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20th December 1998

Uncle Sam: desperate measures and diversions

By Mervyn de Silva

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High crimes and misdemeanours - yet that's what the Founding Fathers and the authors of the American Constitution had in mind. Breaking into your traditional rival's party headquarters would surely qualify, right? Thus the fate of Richard (Tricky Dicky) Nixon. He qualified for impeachment. But President Bill Clinton, for all his weaknesses, well known to the American people thanks to the daily disclosures by the national media, is no Nixon. Nor an Augusto Pinochet whose misdeameanours grab the headline and make the late night radio and TV news.

What has happened though is yet another example of party politics, no holds barred, winner takes all. The G.O.P, the grand old party smells blood, Bill Clinton's and therefore the old enemy, the Democrats. Mr. Clinton answered 81 questions. At the end of it, Tom Delay the Republican whip in the House, shared the good news with the reporters.. "If we voted today the president would be impeached" he told FOX T.V. "I think the Senate will have a trial. We will begin to prepare for that if the House votes articles of impeachment."

On his affair with Monica Lewinsky he answered 81 questions and seemed perfectly prepared to take on more. He was quite delighted to learn that a group of 15 to 20 Republicans would vote NO to impeachment. Peter King a Republican said "Now obviously this could remain quite fluid."


" We stand poised on the edge of a constitutional cliff staring at the void" Clinton told two British correspondents, Mark Suzman and Richard Wolfe. At the start, the White House clashed with Republican frontliners and their legal advisers over the release of video-taped testimony by President Clinton.

Did the Clinton Camp's strategists blunder when they allowed him to answer the 81 charges connected with his intimate relations with a former White House employee. Impeachment would mean a Senate trial early next year.

The media predictably has played up the "sex" angle. The real issue is perjury. Did Bill Clinton, nice young man, elected by the great American people twice (the maximum), lie to his countrymen?


In his book on American politics Godfrey Hodgson, a British correspondent based in Washington, presented the personality in the "White House" as a man who has to be all things to all men. Foreign policy and interest in external issues could be a necessary diversion. Recently Mr. Clinton took the Middle-east peace process forward with the WYE accord signed by President Yasser Arafat head of the Palestinian Authority and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. So when he was hounded by the press and by increasingly aggressive Republican Senators, Mr Clinton was seen in Gaza. Finally, the "articles' were made public.. The G.O.P dominated judiciary committee of the House of Representatives unveiled four draft articles, wrote Mark Suzman. The strongly worded articles are based on the eleven impeachable offences originally laid out by Mr. Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel. They alleged that Mr. Clinton committed two counts of perjury. Yes, readers of the daily newspapers believe it or not, do get the impression that "sex" was the major offence. No. It was perjury. You can go to bed with a sex kitten but you cannot lie.. not if you are the tenant of the White House... not even a white lie. The Democrats on the committee could not save Mr. Clinton, their leader, but they did draft a resolution that would censure the President for making 'false statements' and acting 'wrongly' but would not impose sanctions on Mr. Clinton.

On the other hand, more and more Republicans who had remained neutral or "non-committal" joined the steadily increasing hardliners.

Yet, Thursday's news was that the impeachment lobbyists were losing supporters. What few newspaper readers realise is that the impeachment does not necessarily mean that Mr. Clinton must say a final farewell. While legislators agreed that about five Democrats may vote for impeachment, more than that number would support a censure motion.

This is how things stood on Friday.

In a serious, utterly embarrassing domestic crisis, (and underline "domestic") what does the sole superpower do? Bomb Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, the country governed by Saddam Hussein, the supervillain. Just like the movies, right? Desperate measures and diversions.

What does the Arab and the larger Islamic world think of the behaviour of the United States? The mullahs in Teheran write their next sermon. And they are smiling.

Hulftsdorp Hill

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