African Journey Isn't Necessarily Respite for Clinton

By Strobel, Warren P. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

African Journey Isn't Necessarily Respite for Clinton


Strobel, Warren P., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Like college students pining for spring break at Daytona Beach, President Clinton and his staff have been eagerly awaiting the start of his 12-day journey through Africa for weeks now.

The long-planned trip that begins Sunday offers Mr. Clinton a chance to get far, far away from it all - away from an independent prosecutor who investigates his every step, from television and newspapers that are filled with charges of lurid sexual behavior.

Or maybe not.

Mr. Clinton's history of foreign travel is a history of long-distance ambushes, of domestic events reaching around the world to spoil carefully made plans.

White House officials are hoping it won't happen again as their boss makes a historic trip through sub-Saharan Africa, by far the most extensive mission by a sitting president and the first of its kind in 20 years. But they are resigned to surprises from back home and embarrassing questions from U.S. journalists as Mr. Clinton poses with African leaders.

"What'll be on the front page will still be on the front page," said White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry.

It happened on a 1993 trip to Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe, when Mr. Clinton was dogged by reports about the imminent appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater.

It happened last May when, in the midst of a triumphal NATO meeting in Paris, the Supreme Court handed Mr. Clinton a bitter defeat by allowing the Paula Jones lawsuit against him to go forward.

And it happened last October in South America, when the campaign fund-raising scandal and newly discovered White House videotapes provided fodder for reporters accompanying Mr. Clinton, frequently overshadowing the message he was trying to send back home.

Some White House officials are hoping the Africa trip - one of at least a half-dozen foreign trips planned this year - is so historic and different it will be more immune to domestic interference.

"Our sense is that this thing is so precedent-shattering . . . it's going to generate more excitement than the previous trips," said one official involved in planning the trip.

But Mr. McCurry said he doesn't necessarily share that optimism. He said some of the president's domestic policy initiatives, like expanding educational opportunities and saving Social Security "are arguably of historic proportions, and they don't seem to divert focus from stories about sex. …

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