The Impeachment War: What on earth is going on?

Experts, pundits and kibitzers weigh in on Washington's weirdest week

Published December 18, 1998 1:48PM (EST)

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Diane Johnson, author My thoughts are mostly on the hijacking of constitutional government in
America. The right-wing threat that has unbalanced even the reasonable members
of the Republican Party. The lack of any credible congressional or media
figures now that they have all given in to their hate-Clinton frenzy, with
complete indifference to the sentiments of normal people outside the Beltway.
The impossibility of protest when elected officials and media both ignore what
people feel and say, and, worse, distort it; the failure of the print media to
cover the various marches the other day; or its failure to raise the
reasonable questions about hypocrisy (i.e. Henry Hyde's past) that were apparent
to everyone. And the fact that we can't impeach or otherwise get rid of
irresponsible pundits. If only we could impeach George Will and Cokie Roberts!
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Fran Lebowitz, author Absolutely, the bombings were an attempt to deflect attention from
impeachment. Clinton is hardly a subtle man -- even his most ardent
supporters cannot accuse him of subtlety, and certainly not of irony. He is
irony-free. Obviously, I'm not a fan of Saddam Hussein but it's interesting to me how he's been singled out. Unfortunately, the world is filled with people in power who are equally as bad. It's not that I'm in favor of
Saddam, but I think he should be placed in like company because I think it
makes everyone else -- all these other horrendous people -- seem like
nothing compared to him. Certainly what's going on in Bosnia cannot be
better than what's going on in Iraq. Certainly Gadhaffi is not Adlai
Stevenson. Singling Saddam out seems almost arbitrary to me. There's
something very false, very tinny about the whole thing. I watched the
bombings on TV last night -- the green glow of the bombs, which is nice and
arty but you can't really see anything -- and it seemed very unreal. When
we announce a bombing, it doesn't seem like a real war except that real
people get really killed.

I'm in favor of nothing. I hate all these people. I think the Congress
is a disgrace, I think the president is a disgrace. It's embarrassing to be
a human being in this era. I feel disgraced by my fellow man -- all of
them. Especially my fellow citizens, because they've been convinced to
become consumers instead of citizens. They go around interviewing dozens of
idiots who talk about how great the economy is, which it is for about 12
people, by the way. They interview 8-year-olds! The economy is
incredibly great if you happen to own an enormous company or if you have
tons of capital in the stock market.

Should Clinton resign? No. Absolutely not. I happen to be a democracy
fan and he was voted into office -- though I didn't vote for him. People
who voted for him could not have been surprised by his behavior or his
taste. There's no chance this man will resign. You can catch him with a gun
in his hand standing over a body and he won't resign and people would keep
saying the economy is fantastic. I'm a fairly old-fashioned, angry person.

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Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Blood Rites: Origins and the History of the Passions of War"

I don't know how anybody in their right mind could think that the
bombings were anything but a way to deflect attention from impeachment.
It's perfectly clear. I no longer think Clinton should be impeached, I
think he should be arrested. If you want a high crime and misdemeanor, it's the use of military force for private and personal reasons. Prior to the
bombings, I thought he should resign, that it would be better for the
Democrats -- not that they make a whole lot of difference these days
compared to Republicans. I did not understand my progressive friends who
have been rallying to his cause -- I don't see what Clinton ever did for
progressives or African-Americans. The bombing is the high crime
and misdemeanor. And he's just using the troops as if they're his own
little personal hit squad. If it works, it just shows what fools the rest
of us are.

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David Sedaris, NPR commentator and author of "Naked" and "Holiday on Ice," currently studying French in Paris

I just love the name -- "Operation Desert Fox." It brings to mind a topless pin-up, or what Playboy would call Miss Arizona in the magazine. I think Desert Fox is a much better name than Desert Storm.

This morning in my French class I called Saddam Hussein a lunatic but what I said was "maniac" -- which in French means he wants to keep his house really, really clean. So my teacher corrected me on that.

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Ishmael Reed, author

If they remove Clinton, though I was an early critic, I'll be reluctant to vote in future elections. I mean, suppose Mellon Scaife and
Falwell and Robertson don't approve of the results? Will we have to go through
this again?

I questioned [Clinton's] character right after
the first election. I was suspicious of his moralizing about behavior in
the inner city, about how African-Americans ought to try to improve their
morals. On the other hand, I don't want to live under a theocracy, which
is what the [Republicans] seem to have in mind. White countries like the
United States seem to find it very easy to bomb third world countries and
that's happened throughout history.

It was bound to happen -- that [Republicans like Bob Livingston would admit
to having affairs]. I've been seething at the hypocrisy while watching the
Judiciary hearings. These people are demanding of Clinton moral standards
which they don't live by themselves. I think the right and right-wing
groups are so dead-set on getting Clinton that they've cowed the
so-called moderates.

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David Horowitz, author and Salon columnist

Who knows what's happening? Who knows why this was done? Who knows whether
the judgments that went into these decisions were militarily justified and
morally sound? And that is precisely the problem.

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Anne Lamott, author and Salon columnist

It's so confusing. I don't actually know what I think. I'm a Clinton supporter and I'm totally opposed to war. I love to see the consternation
on the faces of the Republicans. It was such a brilliant coyote-trickster
thing for Bill to do. It's fun to watch the Republicans' suppressed rage
because usually they take so much pleasure in things militaristic. I know I
don't believe in war and that if this were a Republican who had behaved the
same way Bill Clinton behaved I'd be up in arms. If it were Newt Gingrich
or George Bush I'd be really sickened. And if it were George Bush or Newty
Gingrich who had had his way with Monica Lewinsky and then gone to war the
day before impeachment proceedings, I would take to the streets.

Saddam is heinous, like Richard Allen Davis, who killed Polly Klaas.
You basically think they should be issued suicide tablets and coerced into
taking them, although you don't actually support capital punishment. I feel
the same way about Saddam as I do toward Davis. You don't get to sanction
their murder, you don't get to take them out, but I tell you -- the more I
read about what UNSCOM knows about Iraq, then I really do think, Bomb! Bomb!
Bomb! though at heart I'm really opposed to war. I find it all as
confusing as shit.

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Camille Paglia, author and Salon columnist

I was absolutely horrified by the timing of the bombing of Iraq. I have been calling for the censure and not impeachment of Clinton since January and indeed may have been the first national columnist to mention the word "censure." I called my congressman -- one of the wavering moderate Republicans -- to support censure this week. Therefore I was all the more disgusted by the grotesque timing of the bombing raids on the eve of impeachment. I think that it is very fishy indeed, and that this simply confirms that the missile attacks Clinton ordered from Martha's Vineyard this summer were similarly oddly timed to coincide with politically embarrassing events in Washington.

Whether or not Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who deserves to be bombed into the Stone Age is a matter that should be agreed upon by the family of nations. President Bush's decision to commit our armed forces to the war against Iraq was strengthened by the coalition of nations supporting American firepower. In this case we are painfully isolated in the eyes of the world with Tony Blair -- Clinton's wanna-be double -- tagging along like the kid brother on an outing. You cannot demonstrate the rule of international law by breaking international law. What message are we sending to the world at large? How are we poisoning the Arab world against us for generations to come? What is the real motivation of these bombings? Iraq poses no threat whatever to American security. Even a present danger to the oil fields cannot be substantiated. Indeed, the president isn't even attempting to make the claims in terms of American commercial interests, which are controversial in and of themselves on ethical grounds.

Why is it that American tax dollars are being wasted in this military exercise when there are so many pressing matters of social concern at home, from the declining state of urban education to health care to care of the elderly? I am not a pacifist. I believe in war for a just cause. World War II, for example, was a just war. Without American involvement Hitler would have gone on to destroy England and rule the world. I would have been proud to serve in the military. However, I regard this bombing, which has been pulled out of a hat like a rabbit, as completely unjustified on all grounds. Despite the positive end results of weakening Saddam Hussein's military infrastructure, there are innocent Iraqi citizens who are suffering injury, death or loss of property from a decision made in Washington, immorally hastened on political grounds. This should be a cause of profound embarrassment to citizens in the United States.

James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, the political and policy arm of the Arab-American community

We oppose the bombing. Sanctions have gone on now for eight years and
the Iraqi people have paid the price but their regime has not. The bombing is not designed to create positive change in the country, but to inflict more
punishment. I do not support the Iraqi regime, but periodic bombing or
sanctions do not constitute a real policy of change -- it perpetuates
the policy of punishing the people.

The United States and Britain have broken from the world consensus.
We stand today virtually alone. I'm terribly distressed that the
president, having gained so much in the way of credibility, public
acceptance and support for his leadership after his speech in Gaza, has
squandered that only two days later by bombing Iraq. I spoke to someone
in West Bank who said how tragic it is that two days ago people were
waving American flags and today some are burning them.

We've asked for a policy of engagement with the people of Iraq that
delinks economic from military sanctions. People do not rise up and rebel when they are in despair and starving. We've never seen that
happen anywhere else in the world. We've only seen change when they can
feed their children and have a modest standard of living. Even though
they mouth concern all the time, I don't think anyone cares about the
people of Iraq.

There are some real dangers ahead. By isolating ourselves from our allies -- the Russians and the Chinese -- we run the risk of reigniting a conflict
from which we have just escaped. The most dangerous country in the world
is not Iraq -- it's the country that still has tens of thousands of nuclear
warheads. More of an effort to achieve consensus with Russia is absolutely
essential if we're to have successful foreign policy. We have inflamed nationalist passions and created a situation where they feel terribly alienated from us.

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Jonathan B. Tucker, former United Nations weapons inspector and current director of the Chemical and Biological
Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the Monterey Institute's Center for
Nonproliferation Studies

There were no good options in this situation and the bombing was
probably justified, but it remains to be seen whether the benefits will
outweigh the costs. A key variable will be the number of casualties --
if the costs to the Iraqi people are very high, it would be a major
setback for U.S. policy in the Middle East. As long as Saddam Hussein or
someone like him is in power, there will be continual conflict with

[Saddam] no longer has any reason to cooperate with the United States, and the U.S. government has written off reinitiating United Nations
weapons inspections after the military action. There definitely will be
costs -- particularly in our ability to continue the monitoring and
verification of dual-capable facilities in Iraq, something that
UNSCOM was doing effectively.

There were two inspection regimes in Iraq. In the so-called surprise inspections, they were trying to find concealed weapons and documents.
But whenever they had a hot lead, there was no way the Iraqis were going
to let them in and find a smoking gun, so they would just destroy the
evidence or prevent them from getting into the facility. That became a

Less well known is that the inspectors were also monitoring a number
of dual-capable facilities throughout the country potentially capable of
producing chemical and biological weapons but also engaged in legitimate
activities. Some of these plants were involved in legitimate activities, like producing vaccines, but could be converted within a matter of
days or weeks to the production of anthrax or other biological weapons.
The same fermentation tanks used to make vaccines against anthrax could
be used to grow anthrax as a weapon.

It wouldn't be ethical for the United States to
bomb all of the vaccine plants in Iraq and deprive Iraqi children of
vaccines. But as long as dual-use facilities exist in Iraq it will
have the capability to produce these weapons. How long could ongoing
monitoring and verification have lasted? The United States made the calculation that Saddam was not
going to permit that to happen in perpetuity and they thought the costs
of military action were outweighed by the potential benefits.

Without UNSCOM, we will now be dependent on limited intelligence. You
can't determine from the air or from a satellite image whether a vaccine
plant is producing anthrax or a legitimate vaccine. You have to have
some way of looking at that facility and getting on site. We must rely
on human agents and defectors, but that is unsystematic and fortuitous,
and it will be impossible to sustain coverage of these facilities.

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William C. Potter, Director of the Center for Nonproliferation
Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies

It's very unfortunate, but the attack was probably inevitable. I
don't have great expectations that it will enable us to fulfill the
UNSCOM mission. It's really important to observe connections between what is happening in Iraq and a number of other challenges to
nonproliferation. To not have acted would have undermined the
nonproliferation regime. Both national governments and international
organizations must fulfill their nonproliferation obligations -- fulfill
U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, respond in South Asia to the
Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests and proliferation developments on the
Korean Peninsula, address the challenge posed by the difficult economic
situation in Russia and observe disarmament obligations under the
Nonproliferation Treaty. The nonproliferation regime is under siege and
it was necessary for the credibility of the United Nations, UNSCOM and
the United States to respond to Iraq's clear violations of U.N. Security
Council agreements.

I'm not very optimistic that we're going to be able to substantially
degrade Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. UNSCOM has worked
very hard over the past seven years with some success, but there are
many unanswered questions. After our inability over many years to
eradicate weapons of mass destruction on the ground, it would be
presumptuous to assume we could do so in a few days of missile strikes.
Saddam Hussein has demonstrated -- both by his tremendous investment in
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program and neglecting his own
populace by foregoing oil sales he could have had if he had cooperated with
the United Nations and UNSCOM -- that he's prepared to do anything to maintain an active weapons program. It will be exceptionally difficult to make a
dent in his program, certainly to eradicate it, short of a much more
massive military action, which the United States is
unprepared to undertake.

It's not just about weapons, there's also a human dimension here: There are
personnel, scientists and engineers who remain in Iraq and retain the
technical know-how to, in a short period of time, reconstitute their
program. The military action is designed to make that reconstitution
effort more difficult. This has been targeted not just at weapons or
military sites but also those security sites that provide support for

It is very important for the United States to invest more in multilateral diplomacy -- at a minimum that means paying our U.N. dues. It's difficult to make a case for broader support of the United Nations when the U.S. is delinquent. It also means recognizing that nuclear weapons
states, including the United States, have nonproliferation obligations
that they have not adequately filled.

An unfortunate side development is the erosion of what had
been very close U.S.-Russian cooperation for nuclear nonproliferation. In
part because of economic difficulties Russia has been experiencing, they have been increasingly inclined to put shorter term economic
considerations above longer-term nonproliferation objectives.

By Daryl Lindsey

Daryl Lindsey is associate editor of Salon News and an Arthur Burns fellow. He currently lives in Berlin and writes for Salon and Die Welt.

MORE FROM Daryl Lindsey

By Interviews conducted by Lori Leibovich

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton Camille Paglia Iraq Middle East