The momentum in favor of terminating the Clinton presidency was temporarily halted when dramatic cruise missile strikes against installations said to be linked to terrorists were suddenly carried out. The national debate immediately changed from getting rid of the president to going after terrorists. Yet the strikes appear to have been aimed at the wrong targets, ignoring state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran and Iraq. What’s more, they appear to have been ineffective in Afghanistan and perhaps unjustified in Sudan.
At first, some senators questioned the timing of the attacks, and some reporters openly wondered whether we weren’t witnessing a “Wag the Dog” phenomenon, the name of a movie about an administration which diverts attention from a presidential sex scandal by concocting a phony conflict abroad. But the Clinton administration carried the day, creating the appearance that Clinton was acting presidential again and rallying support behind him under the banner “America Strikes Back.”
A Washington Times editorial noted that “…tuning into CNN…it was hard to avoid the impression that, if not World War III, then at least something on the scale of Panama or Grenada was going on. The administration put on an extraordinary show… But did we really need the high drama of two briefings from Mr. Clinton, …briefings from the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs chairman, the secretary of state, [and] the national security adviser. This has to be the most thoroughly briefed minor military action in history. Never have so many spoken at such length and said so little.”
And little was accomplished. What Secretary of Defense William Cohen called a “terrorist university” in Afghanistan and what Clinton called “one of the most active terrorist bases in the world” was exposed as a primitive facility comprised of tents, boot camps, obstacle courses and a few buildings that could be easily replaced, and the so-called chemical weapons plant in Sudan appeared to be something far less than that. There was no immediate evidence of lethal chemical exposure from the fallout of the missile strike, which is something the administration claimed to expect.
There is still dispute over what was being manufactured in the plant. The Sudanese Ambassador to the U.N. said the bombed factory had been given permission by the U.N. to export medicine to Iraq as part of an arrangement approved by the U.S. itself just a few months ago. In a report on the CBS Evening News, correspondent Vicki Mabry displayed evidence of medicines being manufactured at the plant. While such claims and reports do not give the facility a clean bill of health, in the current circumstances it is not unreasonable for the media to demand that the administration present some form of direct evidence for its view that the factory was not benign.
Under that pressure, leaks began appearing, suggesting that a soil sample outside the plant contained evidence of a chemical precursor to VX, a deadly nerve gas. In addition, sources told the media that the factory had been in contact with the head of Iraq’s chemical weapons program. But that raises the question: why wasn’t Iraq bombed? Or Iran? We’ll look at that issue in our next broadcast.