Welcome to Wag the Dog Three

Related Topics
In the days after Bill Clinton authorised military strikes against Serbia at least a dozen newspapers featured cartoons that were variations on the same theme: the President holding a sign that read, "Ask me about Monica". The implication, of course, is that the air campaign against Yugoslavia has been such a mess that Clinton would prefer to talk about his sexual escapades and resulting impeachment.

It is true that Clinton no longer minds talking about the Monica mess. But the cartoonists have got it wrong. The crisis in Kosovo is precisely what has enabled him to move on, and he is happy to talk about it. He is free to use terms like moral revulsion and moral leadership, and the public, moved by photographs of thousands of wretched refugees and the sinister image of Slobodan Milosevic, is happy to let the irony slip. The latest poll shows that 58 per cent of Americans favour the air strikes; a slightly more deluded 57 per cent agree that "the conflict in Kosovo is going well".

Meanwhile, the President gets to give speeches at military bases, pose in front of bombers and point to the children of servicemen, telling the camera that "we are doing this for them". A fawning piece in the New York Times confirms that he "now wears the mantle of Commander-in-Chief more comfortably than he did in mid-1993" after the first missile attack he ordered on Baghdad killed a handful of civilians.

Presumably he is more comfortable because the antiseptic air war guarantees casualties will be kept to a minimum. But when they do come up, we are assured by an aide that the new, more confident Commander-in-Chief has developed "a switch" which allows him to turn off his concern for the lives of civilians and American troops, the fate of whom once "haunted" him.

The word "switch" was perhaps not the best choice. In 1992, when Clinton was confronted with his first crisis as a candidate - the twin debacles of Gennifer Flowers and the Vietnam draft dodge - he also used a "switch" to diffuse it. Trailing badly in the all-important New Hampshire primary, he flew home to Arkansas to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector. Rector had shot a police officer and turned the gun on himself, emptying his head of the majority of his brain. At his last meal, he had so little idea of what was happening to him that he asked to save his pecan pie for later. The governor of a state rarely attends an execution and certainly doesn't need to be in residence for one to take place. But Clinton needed to come off as a courageous chief law enforcement officer. It worked. Ricky Ray's demise helped save his campaign.

Ever since, when in trouble, the President has used force (or so many cruise missiles that we're about to run out of them). Some cynics refer to this latest round in Kosovo as Wag the Dog Three. One was the bombing of a Sudanese drugstore to save the world from the demon Bin Laden just prior to Monica Lewinsky's testimony before the grand jury. Two was the missile attack on Iraq just prior to the impeachment vote. Three, critics say, has the double appeal of eradicating Monica from the public mind and of putting the fact that the Chinese have stolen our nuclear secrets on the back pages.

I think the latter is a happy coincidence for Clinton, but one can never be sure. Apparently China not only stole plans for our most advanced nuclear warhead in the 1980s, but also data that enabled them to perfect a neutron bomb as late as 1995. Clinton had earlier declared that no secrets had been stolen since he'd been in office, or at least "no one has said anything to me about any espionage". His National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, reportedly knew about the missing neutron bomb data as early as 1996, but failed to mention it to the President until a year later and, even then, may not have detailed "every allegation".

Perhaps Berger did not want to add to the highly charged atmosphere in which Clinton's foreign policy is conducted. Not only do events in the President's personal life inform his decisions, but forces as seemingly benign as the weather can also affect the fate of nations. Berger's predecessor, Anthony Lake, explained in his memoirs how the administration reached the decision to allow the Czech Republic into Nato. Lake wrote that the plea from the Czech president, Vaclav Havel, had been particularly moving, and that after Havel had left the White House it had begun to rain. The President and his team all gazed upon the raindrops streaming down the window panes in the West Wing, when suddenly they turned to each other and said, "Let's let them in". God help us if the tornadoes currently ripping apart the Mid-West suddenly hit Washington.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pill for obesity is a step closer, with two separate studies showing that it may be possible to influence the body’s tendency to build up damaging fat deposits beneath the skin  

Being fat is the last social taboo. It is the actual elephant in the room

Rosie Millard
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
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