The Impeachment Of A President: Clinton's ratings rise as Baghdad smoulders and Washington ignites

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE SHAME of impeachment now a reality, President Bill Clinton was still riding high yesterday, celebrating renewed public approval at home and claiming victory over Iraq abroad. Defying the odds yet again, America's master of survival saw his poll rating rise and his name again in lights as Time magazine's "man of the year".

With a trial in the Senate likely early in the new year, however, and fears that calls for his resignation might multiply, any rejoicing seemed premature, and Mr Clinton - only the second US President to be impeached - kept a low profile after a frenetic week during which he had been at the centre of two major crises: impeachment and Iraq.

He attended church with his daughter, Chelsea, but without the First Lady and made no response to bands of rival hecklers shouting outside the church steps.

His personal sense of vindication at the Time magazine award might also have been soured by his having to share the honour with the man who had brought about his humiliation in the Lewinsky affair: the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr.

Word emerging from the White House suggested a President more contrite and hesitant than the public statements of the previous day had indicated. His determination to remain at his post "until the last hour of the last day of my term" was reportedly tempered by private words of remorse for the predicament that his behaviour had presented to Democrats in Congress. They had raced to the White House immediately after the vote in a bizarre procession of buses and cars to express their support and surrounded him on the White House lawn for his statement.

The Republicans, who had fought so long to make Mr Clinton feel his own pain for the Lewinsky affair, appeared to be retreating just a little from their refusal to compromise. Senior Senators said yesterday that a Senate trial - which is now required under the constitution - could last just a few weeks. Some had earlier forecast protracted and sordid proceedings that could paralyse the Administration for months.

A short trial could be part of the compromise for which the White House is now striving behind the scenes. Its desire to save Mr Clinton the indignity of a trial at all, however, is complicated by the insistence of the Senate Majority leader, Trent Lott, that he will make no deals.

Mr Clinton's uncanny ability to escape even the tightest corners could still affect the outcome, though. An NBC poll taken immediately after the impeachment votes showed that public support for the President had actually increased by four points - from 68 to 72 per cent. And some Republicans expressed concern about the effect an unpopular trial could have on their fortunes.

"I do think that the leadership has to do a hard count," said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, "to determine whether to move ahead with a trial." And another Republican, Mitch McConnell, said that there was nothing that stipulated all the evidence had to be heard in public. The more salacious testimony, he indicated, could be given in camera. "This will not be a spectacle," he said. "It will not demean the Senate."

Even as President Clinton emerged remarkably intact from the impeachment debate, his enemy across the other side of the world, Saddam Hussein, also proclaimed victory. After four days of air strikes, Britain and America ended their campaign on Saturday night with simultaneous announcements by Tony Blair and Mr Clinton.

President Saddam lauded his countrymen in a speech yesterday, saying that they had defeated Britain and America. "You were up to the level that your leadership and your brother and comrade Saddam Hussein had hoped you would be ... so God rewarded you and delighted your hearts with the crown of victory," he said in a taped address.

"God wanted this to be an honour and glory for you ... and shame and humiliation ... to those who carried it, the enemies of God and humanity."

But Iraq says thousands have been killed or wounded. "There has been enormous damage, mainly to the civilian infrastructure and to human life," said Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations. "I am told the casualties are in thousands, in terms of people who were killed or wounded, but we don't have any final figures." He did not say how many of the casualties were military and how many civilian.

Mr Clinton laid out the elements of a containment strategy towards Iraq on Saturday night, which was repeated by Mr Blair yesterday. It involves the continuing threat of military strikes, the maintenance of sanctions and a continued effort to prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction. Discussions will begin this week in New York to see if the UN special commission on Iraqi weapons can be reconstituted. The US will not hesitate to take military action if Iraq threatens its neighbours or is seen to be developing weapons of mass destruction, Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, said yesterday. "We reserve the right to use force again."

Both Mr Blair and Mr Clinton laid a heavy emphasis on preparing the ground for life after Saddam. Mr Clinton appeared to hint that some other group was waiting in the wings "We will stand ready to help a new leadership in Baghdad that abides by its international commitments and respects the rights of its own people," he said late on Saturday. "We hope it will return Iraq to its rightful place in the community of nations."

The last night of strikes focused on the Republican Guard, the elite units most loyal to President Saddam.

There were unsubstantiated rumours in Washington of military activity in southern Iraq, including clashes between soldiers and rebels. The Iraqi opposition reported that before the US and Britain mounted air strikes, an uprising was under way by the Shiite community of southern Iraq, but in the past such reports and such uprisings have usually come to nothing.