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Posted Friday, December 18, 1998


The Role of Richard Butler in Provoking a Deliberate Aggression

London, Friday, December 18, 1998

Cruise missile blasts offWeapon of mass distraction



HERE is the dead-pan verbatim quote from the Washington Post account, datelined Wednesday, 16 December, of the report on Iraqi compliance by Richard Butler, of the UN Special Commission:

"Butler's conclusions were welcome in Washington, which helped orchestrate the terms of the Australian diplomat's report. Sources in New York and Washington said Clinton administration officials played a direct role in shaping Butler's text during multiple conversations with him on Monday at secure facilities in the US mission to the United Nations."

It was easy to overlook this little disclosure, in a newspaper that was otherwise devoted to the landslide in Congress in favour of impeachment. Over the weekend, even as Clinton further lowered American prestige by hawking himself around Israel and meekly accepting rebukes (from that serial violator of UN Resolutions, Benjamin Netanyahu), all the so-called Republican "moderates" came off the fence. Clinton had left them little choice, with his arrogant refusal to utter one honest sentence about his abuse of his high office. Is it possible that this President, seeing his options narrowing to nothing, suddenly found the nerve which had so often failed him, and decided that Saddam Hussein could only be punished on the day preceding a crucial vote in the House of Representatives? It is not only possible. It is a moral certainty.

There has been no day in the past month on which the Iraqi despot could not have been "found" to be defying the will of the United Nations. And we know that, since at least the weekend, the administration has been aware of the content of Richard Butler's report. The choice of using force was thus a choice that reposed in Bill Clinton's top pocket, ready to be waved whenever convenient.

LewinskyRecall the extraordinary moment, some 12 days ago, when the United States had actually put its bombers in the air. Only a last-minute change of heart by the Commander-in-Chief himself, the fearless Clinton, called the mission back. As far as I am aware, no President has ever cancelled a strike in that way before. Clearly, Clinton felt that he might need to save up this gesture for later. At that time, received opinion bad it that there were enough Republican waverers to deny passage to the impeachment resolution. But by Wednesday, that prospect had faded to nothing. It would take a real conspiracy theorist to argue that the two factors did not coincide in the Presidential mind. As it happens, I spent Wednesday morning talking to Milt Bearden, the former CIA station chief in Khartoum and Afghanistan. Mr Bearden is prepared to state publicly that the Cruise missile strikes in August, on supposed terrorist facilities in both countries, were conducted without supporting evidence of any kind. Indeed, in official Washington, it is nearly impossible to find an informed person who will not say at least privately that the attacks were bogus. Not everyone will assert they were connected to Monica Lewinsky's return visit to the Grand Jury the following day but then nobody will assert that there is no connection, either.

Senator Trent Lott, the current Republican Majority Leader, has been attacking Clinton for months, accusing him of being soft on Saddam Hussein. Can he be expected to believe that the President decided to take his advice, on the day before the Senate would have been sent an impeachment resolution by the House? Of course he cannot. And he has said so in public.

Say it out loud -- no serious person any longer credits a single word that Bill Clinton says. Since all the facts about Iraq have been "in" for so long, there was also no reason for Clinton not to obey the law and to ask Congress, and the UN Security Council, for leave to proceed. This was no emergency -- except on the domestic front.

On Sunday, Senator Dole rather decently proposed a face-saving compromise for his old rival. Instead of impeachment for perjury, he said, there could be a finding of contempt of court. Contempt, I would say, is the least of it. Just as Clinton operates above the law, so he has now put himself beneath contempt by flourishing the weapon of mass distraction.

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