Saving Private Clinton

As the casualties mount, our Commander-in-Chief soldiers on

Mind you, I now suspect that last weekend's events render the issue moot; no one could have predicted that in Clinton's case, being impeached would be restorative. And even if that weren't so, I'd still be pissing into the wind, because this country's deepest political piety is the belief that no president, however damaged, should vacate the White House before the lease runs out except in extremis. But you can get all the mad you want, and I'll still call that mystique childish— less a defense of democracy than a betrayal of our low faith in its resilience, fueled by a residual royalism and our deep desire to hold on to our daddies. Maybe Clinton didn't start this, but he's the one— the only one— who could have ended it a year ago, at no cost to his policies and some credit to himself. If that moldy fig "public service" means anything, the only question that either the public or the president should have been asking themselves since last January is whether, given his situation, the country is helped or hindered by his remaining in office.

Not that I ever expected such a dramatic, and to me decisive, answer to that one. Whatever else you think of it, for the world's most powerful nation to bomb the shit out of another is a drastic act. People die, a lot of them, and sooner or later some will be Americans— maybe even you. Up to now, one unacknowledged, morally debilitating, and ultimately foolish premise of our post­Cold War foreign policy has been that we needn't fear retaliation, but not all bombs need to be delivered via surveillance satellites and B-52s. The war on Iraq that Clinton renewed for 73 hours last week may have been justifiable, and may have been atrocious, and may have been what one French official called it: "Inevitable, but not necessary." But it ill-served this country to let so consequential a step be tainted by even a suspicion of ignoble ulterior motives on the commander in chief's part. Even if you reject the trivializing Wag the Dog analogy— and as a ploy to avoid the inevitable (if Clinton really thought bombing Saddam would gain him more than the 24 hours he got, he's so stupid he shouldn't be allowed to run heavy equipment, much less the country), though not an element in Clinton's thinking (how could he help it?), I do— it was irresponsible of him to put the United States in a position where such questions could be raised. Supposing his conclusion that this had to be done, and done now, was reached on the merits, the principled course was obvious. He should have resigned on the spot, removing himself as an issue and letting Al Gore give the order.

And right— fat chance. In hindsight, it sounds deluded. Even Gore wouldn't have been thrilled; if Clinton were to bail before this January 20, his successor only gets to run for one term in his own right. While a few— foolhardy, as it turned out— Republicans risked questioning Clinton's timing, they basically treated it as cheating at chess, and I heard none fret about the cost to American prestige; we just don't talk that way anymore, because when it comes to dealing with the world, we don't need no stinking prestige. Once the country got over its initial incredulity, what settled us down was less a reassurance that Clinton had acted with integrity— that question was left dangling, but mostly as a noose for Trent Lott to yank his neck out of— than a perfectly appalling consensus that bombing Iraq wasn't that big a deal. Why fuss? We've done it before, and given our policy's worst-of-both-worlds combination of gangsterism and schoolmarmish finger-waggling, we're almost sure to do it again. My view that it was important enough to be worth resigning over left me seeming even to myself like a citizen of cloud-cuckoo-land— more naive than Barbra Streisand if not battier than Bob Barr, neither a cheering thought.

The bombing of Iraq became just another sideshow.
The bombing of Iraq became just another sideshow.

Instead, within 24 hours, the bombing became just another sideshow. By the time this sees print, all of four days after the attacks ended, you'll probably wonder why I'm even bothering to rehash such ancient history, so let me remind you— this was not a fake war, we weren't just blowing up balloons, yet however much we chortle when Saddam pulls himself out of the rubble to declare victory, he's not doing anything we don't. Remarkably, when Clinton spoke on Saturday in the wake of the impeachment vote— backed by a phalanx of Democratic legislators, flanked by the wife whose career arc must have Tammy Wynette chortling in heaven (if there's any justice and/or she has any humor, "Stand by Your Man" will be the tune Hillary asks the band to strike up as she leaves the White House), and bookended by Gephardt and Gore, who can be coaxed into sharing a platform about as often as Arafat and Netanyahu— he didn't mention Iraq. Not even some passing allusion to our military, who were then still accomplishing whatever the hell they were supposed to accomplish. Apparently, that sort of boilerplate was for suckers— namely, the discomfited Republicans, whose overcompensatory protests of "supporting our troops" (what troops?) and automatic invocations of U.S. personnel "in harm's way" left them sounding like Stepford patriots.

« Previous Page
Next Page »