tidal wave in the Indian Ocean, would claim 271,000 lives and leave 1,000,000 homeless. The "odd couple," as former first lady Barbara Bush dubbed the ex-presidents, cemented their unlikely friendship and raised a record-breaking $1.2 billion in relief funds.
Wouldn't it be something if this current natural disaster in Myanmar which has left an estimated 1.9 million Burmese villagers injured, homeless and exposed to disease and starvation, could bring together 41 and 42 in another heroic effort? They could add to their itinerary China where, several days later, nearly 10,000 people died and tens of thousands more, including children and students, were injured as a terrifyingly strong tremors shook buildings and flattened schools and factories across four provinces.
The cyclone and the earthquake struck just at the time that Bill Clinton is facing his own crisis, looking downhearted and angry as conventional wisdom casts him as hurting rather helping his wife's tireless, desperate effort to capture the nomination.
Would George W. (43) ask his father and his immediate predecessor to repeat their tsunami tour? Would 43 allow Hillary's standard stump line -- "It takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush" -- stand in his way? Would he remember Hillary's promise to send 42 and 41 abroad as envoys to fix the relationships with foreign leaders that, Hillary charged, 43 had ruined. (It took just minutes for 41's spokesman to respond, nothing doing; the former President Bush said, explaining that he is proud of his son's accomplishments in the foreign policy arena.)
When the former presidents responded so effectively to the tsunami, they were greeted with banquets and banners and groups of children smiling through their terror. The natural disaster in Myanmar is much more difficult. The generals in the ruling junta have been turning away doctors and disaster experts; barring foreigners from this closed, despotic society; willing increasingly to accept relief supplies but insisting on administering the supplies themselves. The New York Times reported that U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon was telephoning the junta's senior general, but that Than Shwe was not returning the U.N. head's calls.
Would that general return Bill Clinton's calls? Clinton's status may have suffered at home -- he made so many mistakes in his campaign for Hillary that television producers were calling me to ask if he was suffering from early-onset dementia; I said no, he's just, as usual, sleep deprived -- but not abroad.
Bill Clinton, as I show in my book on his post presidency, Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, has time and again picked himself up from the depths of despair and reinvented himself. Post presidency, he did just that following the scandals surrounding the pardons he issued on his way out of the White House. He'll have to do it again soon, and will. It will be a heartwarming chapter when the account of Bill's next four years is written. If Hillary loses the nomination to Obama, Bill Clinton will spend time plotting for Hillary to run again in 2012. But the super-energetic Bill Clinton can juggle several balls at once and one of those balls could be rushing to the scenes of real devastation where he can make a huge difference.
People will quickly remember why, in the time before Hillary's hamhanded campaign, he was called the most popular man in the world and the rock star ex-president.