Column: We're Unified--Now Let's Hope We Get the Right Bastards

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Mr. Carpenter is a writer and doctoral candidate in history at the University of Illinois. His dissertation addresses 20th-century rhetorical precedents of demagoguery that the New Right exploited for electoral success.

On August 20, 1998 President Clinton lobbed $100 million worth of Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Sudanese chemical plant and reputed Afghan terrorist camp in retaliation for two U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. The effect came just 13 days after the cause.

In return for the White House decisiveness that most Americans repeatedly call for, Clinton received the usual bag of opinions. Namely: he's an idiot; he's beautiful and shouldn't change; he's a liar; he's a man of action; he's a whore-mongerer trying to look good; he's the patron saint of counterterrorism. Skeptical editorialist David Broder of the Washington Post decided to partake of the best of both worlds on August 26:"Without questioning his motives - and I do not [which means he does] - the sequence of events ... last week proved why it is almost always a mistake to discount the survival powers of a president. Even when his credibility [over the Lewinsky affair] has been badly damaged ... there are circumstances he can contrive or exploit which almost compel people to support him." Broder left out the circumstances to which a president"must" react; Clinton could only" contrive" or"exploit."

As for politicians of all stripes in Washington, D.C., bipartisanship reigned. On August 27, 1998 the normally hysterical Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that"nearly all Republicans were ... pleased by the president's actions." He quickly added -- in what was, for Novak, a quite temporary but still phenomenal moment of sanity -- that"they did not concern themselves with what was accomplished by bombing [Afghanistan and Sudan].... None - not even those who criticized the timing of the air strikes - questions the wisdom of alienating 1 billion Muslims around the world."

Naturally there was some partisan sniping. The grandest display of cheap opportunism came from U.S. Representative and senatorial candidate Linda Smith (R-WA), who wanted Clinton's scalp. And not for altogether logical reasons. As the Seattle Times reported 2 days after the air strike,"Smith's resignation call came just one day after she lauded the U.S. cruise-missile attacks." It seems that Linda was still perturbed by Bill's playtime with Monica, causing her to confuse international relations with domestic affairs and demand his resignation. So 24-hours after praising, she flipped to criticizing. Overnight, there arose throughout the land"a loss of public confidence in his leadership." Smith further declared"the Joint Chiefs of Staff could have done it without the president," thus"military leadership, not Clinton ... deserved credit." The bizarre juxtaposition of her statements must have led even the dumbest of nincompoops to rethink her suitability for the Senate. She lost. A little advice, Linda. If you're down in the polls by 16 points or so and need to shamelessly exploit bad situations, hire a better staff to tell you what to say.

And there was now-retired Dan Coats (R-IN), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, who straightaway maintained that a" cloud of doubt" hovered over Clinton's decision."There are still questions," said Coats, but his unease remained tepid. As Novak additionally reported in the above-quoted column,"Any president can depend on Republican assent to the use of force." Hence, Clinton gained respect - at least publicly -- among the loyal opposition, its leaders and backbenchers alike.

Clinton did not fare as well with learned philosophes -- those discerning types who, following every attack, sit by their phones sadly but hopefully waiting for some newspaper, network, or Chris Matthews Himself, to call. Professor Edith Flynn -- a"terrorism expert," as these phone-call recipients are invariably labeled - hit pretty much the right chord after the Afghan-Sudan assault."Most Americans will be very happy that we've conducted this strike and for once we've hit back," she told the Boston Herald. Yet,"you cannot bomb yourself out of terrorism. Sending in our fighters and strafing and bombing is not a precision instrument. You're not taking them out." True, yet we usually respond in these miserable moments in the same miserable way.

The president received much tougher treatment from philosophes of the left than he did the right. Edward Herman, for example, a retired professor and writer on international terrorism, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the 1998 U.S. attack was illustrative of its"tendency to lash out violently and precipitously on the basis of information that's limited and often turns out to be untrue." His principle criticism was that it is Washington's"absolutely standard procedure" to secrete evidence that prompted the counterattack, or release less-than-compelling evidence on the heels of much-ballyhooed purported evidence. I doubt Dr. Herman will ever be consulted by this or any other White House. Defrauding the public on all manner of policy is"absolutely standard procedure" for this president, that president, and any other ambitious politician. Where has Edward Herman been?

On the other hand, that is, the right hand, former Reagan State Department official Daniel Pipes was positively aquiver over the bombing. Plunging into the depths of philosophical analysis, Pipes mused that"basically, I think the standard of proof that the U.S. seeks before acting in such cases is too high.... My inclination is that if somebody attacks Americans, there's hell to pay for it. And if the wrong terrorist gets hit, I'm not terribly concerned. [It follows that Pipes was"not terribly concerned" with innocent non-terrorists getting hit either, which one must assume is merely" collateral damage" in his mind.] Maybe Osama bin Laden wasn't behind the embassy bombings. Maybe all the intelligence is wrong. I don't care." Thank God Daniel Pipes is no longer with the State Department, and pray to God that his likes aren't there now.

Returning to politics, the air strike's aftermath remains a rare minute of striking bipartisanship, especially given 1998's context of interparty warfare. I would add"admirable" to"bipartisanship," but I for one cannot applaud the bombing of innocent civilians that commonly occurs with faceless force. If the United States wishes to stab properly at the heart of blackhearted terrorist bastards, let it do so mano a mano. Identify them (accurately), track them down, line them up - figuratively speaking, and waste the buggers. But don't whack the bystanders of women and children.

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The Rt. Rev. Jack E. Holman - 9/14/2001

Thank goodness, we get another reasoned look at what should be an American response to terrorism. Who was it that said, "If we choose an eye for an eye response, we will all be blind"?
We certainaly have escaped history and therefore are repeating it! Death and destruction with a soupcon of spirituality and all will be well! This is a heyday for Jingoists and politicos looking to election time. The Rt. Rev. Jack E. HOlman