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Making History

Bob Strong, the William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University and an expert on the American presidency, was in Little Rock, Arkansas, this past weekend during the 10th anniversary celebration of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center.

As part of the three-day celebration, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center released the first batch of oral history interviews it conducted, beginning in 2001, with former members of the Clinton administration for the Clinton Presidential History Project. Bob was one of 50-some scholars and historians who participated in that project; he interviewed, among others, Sandy Berger, former national security advisor, and Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State.

Although the media described festivities as a combination of a pep rally for Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential run in 2016, a schmooze fest and a nostalgic look back at the 1990s, the panel discussions focused on Clinton’s foreign, economic and domestic policies.

At the Symposium on the Clinton Administration, which was covered by C-SPAN, Bob joined Berger, Gen. Wesley Clark, Nancy Soderberg and Mara Rudman, to assess Clinton’s national security policy. The wide-ranging discussion covered Haitian refugees, North Korean nuclear weapons and the Balkans.

“My role was to generally guide the discussion back to the interviews,” explained Bob. While he said the panel discussions revealed no shocking revelations, the transcripts themselves are filled with details on some of the most defining moments of Clinton’s years in office. “The media were a bit upset that these transcripts were released late on a Friday afternoon, and they were searching for the headline-grabbing stories. I kept telling them to read the interviews. In the transcripts, Leon Panetta (chief of staff) talks about being worried about Monika Lewinsky, and we ask Madeline Albright how she felt when she learned that Clinton had lied to her . Gen. Hugh Shelton (chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) gave a really good interview, and there’s a lot of interesting content about his life as a working general, particularly his role in restoring democracy to Haiti in 1994.”

The biggest interview for the project is yet to come: Clinton. Bob will be interviewing the former president as soon as the Clinton commits to a date. “We’ve been trying to pin him down for about a year,” Bob said. “If Hillary runs, then who knows when we’ll be able to schedule him.”

In the meantime, Bob will continue to work on his book about George H.W. Bush. He has a lot of material to work with, having also interviewed several former members of the Bush administration for the Miller Center’s oral history project on the 41st president.

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