Time to Rethink: At Turn of the Year U.S. Iraq Policy Cries out for Re-Evaluation

By H, Richard | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

Time to Rethink: At Turn of the Year U.S. Iraq Policy Cries out for Re-Evaluation


H, Richard, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Time to Rethink: At Turn Of the Year U.S. Iraq Policy Cries Out for Re-evaluation

Not much happens in Washington during the last week of the calendar year. Since most people who live and work in the national capital originally are from somewhere else, many go back to wherever they came from to spend Christmas with their extended families, and don't return until after New Year's day.

My original home in California was a little too far away for frequent visits, so during some of my years with the U.S. government I was almost the only person in my Washington office during that week. Most other government offices also were down from 5 or 10 to 2 or 3 persons, and the results were marvelous to behold.

For one magic week whoever answered the telephone very likely was also the person in charge, or sitting right next to that person. As a result, everyone knew exactly what anyone else in the office was doing and could give yes or no answers to all questions. And, if I had an important directive or telegram to get out, the multiple clearances from other departments that might ordinarily take a week could be obtained in a morning.

It was an annual time of bureaucratic miracles and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. What's more, then as now, Washington's normally extremely heavy traffic was reduced by half.

This year was no different. Less than a week after the last of four nights of bombing Iraq, the vast parking lots at the Pentagon were nearly empty. And just days after impeaching a president for only the second time in American history the 435 members of the House of Representatives and thousands of their staff members had left to spend the Christmas holidays in the states they represent.

So had the 100 senators, but those with media smarts and presidential ambitions had left their telephone numbers with the networks for interviews on what they expected to do after Jan. 1, when the House bill of impeachment, which corresponded to an indictment, was to be turned over to the Senate for a trial on whether President Bill Clinton should or should not be removed from office.

His alleged crimes of lying under oath about an improper relationship with a young female White House intern, and abuse of power to cover it up, seemingly had nothing to do with the Middle East. But the president had ordered missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan last Aug. 19, only two days after intern Monica Lewinsky's damning testimony before a grand jury was still reverberating in the press. And he ordered the air strikes on Iraq Dec. 16, the day before House impeachment hearings were to begin.

This prompted concerns that the military actions abroad were intended to distract from his impeachment problems at home. Nor did the cessation of strikes on Iraq only two or three hours after the House impeachment vote had been concluded alleviate such suspicions. Whether true or false, they demonstrated that there is no way to separate a president's private life from his official duties.

The December airstrikes also threw a harsh spotlight on U.S. policy toward Iraq, setting in motion Iraq-related inquiries that attracted more Washington media attention than foreign affairs normally do. Correspondents from major U.S. newspapers sent to Iraq to cover the bombing ended up filing heartrending reports of the devastating long-term effects of U.N. sanctions on the suffering Iraqi people. And, within the space of an otherwise sparse media week, three Iraq-related events took place at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

First, White House National Security Adviser Samuel Berger held a well-attended press conference Dec. 22 to refute suspicions that U.S. actions in Iraq were domestically driven and that in any case U.S. policy there has reached a dead-end. Only six days later, during a Press Club panel of four speakers sponsored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), former career United Nations official Denis J. …

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