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
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor