The truth about Clinton and “Wag the Dog”

Sep 24, 2006 6:35pm

President Clinton got into a heated discussion with Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace Sunday about whether he could have done more to kill Osama bin Laden. It’s available on YOUTUBE HERE.

 The truth about Clinton and Wag the Dog

In the interview Clinton said that during the 1990s conservatives criticized him for "obsessing" over bin Laden and "they ridiculed me for trying" to kill bin Laden.

So let’s examine the record… The most aggressive strike the Clinton Administration launched against al Qaeda was in August 1998 when U.S. cruise missiles were sent to six terrorist compund sites in Afghanistan and the El Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries factory in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum where U.S. officials say chemical weapons were being housed.

Those of you old enough to remember may recall people raising the "Wag the Dog" scenario…(The idea, nicknamed from the David Mamet movie, being that the attack was unnecessary and only to distract from the president’s troubles; he was in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal at the time.)

So…who impugned Clinton’s motives?

After Clinton ordered the attacks in August 1998, ACCORDING TO THIS STORY in the Associated Press, "most lawmakers from both parties were quick to rally behind Clinton in a deluge of public statements and appearances yesterday, a marked contrast to the relatively sparse and chilly reception that greeted his Monday statement on the Lewinsky matter."

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"I think the president did exactly the right thing," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said. "By doing this we’re sending the signal there are no sanctuaries for terrorists." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) called the attacks "appropriate and just," and House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) said "the American people stand united in the face of terrorism."

The AP says: "Gingrich dismissed any possibility that Clinton may have ordered the attacks to divert attention from the scandal. Instead, he said, there was an urgent need for a reprisal following the Aug. 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. ‘Anyone who watched the film of the bombings, anyone who saw the coffins come home knows better than to question this timing,’ Gingrich said. ‘It was done as early as possible to send a message to terrorists across the globe that killing Americans has a cost. It has no relationship with any other activity of any kind.’

Moreover, the story goes on to say that Gingrich adviser Rich Galen e-mailed to conservative radio talk show hosts that: "Speaker Newt Gingrich has made it clear to me" that the attacks were necessary and appropriate, Galen said. "This is a time to put our nation’s interests ahead of our political concerns. I am asking you to help your listeners, your friends, and your associates to look at this situation with the sober eyes it deserves."

Exceptions came in the forms of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) — who said "There’s an obvious issue that will be raised internationally as to whether there is any diversionary motivation" — Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-MO) — who said "there is a cloud over this presidency" — and Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) — who said: "The president has been consumed with matters regarding his personal life. It raises questions about whether or not he had the time to devote to this issue, or give the kind of judgment that needed to be given to this issue to call for military action." 

What about the "vast right-wing conspiracy," as coined by the then-First Lady?

On PBS’s News Hour, conservative commentator PAUL GIGOT SAID about Specter’s comments that "you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt. But I thought when Dan Coats says something, I usually listen, because he’s a serious guy; he’s not a grandstander, and I took that as a sign …of how much credibility the president has lost on Capitol Hill. I think Dan Coats was wrong." Gigot called any Wag the Dog accusations "frivolous."

The conservative National Review WROTE "Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, surely Sandy Berger and Bill Cohen would not take part in any wag-the-dog scenario. Republicans who suggest otherwise–including, to our astonishment and his embarrassment, the usually sober Sen. Dan Coats (R., Ind.)–should be ashamed of themselves. President Clinton should instead be commended for finally responding appropriately to a terrorist attack."

On THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, Pat Buchanan said "there was every justification for it. It was a retaliatory strike, it’s a pre-emptive strike, it was decided a week ahead of time, unanimously in the Ex Com of the National Security Council. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the president timed this for political reasons, and I think the Republicans who have stood behind the president in these strikes are exactly right."

ON THE OTHER HAND…there’s the mainstream media.

The conservative Media Research Council NOTED that "every network did raise the "Wag the Dog" scenario." And indeed, according to the MRC story linked above, CBS ABC and NBC all raised the notion — with Senator Coats as a leading voice.

DATELINE NBC devoted a December 1999 piece directly using clips from the film to question the basis for the bombing.

And Frank Bruni of the New York Times devoted A WHOLE STORY TO THE NOTION.

So…quite frankly, it looks as though the "mainstream" media did a lot more to question President Clinton than did the GOP leadership apparatus, along with Ashcroft, Specter and Coats. The mainstream media along with conservative media such as WORLDNETDAILY.*

Please send in your fave links to augment or dispute the above conclusions….

–jake

*(An interesting side note — Clinton WAS slammed by Republicans for using "Wag the Dog" tactics after he authorized a strike against Iraq in December 1998, during impeachment. According to the Los Angeles Times, then-Senate Majority Leader Lott took the step of refusing to back the military action, saying "the timing and the policy are subject to question." And other Republicans — including then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) and then-Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) — expressed similar sentiments.) 

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