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Jewish World Review / June 22, 1998 /29 Sivan, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Clinton: inventing his own reality?

"We are encouraged by the level of
compliance so far with the U.N. inspections."
-- President Clinton, May 1, 1998

SO YOU THINK it doesn't matter that President Clinton has trouble telling the truth? You suppose that he lies only to conceal his tawdry personal conduct?

Well, consider the state of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

The quote above is from the president's last press conference. By announcing himself "encouraged," President Clinton in effect changed U.S. policy toward Iraq. It moved us subtly, yet unmistakably, away from confrontation and toward appeasement of that regime.

Since the Gulf War, it has been our policy -- an inadequate one, but we'll come to that in a moment -- to maintain pressure on the Iraqi regime through sanctions until it complies with all of the relevant U.N. resolutions passed before and after the Gulf War. The most important resolutions relate to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is suffering from U.N.-imposed economic sanctions because it refuses to comply with international weapons inspectors.

Now, some of the nations imposing sanctions, notably France, Russia and China, are tiring of this policy. They are prepared to ignore Iraq's depredations in order to lay their hands on Iraq's oil. The president's comments, it was later explained, were intended for their ears.

But how in the world does pretending that Iraq is complying with U.N. resolutions strengthen the resolve of those nations? They are seeking any excuse to end the sanctions. The president's comments can only undermine his own policy.

In any case, the president's declaration stands in stark contrast to reality. Just a few days before the president's statement that he was "encouraged" by Iraq's conduct, Richard Butler, the United Nation's chief weapons inspector, reported to the Security Council that there had been "virtually no progress" in six months.

And as Fred Hiatt reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, even the president's own administration has expressed nothing but contempt for the lies, evasions and double talk issuing from Iraq. Jamie Rubin, the State Department spokesman, scorned Iraqi officials for "continuing to lie and hide the truth," and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, said that "in the area of chemical and biological weapons, we agree with the U.N. inspectors that there's been zero progress."

The Iraqis have blocked U.N. inspectors from hundreds of sites, dogged inspectors and forbidden them from making unannounced or return visits to suspect sites.

The prospect of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein is more horrifying than their ownership by others because he has used them, not just against enemies like Iran but against unarmed civilians in his own country.

Here is where character matters. The president's Iraq policy is in tatters. The international coalition is wearying of the sanctions regime and willing to look the other way about nuclear and other weapons in Iraqi hands. This is the moment for strong U.S. leadership.

Yet this president, when confronted by uncomfortable truths, simply invents his own truth. The Iraqis are making fools of us by kicking U.S. inspectors out of the country? They are acquiring ballistic missile technology? They are stockpiling nerve gas and chemical weapons? Just say it isn't so.

A group of leading foreign-policy thinkers, including Reagan-era State and Defense Department officials Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Paula Dobriansky, former Clinton CIA chief R. James Woolsey, as well as Donald Rumsfeld and William Bennett have sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott calling upon the United States to adopt a more muscular policy of removing Saddam from power before it is too late. The alternative, already emerging, is an Iraq that can threaten and intimidate its neighbors, impede American interests in the region and sabotage any prospects for peace between Israel and her neighbors.

Unless the president -- or the Congress taking the lead -- can free U.S. foreign policy from fantasies of a "contained" Iraq, we will soon face a revived Saddam Hussein, with a biological weapon under one arm and a chemical one under the other. And all of the sacrifice of blood and treasure fighting and winning the Gulf War will have been in vain.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.