He's back, and this time Clinton is getting personal about Bush

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The Independent US

The final sentence of his memoirs completed, Bill Clinton is back, ripping into President George Bush's handling of the crisis in Iraq, and signalling that he intends to play a role in the race for the White House.

The final sentence of his memoirs completed, Bill Clinton is back, ripping into President George Bush's handling of the crisis in Iraq, and signalling that he intends to play a role in the race for the White House.

Liberated from literature, the old master is limbering up anew for political action. On Tuesday evening, he ripped into his successor for neglecting the real menace of Osama bin Laden to go after Saddam Hussein, and for gratuitously turning world opinion against America.

"We had unanimous support for going into Afghanistan, they [the United Nations] participated in the hunt for Bin Laden and supported giving an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to open his country to weapons inspections," Mr Clinton told a business gathering in New York on Tuesday night. "We were in good shape. What happened?"

What happened was the Bush team's obsession with toppling Saddam, he claimed, regardless of the facts about Iraq's WMD and Baghdad's non-involvement in the 11 September attacks.

It was an unprecedented volley. Former presidents largely follow a code that sees them keep quiet about the performance of their successors. But Mr Clinton appears ready to re-enter the fray and his book will give him the platform to do so.

"I've been in writer's jail," he told his audience. "For three months I've been reliving my life - and it was hard enough the first time." But now, the 900-page volume My Life is ready. In barely three weeks, the hoopla will start, at a convention in Chicago. Then comes a worldwide tour to accompany publication in late June.

The early signs are that the tome will even eclipse his wife's Living History, which broke records for political memoirs when it hit the bookstores exactly a year ago. The former president is receiving a larger advance than Hillary, a rumoured $12m (£7m) compared with $8m. The initial print run is also larger: 1.5 million against 1 million for Hillary. And, dare one hope, it will be better-written than her pedestrian exercise in political boilerplate.

Unlike earlier political books of 2004, by the journalist Bob Woodward, the former intelligence chief Richard Clarke and others, Mr Clinton's memoirs will not dish dirt on the Bush administration. Instead, if he is halfway true to form, it will be an opus of self-justification. Readers looking for juicy stuff about Monica Lewinsky are likely to be disappointed.

For students of modern history, there may be new material about Northern Ireland and the Middle East, in which Mr Clinton was deeply involved. There will surely be plenty about what Hillary called the "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her husband, including the pseudo-scandal of Whitewater.

Some talk of "score settling". In fact, if Clinton rather than his ghostwriter is in charge of the narrative, the bits about his early career in Arkansas could be the most entertaining.

But whatever the content, the mere name of its larger-than-life author will ensure the impact of My Life. The timing of publication has thus been crucial - and explains why Mr Clinton's editor even took to sleeping overnight at his home in Chappaqua, New York, to make sure his undisciplined charge finished the job, so the book could appear next month.

Any later, and publication might have stolen the thunder of John Kerry's coronation at the Democratic convention in the last week of July. Or the book could have been delayed until after the 2 November election - by which time the country's attentions might have shifted to an incoming Democratic president, and Clinton's memoirs would be ancient history.

But the deeper question is, now Bill Clinton has his life back, what will he do with it? In 2000 Al Gore, anxious not to be tarred with the Clinton scandals, barely allowed his boss to put a foot on the campaign trail. The earnest Mr Kerry, however much he risks being lost in the Clinton dazzle, is unlikely to make the same mistake.

The former president will not win over wavering Republicans, for whom he is still Bubba-cum-Beelzebub. But he remains the Democrats' brightest star, and the party's most potent fundraiser. For African Americans and other core constituencies, he is a talisman. Victory in 2004, it is said, will go to the side which most effectively gets out the vote. And no one can do that like Bill Clinton.

But his longer-term future is a mystery. Mr Clinton is only 57, three years younger than Mr Kerry. Thanks to speeches at up to $100,000 a go, and now the book, the $5m legal debts from Whitewater are a distant memory. For the first time in his life, he is rich. But then again, money never much interested him.

Since leaving office, he toyed with - but rejected - offers of a talk show. He briefly had a joint TV commentary slot with his old sparring partner Bob Dole. It has been suggested he might be UN secretary general, mayor of New York, global anti-Aids supremo, or even Mr Kerry's running mate. Who knows? All that is certain is that after the travails of authorship, Bill Clinton is back.

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