THERE IS never a good time to impeach a US president, since the so-called head of the free world is always busy striving to pacify some world trouble-spot. It must seem particularly cruel to Bill Clinton that he faces trial at exactly the same time as he is ordering troops into battle; but to be realistic, when has he been free of such troubles? When he was ordering marines into Somalia? When he was making peace in Northern Ireland? Or on the previous occasions when he has bombed Iraq?
National leaders have always been assailed without regard to the crises their nations face. Andrew Johnson, the only other president to be impeached, was struggling with the challenge of reconstruction after the American Civil War. Democrats showed no mercy to Richard Nixon, embroiled in Vietnam, opening up Western policy to China, and attempting detente with the Soviet Union. Closer to home, Margaret Thatcher was preparing for the Gulf war when she was politically assassinated.
Bombing in the Gulf makes no difference to the issues facing Congress. Either the President has perjured himself, and committed the "high crimes and misdemeanors" of which the Constitution speaks, or he has not.
The world's cynicism about the President's motives in ordering military action should encourage a decision. The impeachment vote may bring the crisis to a head, and renew America's self-confidence. If Congress decides today to allow President Clinton to escape, he can face the world with his mandate renewed. But if he is impeached, his authority will be irreparably damaged. Then, for all our sakes, he should resign, and allow a successor to govern with authority.