The Emperor Clinton Has No Clothes
Jude Wanniski
September 20, 1996


If I were a member of the House of Representatives, I would file articles of impeachment against President Clinton over his bombing of Iraq. It wouldn't get anywhere, but there would be at least one member of Congress of the 535 who would be making major noise about the most reckless and irresponsible use of military power by an American President in my lifetime, perhaps in American history. On September 3, the day the President ordered the bombs dropped on a sovereign nation, with whom we are not at war, I said it was "the most shocking and irresponsible use offeree by President Clinton since the earliest days of his administration, when his agents destroyed the compound outside Waco. It was obviously done purely for presidential political advantage to preempt Bob Dole's potential criticism of the President's failure to punish Saddam for the incursion. We thought Waco taught this President something about the unintended consequences of the ill-considered use offeree."

In the days since, the story has gotten much worse. We began to learn that the President did not seek the advice or approval of a single member of the congressional leadership, of either party, especially those who are in the majority party that is not his. We learned that he did not seek the advise or counsel of a single foreign leader who had participated with the United States in the Gulf War. We learned that he did not ask any of Iraq's neighbors what they thought of Saddam Hussein's movement of troops into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq at the request of the duly constituted regional government under attack by rebel Kurdish forces backed by Iran. Clinton bombed Iraq even though he was under no pressure. On the previous day, Sunday, Bob Dole said that military action was "premature," and Senator John Warner [R-VA] of the Armed Services Committee stated on the Sunday talk shows that he did not think it was a good idea to be dropping bombs on Iraq at that point. Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, one of the most respected Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, cautioned that it did not appear that Saddam Hussein had technically violated any rule in responding to the Kurdish request.

History will record that President Clinton, who dodged the draft as a boy, who may never have seen a drop of blood spilled in his life, except perhaps while shaving, simply picked up the telephone in the White House, called Defense Secretary William Perry, and said Bombs away! For his failure to stop the President until he made a few telephone calls to members of Congress, to cover his behind on the U.S. Constitution, Perry should of course resign. As it is, he and General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are compounding the original crime by making up cock-and-bull stories about why the bombs were dropped. The President, who by now must know what a stupid thing he has done, can only hope he can now goad Saddam Hussein into a firefight to cover up the fiasco. This is why he has dispatched 5,000 troops to Kuwait, after his agents clearly muscled the Kuwaitis into dropping their opposition to the deployment. In an interview Tuesday on the Jim Lehrer "NewsHour," Perry so clearly told a string of falsehoods now built around the whopper that Saddam is secretly planning to invade Kuwait again that Lehrer could not hide his embarrassment at the sight of Perry's lengthening nose.

What the President has done is so outrageous that he has left the entire political establishment speechless. With Dole afraid to say anything lest he be seen as acting out of desperation to interfere with a critical military operation by the Commander-in-Chief, the Loyal Opposition has been immobilized. I would bet that there is scarcely a member of Congress in either party who is not aghast at the dimensions of the international crisis the President has triggered. The top brass in the Pentagon and the senior diplomats at State are afraid to think of where all this might lead, because there is no way it can end without enormous embarrassment to the United States.

Nor is there a member of the 104th Congress, who is alive and awake, Democrat or Republican, who could in his or her wildest dreams imagine Bob Dole doing what Bill Clinton did, and what he continues to do. Why did the President not call Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott or House Speaker Newt Gingrich? Why didn't he ask the advice of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle or House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt? Why didn't he call Senator Sam Nunn of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the most respected Democrat in Congress on national security issues? Why didn't he call British Prime Minister John Major? Or German Chancellor Helmut Kohl? Or French President Jacques Chirac? Or Iraq's neighbors? Turkey? Kuwait? Saudi Arabia? Egypt? Israel?

The obvious reason why is that the President knew that if he made those phone calls, he could not have ordered the bombing, and he wanted to bomb. It is impossible to ever know for sure what his motivation was, although in its daily dispatches The New York Times reports that the rest of the world thinks it has entirely to do with presidential politics. We have to be more than a little bit concerned that a man who never has been close to military service, who never has had his right arm blown to bits in war, has become cavalier about playing war games, the way boys do. We had in the past praised him for his judiciousness in the use of military power, and he still insists this was the minimum amount he could do in Iraq. Why he chose to act at all on his own bespeaks a character flaw that is most troubling. Michael Kelly of The New Yorker in the September 23 issue notes how the President has changed in his affinity for the military since he took office: "Clinton's formerly limp salute has become a Reaganesque beauty, crisp and snappy without being pompous." To become comfortable with battle planning and bombs, dispatching troops and Stealth bombers hither and yon has been on the Clinton learning curve.

Our President had his first taste of it two years ago, when he massed troops and airplanes for an invasion of Haiti. It was only minutes before the deadline that he had set that Jimmy Carter, General Colin Powell, and Senator Nunn persuaded General Raoul Cedres to give up without a fight. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole for months had been urging a fact-finding mission to Port-au-Prince before military action would be undertaken. He specifically suggested Colin Powell and Jack Kemp for the mission. It was Powell who actually did the trick with Cedres, one military man to another. Even The New York Times credited Dole with the diplomatic initiative that undoubtedly saved many lives. In Bosnia, the deployment of U.S. troops by the Commander-in-Chief to supervise a diplomatic breakthrough has proved successful to this point, which further emboldens the President to trust his instincts in the use of military might.

The mess in Iraq should not be permitted to be cleaned up outside the view of the American people, in yet another charade, with behind-the-scenes payoffs of taxpayer megabillions. Kuwait only agreed to have 5000 troops shoved down their throats after we agreed to pay half the costs of our "protection" of them against an invasion by Saddam and his ragtag troops. There will be no inquiry, though, unless the Republicans insist upon it, which may be difficult because it makes so many Republican politicians and opinion leaders look stupid too. If Ross Perot had been permitted to debate, he would have torn the President limb-from-limb over Iraq, as he is not afraid to call an Emperor naked. If someone is going to light the fuse it may now have to be Jack Kemp, who has thus far only nibbled around the edges on this issue. For this high a crime, there is no way President Clinton should survive without so much as a scratch.