Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday expressed sorrow over the death of former president Bill Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger, who died earlier in the day after a bout with cancer.
“It was with great sorrow that I learned of the passing of Sandy Berger,” Netanyahu said. “I had the opportunity to work closely with Sandy in the 1990s, when he served as national security adviser to president Clinton. I was always impressed with his intelligence and keen understanding of global issues. I extend my deepest condolences to his family.”
Netanyahu and Berger had a sometimes rocky relationship.
In an email released by US authorities earlier this year which was dated September 22, 2009, and entitled “Bibi/Abu Mazen” — Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ respective commonly used monikers — Berger advised then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton to pressure Netanyahu into restarting peace talks with the Palestinians by making “his politics uneasy.”
“Going forward, if Bibi continues to be the obstacle, you will need to find the ground from which you can make his politics uneasy,” Berger wrote. “I think you can do that even with current concerns in Israel about US posture.”
Berger also recommended that Clinton should “be mindful of Abu Mazen’s politics,” saying that he was “[t]aking a lot of criticism for meeting with Bibi without settlement freeze.”
Berger, who was 70, was White House national security adviser from 1997 to 2001. He was also deeply involved in the administration’s push for free trade, and in the response to al-Qaeda’s bombing of American embassies in East Africa.
“Today, his legacy can be seen in a peaceful Balkans, our strong alliance with Japan, our deeper relationships with India and China,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Clinton, in a joint statement with his wife, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, called Berger a “terrific public servant” who “embraced our common humanity and advanced our national interests.”
In 2005, Berger pleaded guilty to illegally removing classified documents from the National Archives by stuffing some papers in his pants leg. He cut up some of the documents with scissors, for reasons that remain unclear. He was sentenced to probation and a $50,000 fine, and later expressed regret for his actions.
Out of government, Berger helped found an international consulting firm that in 2009 merged with one run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“He cared deeply about where this country was going and what we could do to solve problems,” Albright said in a telephone interview. “That was the basis of his life, was to make a difference.”
Berger presided over foreign policy during what was a relatively serene period between the fall of the Soviet Union and the September 2001 terrorist attacks. In that time, he led White House meetings during NATO’s 11-week bombing of Kosovo in 1999.
He also played a key role in Operation Desert Fox, the four-day bombing of Iraq in 1998 over Saddam’s failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions about weapons inspections, and was instrumental in crafting the Clinton administration’s response to al-Qaeda attacks om US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that same year. The Clinton administration responded with a cruise missile barrage against training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. The strikes, however, did little to disrupt al-Qaeda and became a thread in a long running criticism that Clinton and his team failed to properly respond to a burgeoning terrorist threat.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Berger was vocal in defending the administration’s counter terrorism record.
In 2005, Berger pleaded guilty to taking and destroying in October 2003 three copies of a classified report about the government’s response to a plot by Islamic extremists to attack Los Angeles and other locations. A report by House Republicans claimed he may have secretly removed many more documents from the Archives.
Albright said she and Berger never spoke about the matter, through years of working together.
“Even the finest people make mistakes,” she said.
Berger grew up in Millerton, New York, where his father died in 1953 when Berger was 8. His mother ran the family Army-Navy store while raising Berger and his sister.
He went to Cornell, and then Harvard law school. He met Bill Clinton while the two worked on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign.
“There is no one I have relied on more these past eight years,” president Clinton wrote Berger in a letter as the pair left office in January 2001. “You never flinched when American’s interests and values demanded that we make unpopular choices.”
Berger remained an important political and foreign policy figure in Washington. In August, he wrote an opinion piece for Politico in support of the Iran nuclear agreement.
“It is not without risks, and it does not solve the Iran threat in the region. But it will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years,” he wrote.
Berger was survived by his wife, Susan, in addition to three children and five grandchildren.