After the Raid: Clinton's swift action boosts his credibility: The tide of public opinion is turning in favour of the President, writes Rupert Cornwell from Washington

BILL CLINTON'S presidency is not yet out of the woods. But the swiftly decided, clinically executed missile strike against Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters will help shore up his credibility where it is weakest - as a commander-in-chief who can display forceful US leadership on the world stage.

As President Bush, the Gulf war victor, would be the first to aver, military success is no guarantee of electoral success. But it certainly does no harm. And after the cliffhanging passage of his deficit-cutting package through the Senate last week, the broadly approved rap across President Saddam's knuckles is more evidence that the tide is turning - at the best possible time.

A month ago, as Mr Clinton was being all but written off here, the thought would have seemed preposterous. Now he will enter the coming G-7 summit in Toyko as arguably the Western leader with the soundest political base, with tangible achievements in both domestic and foreign policy.

That, of course, merely bespeaks the dire standing of John Major and Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl, not to mention the turmoil in Italy and in Japan itself. Mr Clinton's own approval ratings remain historically low for a president so soon in his first term, but almost certainly the raid will nudge them in the right direction.

A CNN/USA Today poll yesterday showed a 66 to 23 per cent majority in favour of the attack; indeed a clear majority, of 53-37 per cent, continues to believe Washington should go all the way and have the Iraqi leader assassinated. And while nearly two-thirds of the public declared the strike would not change their view of Mr Clinton, 20 per cent said it made them more confident of his leadership.

But in a city which feeds off perceptions, atmospherics count even more than simple numbers. For the White House no music was sweeter than General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a man hitherto not credited with overwhelming admiration for Mr Clinton, appearing on television to praise the President for his decisiveness: 'I think he acted very skilfully as a commander-in-chief over the last few days, and that bodes well.' For a while at least, in short, the ghost of Jimmy Carter no longer stalks Mr Clinton.

No less encouraging for his well-wishers was the secrecy and speed with which the administration acted. From Bosnia to domestic political nominations the tendency has been for every dithering and every wrinkle in the decision-making process to be painfully acted out in public. Not this time. According to the New York Times, the FBI report with the 'compelling evidence' that the Iraqi regime had been behind the botched attempt last April on Mr Bush's life arrived in the Oval Office last Thursday. Within 24 hours Mr Clinton had made up his mind and given the go-ahead for the reprisal.

Apart from Pentagon planners, only five of his closest White House aides were apparently in the know. Nothing was leaked, and news of the attack early on Saturday evening came as a complete surprise. The President's address an hour later won praise as measured and firm. If authority has been the most elusive quality of this administration, Saturday offered a taste of it.

Not that all scepticism has vanished. Iraq, led by a man who occupies a unique place in US demonology, was an easy choice, some complain. If Baghdad, they argue, then why not Bosnia? Others, mindful of last week's arrest in New York of eight alleged Islamic fundamentalist plotters, fear President Saddam may try to hit back with a terrorist strike of his own here.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all