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17th January 1999

The stress and strains of a sole superpower

By Mervyn de Silva

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Homer nodded. In this instance Homer was played by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a brilliant pundit in the Henry Kissinger class. But he is no pothay gura. He has been in the ring, and has excelled just as he has on the campus.

Consider this tribute from Michael Barone "Moynihan is the nation's best thinker since Lincoln and its politician among thinkers since Jefferson".... a matchless tribute, Sri Lankan students of American politics and culture will readily agree.... though the number is modest considering the choric clamour at seminars and America Day celebrations.

The occasion was so rare, or should we say 'unique'? On Saturday, December 19, William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, became the second President in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

The Republicans saw a "window of opportunity", an American media contribution to the popular discourse in the English-speaking world.

The hardliners of the G.O.P. in the Senate skilfully sabotaged the move to have a bipartisan resolution. The Senate hawks were disturbed by an initiative in the Congress to reach consensus on a bipartisan response to President's Clinton's "high crimes and misdemeanours", as the offence or offences are, if somewhat quaintly defined. Just consider accusing Richard "Dirty Tricky Nixon" accused of misdemeanours.....!

"It was another of those extraordinary days made routine in Washington recently when the presence of history was felt everywhere.

But newspaper readers in almost all other English-speaking parts of the world, certainly the Indian sub-continent, and listeners would have found some of the idiom quite quaint.

But this was an extraordinary occasion no doubt. The presence of history was felt everywhere, wrote Gerard Baker and Deborah McGregor, of the London Times. "It trembled in the hands of Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee as he read out the charges against President Clinton, in the sepulchral quiet of the Senate Chamber. It shone from the beaming face of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democratic Senator from New York, philosopher, historian and national treasure, as he shook the hand of each of the thirteen House Managers of the impeachment trial as they left the chamber."

The skilfully crafted sentences, readers would appreciate, was the journalist's own tribute to a historic moment in a powerful assembly in a young country now recognised by the international media as the sole superpower.

What next? The next act in what the self-same media have named " The Trial of The Century". And there were only 50 tickets for the public.

We now call the country which also established its own institutions after a revolution, Lenin's land, a lively parliamentary democracy. It has been stripped of its proud title, a superpower. Nobody overran Russia. What we witnessed a decade ago was described as an "implosion". The nationalities have re-asserted their distinctive identities - from the Baltic and Ukraine to Tadjikistan.

The "United", States, Washington's country has seen many a Centre periphery confrontation and dispute.

The two-party system and the wisdom of those who drafted the American Constitution, have demonstrated a greater wisdom, and yet Clinton's presidency - two terms as popularly elected president - has exposed many an internal or inbuilt vulnerability.

William Rehnquist will be only the second Chief Justice in American history to exercise the most extraordinary and consequential of his constitutional duties - presiding over the impeachment of a president chosen by the American people, observes Gerard Baker. Though this may be a betrayal of an occupational bias, I have chosen this passage from an article written by columnist I. F. Stone in "his Polemics and Prophecies".

"How deeply has the Clinton impeachment divided America? Washington in his farewell address warned against the danger to liberty in an overgrown military establishment and Eisenhower provided a graphic new term for an old problem when he warned against the military-industrial complex. These two warnings provide fundamental insights into basic institutional dangers, and warnings were given weight because they came from such honoured military men".

And now the Republicans have called on the Senate for a full-scale Clinton tribunal. Britain and Churchill got the answer right in the face of Hitler and the Nazis.

Do the current trends under the Clinton administration produce an 'internal war'? How united is the United States?

True, the danger is not real right now but we advance to a new century and even the United States, sole superpower, must keep an eye on the enemy or enemies within.

Hulftsdorp Hill

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