Iraq Crisis: His timing `is highly suspicious'

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The Independent Online
FOR REPUBLICANS in Washington yesterday it was Wag the Dog all over again. Just hours before his future as President was to be decided by the House of Representatives in a historic debate on impeachment, Bill Clinton was behind his desk in the Oval Office (not a million miles from where he had received the ministrations of a certain Monica Lewinsky and listened to her advice on foreign policy), announcing to the world a combined US and British attack on Iraq.

"For this sort of thing to seem to come to a head on the eve of an impeachment vote is highly suspicious," said Bob Barr, a member of the judiciary committee that forced today's planned debate by approving four articles of impeachment against the President. He was echoing the remarks of Tom DeLay, the Republican whip in the House, who had drawn parallels between the timing of Mr Clinton's personal political crises and the timing of certain instances of US belligerence abroad in the past year, and insinuated that he would put nothing past the President in his quest for survival.

"Never underestimate a desperate President," said Gerald Solomon, a New York Republican who would also have been taking part in the planned House debate today.

For those who want to see them, the parallels between Wag the Dog and the past year of the Clinton presidency, are compelling, even though the film went on release a month before the real scandal broke.

The film, starring Robert de Niro - who is coincidentally one of Clinton's staunchest Hollywood supporters - shows a president accused of making advances to an underage girl in the White House and calling on a film producer friend to fabricate a foreign war as he faces re-election.

With a few hiccups along the way, the tactic is thoroughly successful. The only victims are the unfortunate diplomats of Albania who cannot understand what has happened, and the film producer who threatens to expose the stratagem.

The last time Mr Clinton ordered air strikes was in August, when he launched punishment attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan following the bombing of two US embassies. The attacks came a few days after he had admitted that his earlier denials of a relationship with Ms Lewinsky were wrong. He returned from a troubled holiday on Martha's Vineyard to direct operations from the White House.

The last time the US almost resorted to military action against Iraq was at the time of the House of Representatives vote to authorise impeachment hearings and the US was on the eve of the mid-term elections. Mr Clinton ordered the planes into action, and then recalled them at the last moment after the Iraqi leader offered a compromise.