Clinton accused: Now there's an idea: let's start a war

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The film was one of the most popular of this last Christmas season: a comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro about a White House under siege because of leaks surfacing in the nation's newspapers about alleged improprieties committed by the President. Called Wag the Dog, it was pretty funny.

Funny in the cinemas, but now a little more than that. While the film retained an edge of reality, the plot stretched the bounds of plausibility. Or so we thought. Anyone who has seen Wag the Dog can only ponder the uncanny parallels between its fiction and the less-than-comedic reality now before us.

The movie, which will be hitting British screens shortly, rests on one joke. The President has been caught having sex with a teenage girl in the Oval Office and the White House turns to trouble-shooter De Niro to fix things. This is his wheeze: manufacture a phony war to distract media attention.

The war, De Niro decides, will be against Albania. It is created from nothing with the help of a Hollywood director, Hoffman, who directs fabricated scenes from burning Balkan villages actually shot in a studio in Burbank. The footage is fed to the television networks who obligingly fall for the ruse.

Cut to reality. So far there have been no bulletins about Albania from the White House. But President Clinton, as it happens, does have a conflict on the stocks, ready to roll. That, of course, would be the bombing of Iraq. Rest assured, if Clinton strikes Iraq, the cry will go out: he is doing a De Niro, trying to deflect attention from shenanigans that allegedy occurred if not in the Oval Office then just outside it.

According to Simon Halls, a publicist for the film Wag the Dog: "I've got four pages of calls wanting some kind of comment on life imitating art." And no wonder.

David Usborne