President Clinton Finds a Way to Avoid Impeachment

December 20, 1998

Mark Weisbrot
Salt Lake Tribune, December 20, 1998

Brooking County Record (New Jersey), December 18, 1998
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, December 17, 1998

President Clinton’s decision to bomb Iraq on the eve of the impeachment vote gives a whole new meaning to the word “transparency.” The circumstantial evidence of a connection between the two events is awfully strong: a vote by the House to impeach was almost certain, and this was his only way out. And the President offered no convincing explanation for why an attack that has been threatened for years could not wait even another couple of days.

“For us to initiate military action during Ramadan would be profoundly offensive to the Muslim world,” said the President, referring to the Muslim holy month, which begins this weekend. But the attack may well last into the weekend. Is he saying this is less offensive because the attack began before the holiday?

The Muslim world, and indeed most of the rest of humanity, has already been profoundly offended by the death of more than half a million children who, according to UN estimates, have been killed by the sanctions against Iraq. Not so Madeline Albright, our Secretary of State. When asked whether these sanctions were worth the price of all these innocent lives, she said, “We think the price is worth it.”

So it should not be surprising that President Clinton would order a bombing campaign that is expected to kill thousands of Iraqi civilians– both directly, and through the destruction of vital infrastructure– in order to save his own political career.

Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, who worked for the United Nations for 34 years, administered the “oil-for-food program” which was supposed to prevent the sanctions from killing children. Two months ago he resigned in disgust.

“Sanctions are starving to death 6,000 Iraqi infants every month, ignoring the human rights of ordinary Iraqis, and turning a whole generation against the West,” he said. “I no longer want to be part of that.”

In addition to the timing, the open-ended nature of the President’s attack is very suspicious. When will it end? If he keeps it going until January 6, when the new Congress takes office, the impeachment resolution of the House Judiciary Committee would die.

The lack of a clear objective in this military offensive makes it even harder to believe that it was launched for purposes other than domestic political considerations. Is President Clinton trying to force the government of Iraq to comply with the UN weapons inspections? Or is he trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein?

In his speech announcing the attack, the President was unclear. He began with the latest UN report accusing Iraq of violating its promise to allow weapons inspections. But then he added: “The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government.”

This ambiguity has plagued U.S. policy toward Iraq since the Gulf War. If our government intends to maintain the sanctions until Saddam Hussein is overthrown, as it has indicated on a number of occasions, then what incentive is there for him to co-operate?

But now this vagueness may save President Clinton from the disgrace of impeachment, not to mention a horrendously embarrassing trial in the Senate. He can adjust the duration, objectives, and strategy of this war until he can whittle away at the swing votes in the House.

Of course, if the House still decides to impeach him, there is a stronger case to be made. “The war powers clause of the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8, expressly requires authorization by Congress before the President can engage in acts of war, unless there is a direct attack upon the United States,” noted Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois. “Clinton has also violated the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that was enacted by Congress over President Nixon’s veto in order to prevent a repetition of the Vietnam War scenario.”

Now there’s some of the “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and abuse of power, that the President’s defenders argued was missing from the endless debate over “who touched what.”

Meanwhile, busloads of President Clinton’s supporters plan to converge in Washington to demonstrate against impeachment. Wouldn’t it be great if it they decided to protest the war instead? What a fitting legacy that would make for a President who has betrayed the trust of almost everyone who put their confidence in him.

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