US Air Strike: President wins backing from both main parties

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The Independent Online
LAWMAKERS FROM both the Republican and Democratic parties rallied behind Mr Clinton's decision.

Newt Gingrich, House Speaker, called it "the right thing to do".

Ike Skelton, a Democrat on the House National Security Committee, said: "We're quite sure the attacks in Africa came from these two places, and we had to strike back."

Mr Clinton telephoned several congressional leaders before the strikes. En route to Washington, he also called Tony Blair, said Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary.

Yet scarcely had the President ended his "national security announcement" and boarded the plane that returned him to Washington than scepticism and cynicism took over the American airwaves.

For the third time this year, the talk was all of the "Wag the Dog" scenario. But this time it was not the "X files"-ridden chatrooms of the Internet that buzzed with scepticism, but the discourse of respected senators and sober analysts.

It was not that such people did not believe the President when he announced the US had attacked terrorist targets; they believed him all right. They just had doubts about the timing and the motive. Which all goes to show, one television reporter in Washington said, "how cynical the political waters are at this time".

Wag the Dog is the short, skittish film starring Dustin Hoffman, released at the turn of the year, just in time to capitalise on the presidential discomfiture over revelations about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Hoffman plays a Hollywood producer called in to limit political damage to the president over what might now be described as an "inappropriate physical contact" with a girl guide on a group visit to the White House.

Remember Harry Thomason, President Clinton's Hollywood producer friend, who reportedly scripted Mr Clinton's starring role in the piece of theatre featuring the monologue: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky"?

The film, completed well before America heard anything about a White House trainee called Monica, charts a damage-limitation strategy based on a "virtual war", a miniature war cooked up in a film studio and developed night after night on the evening television news.

The target of this little war is Albania, chosen for its remoteness and lack of allies; the soldiers and the victims exist only on camera, against photographed backdrops of ruined cities, the whole manipulated with the latest cinematographic techniques to convince the viewing public.

A patriotic song is scored, rallies are held and a returning hero is manufactured. Some aspects, including the hero, go desperately wrong: but the main purpose is achieved. The President survives.

Wag the Dog has been invoked three times since its release. The first in late January-February, when an escalation of tension between Washington and Iraq - talked up on successive television shows by the Defence Secretary, William Cohen, and to a lesser extent by the President - came hard on the heels of the first revelations about Monica.

The second came with the new stand-off with Iraq last month, when it suspended weapons inspections. The Lewinsky affair was just back on the agenda, with the subpoena for the President and her agreement to testify.

The third, objectionable and cynical as it may seem, was all over the Internet after the US embassy bombings in Africa. The attacks came the day after Ms Lewinsky had testified before the grand jury, just as leaked details made clear the extent of what she had revealed.