Recycling old presidents

This week, former US president Bill Clinton went to N. Korea in what was originally a highly secret meeting. His sudden reappearance on the international political scene caught me a little off guard, and made me think a little of an actor who had been out of the limelight for a while, suddenly coming back with one or two new movies and doing lots of promotion for them, as a way to get back in to the Hollywood machine. Can this also work for politicians? Do they fall out of the political limelight and then manage to manoeuvre their way back in? It would seem that they can. The second person I thought of right after this incident, was Tony Blair. Surely he also qualifies as a “recycled ex-president” (prime minister). And what about Putin, and Berlusconi? Do they count as well?

It is an interesting phenomenon to think of, the way some ex heads of state do not completely disappear off the political scene. In the case of Tony Blair, as soon as he left office he was appointed special envoy to the Middle East, making him a prominent figure in international diplomacy. He was also favoured to head the European council at the European Union once the reforms came through, which would once again set him at the heart of European politics and make him a high profile player.

As for Bill Clinton well, he achieved some good diplomacy in his time, in particular the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, could this be the reason why they chose him to go to North Korea on a diplomatic mission? Is it because his wife is now secretary of state or is it because this was what was requested by Pyongyang? Either way, he achieved a remarkable result in the release of the two American journalists who had been held hostage there.

No matter whether the Koreans decided they would deal only with Bill Clinton himself, or that the Obama administration seemed it was better to send someone a little more distant than a current official, it still seems to me an odd phenomenon, that previous presidents return to the political scene in such a way. This man was once openly criticized throughout the world for his affair with Monica Lewinksy. It was a huge scandal, remained in the media limelight for a year, and he was forced to leave his position as president of the United States because of it. The public was so quick to judge and outraged by his deeds and what was in fact his private life, that it threw him out of office, and yet now they gladly accept him back and send him on a diplomatic mission. How can this be?

In a similar kind of way, before Tony Blair left office many criticisms were being directed at him and his politics, his involvement in the war in Iraq and internal British politics. People were itching to get rid of him, waiting for him to step down in order to take his seat. And now he’s no longer the head of the state, they are so happy to have him acting as an envoy for the Middle East and suggesting him for a high-profile EU job. It seems to me that this could be seen as a slightly hypocritical behaviour, for if these politicians are really that good at what they do, then why be so eager to see them out of office in the first place? And since they seem to do so well once they are no longer heads of state, could Gordon Brown have something to look forward to?

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