Bubba Bumbled, Not Bibi

Rowland Evans & Robert Novak - THE NEW YORK POST - January 14, 1999

Justice for Jonathan Pollard Caveat: the following article repeats many of the egregious, vitriolic, unsubstantiated canards being bandied about in the media about Jonathan Pollard. They are indicated below by the insertion of the note *[NOT TRUE!] where appropriate. For the real facts see the Facts of the Pollard Case.

The article's description of what really occurred at the Wye summit in October of 1998, when Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly sought the release of Jonathan Pollard, is accurate and for that reason, we are reprinting it here.

It was master manipulator Bill Clinton, not the mistake-prone Benjamin Netanyahu, who behind the scenes first linked jailed spy Jonathan Jay Pollard to last October's break-through in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. To be sure, right after his election as Israel's prime minister in 1996, Netanyahu lobbied Clinton to free Pollard, who passed valuable U.S. intelligence to Israel.

But it was the president, according to high officials both here and in Israel, who saw the former U.S. Naval intelligence expert as a trump-card inducement to sway Netanyahu before October's Wye Plantation peace conference. It was Clinton, not Netanyahu, who raised the prospect of a trade -- Pollard in return for a partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Netanyahu delivered, but it will be a long, long time, if ever, before he collects.

U.S. government sources insist that the president never made a promise. But as one key administration official told us, Clinton "is very well known for his winking and nodding at the right moment to make people think" what he wants them to think. "Bibi," he said, "had the expectation and every right to think the way he did" -- that a deal was made. So did Clinton, but not any longer.

Clinton's Pollard ploy exemplifies the president's spectacular political skills, tempered by occasionally reckless errors in judgment -- strength and weakness that have combined overriding popularity with impeachment. Nowhere is the pattern clearer than in Clinton's handling of the nation's foreign affairs.

From the start, Clinton's foreign policy has been off and on, starting and stopping. He pushed a nation-building exercise in Somalia that went nowhere. Impulsive and erratic decisions followed in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan and Iraq. This intensely political president has managed much of his foreign policy with a finger in the wind, and so it has been with Pollard.

To the president, Pollard's release must have looked like an easy path to a breakthrough in the stalled Palestinian peace process that would also please important members of his Jewish constituency who feel the spy has been treated more harshly than any comparable American turncoat.

Clinton and Netanyahu were stunned by the intensity of the backfire from the American intelligence community and pro-Israel congressional Republicans

[*To understand this phenomenon, see Pollard hopeful GOP changes will benefit him

] when the prime minister publicly demanded Pollard's freedom at the end of the Wye conference. The president retreated. What is so strange about the president's failure to anticipate this furious reaction is his complete familiarity with the infamous Pollard case. Twice before, under pressure from Israel and powerful Jewish Americans to release Pollard, Clinton ordered full-scale reviews of Pollard's treatment *[NOT TRUE!] and sentence. Neither found errors in U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson's life sentence. *[NOT TRUE!] Regarded by intelligence officials as the most damaging spy in American history, Pollard has served only 11 years.

*[NOT TRUE! -14 years!]

Why did the president's finely tuned political antennae fail to warn him in the days leading up to the Wye conference that he could not deliver his part of the deal to Netanyahu without serious damage to himself? In his authoritative *[NOT TRUE!] New Yorker article this week about the Pollard case, reporter Seymour M. Hersh answers that question this way: Clinton thought he could get away with it.

Hersh writes that CIA Director George Tenet warned the president the release of Pollard "would enrage and demoralize the intelligence community," but Clinton was not impressed. "What he got back," Hersh quotes an unidentified official, "was 'Nah, don't worry about it. It'll blow over.'"

That it would not "blow over" became clearer this week when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright officially informed the White House there was no foreign policy reason for releasing Pollard. Her finding fits the views of Defense Secretary William Cohen, the CIA, the FBI and the whole range of American intelligence agencies. All were dangerously compromised by the truckloads *[NOT TRUE!] of vital secrets Pollard delivered to Israel.

Albright's decision has stripped Clinton's release options for Pollard down to two: "humanitarian considerations," such as Pollard's health, or a pardon based on presidential prerogatives. Both are highly improbable.

Well-placed politicians, here and in Israel, say privately they fear the full-blown replay of Pollard's spying may open political fissures between two close partners the United States and Israel, that would be better left closed.

*[NOT TRUE! -they ARE still open and Pollard's continued incarceration is the proof!]