Washington Times

12/17/98

EDITORIAL

Let wag the dogs of war

     If yesterday's American airstrike on Iraq was not the act of a desperate man, it indisputably looked like one. Of all the 365 days of the year, President Clinton chose the eve of the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, the event that would likely make him the second president in U.S. history to endure this humiliation, to take on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after an entire year of hesitation. Coincidence? Not a chance. Anyone arguing that Mr. Clinton took action to head off impeachment has a pretty convincing case. The president's craven act was rightly met with widespread skepticism among congressional leaders and demonstrates not only Mr. Clinton's personal recklessness, but also his inability to lead the country any longer.
     Whether removed from office by the Senate or not, this president has lost whatever credibility he ever had; everything Mr. Clinton does from now till the end of his sorry presidency will be seen through this lens. We even had the spectacle of British Prime Minister Tony Blair being sent out as the vanguard to give the first official announcement of the attack, a role that clearly belongs to the president of the United States, as the leader of the coalition against Iraq -- such as it is, consisting mainly of Great Britain and the United States by now.
     While Americans tend to rally around the flag in times of military action overseas, and Republicans traditionally so, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement in advance of the strikes, withholding his support. "I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Mr. Lott said, "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question." They are indeed. While the White House claims that the attack was prompted by the report on Iraqi obstructionism by U.N. Special Commission Chairman Richard Butler delivered on Monday, in actual fact, as reported by The Washington Times on its front page this morning, the Pentagon had been told to prepare the attack as early as Sunday.
     What makes Mr. Clinton's action particularly appalling is that it fits a pattern we have come to recognize over the past year, known in popular short-hand as the "wag the dog" scenario. The year's first confrontation between the United States and Iraq came in January/February following the eruption of the Monica Lewinsky scandal on Jan. 22. In August, it was another set of suspects who had to take the pounding after Mr. Clinton's Aug. 17 televised "apology" to the American people; cruise missiles pounded a pharmaceutical facility in Sudan and a few huts in Afghanistan supposedly belonging to Saudi terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. In November, as impeachment hearings geared up in the House of Representatives, the president began another build-up against Saddam, which culminated in the charade of Nov. 11, when the president called back U.S. planes already in the air. The reason given was that the Iraqi government had promised total compliance in a letter urgently delivered to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The timing was said to be pure coincidence.
     In actual fact, as reported by Newsweek magazine, it was the Clinton administration itself that had warned the Iraqis through the British that the attack would be coming. In his televised address last night, Mr. Clinton tried to justify his timing by citing the coming of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this weekend. What was to prevent him from taking action last week? Or last month? Saddam Hussein's non-compliance has been clear as day for quite a while.
     In recent days, as moderate Republicans have been declaring their intention to vote in favor of impeachment, one after the other, it has widely been speculated that Mr. Clinton might take some extraordinary step to try to bring them back over on his side: private consultations perhaps, yet another public statement of contrition, maybe even a plea from the first lady. Only the most cynical suspected was that Mr. Clinton would call in the U.S. military to help save his skin. That is exactly what has now happened. Republicans should very seriously consider adding the president's actions yesterday to the list of his impeachable offenses.

Copyright 1998 News World Communications, Inc.