America Plays World Cop, and Civilians Pay Price

Recently an angel appeared to the Pope and told him that he could escape serving time in purgatory and go straight to heaven if he could endure one more photo op with Bill Clinton. So they met and while the President was staining the Pontiff’s white cassock with his sound bites, a spokesman in the Pentagon was telling reporters that one of those high-I.Q. bombs launched from American warplanes had dumbed itself down, gone astray and landed in a residential section of Basra, Iraq.

In the past year in which the President’s domestic travails have all but eclipsed news of anything else, the nation’s foreign affairs have slid into a worrisome, muddlesome mess. Seemingly, no camel driver, resting his dromedary in a gorge in Afghanistan as he makes himself a cup of tea, can be free from the vague thought that one of Mr. Clinton’s cruise missiles may be winging up the self-same canyon to foreshorten his life or livelihood. The camel driver may ask himself who is the terrorist and who is the terrorized.

Mr. Clinton has fallen prey to the conviction that whenever he feels a hair up his ass, he is entitled to let go with a bomb. Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan have been the recipients of Mr. Clinton’s calling cards the last few months. The grumbling about promiscuous use of violence by the United States is hardly audible here, but some critics, usually dismissed as isolationists, are questioning whether America should play world cop.

There is nothing in se objectionable to being a world cop, but what kind of a cop? There are rogue cops and there are law-abiding cops. Under what set of rules or laws is President Clinton engaging in these desultory and fruitless aerial bombardments? Is a nation justified in setting itself up as a world cop unsanctioned and unsupervised by an international body like the United Nations, which is about as effectual in controlling Mr. Clinton as it is Saddam Hussein?

Judging from his cryptic explanations, the President thinks an announcement that he has evidence of terrorism or the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction is justification enough to start chucking the ordnance around. Terms like “terrorism” or “weapons of mass destruction” have a greater propagandistic weight than probative value or juridical validity.

Before he starts many more of these homicidal missives, he would do well to do some closer analysis.

Take the term “weapons of mass destruction.” In the 20th century, the most-lethal-weapon category isn’t anthrax or any other biotoxin, it isn’t any form of poison gas, it isn’t even the atomic bomb, it is the machine gun. The machine gun has killed tens of millions; the atomic bomb has claimed something on the order of 300,000 victims. Hence a weapon of mass destruction must be defined as much by who owns it as by how many people it can kill how fast.

In that light, justifying the bombing of the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan would tax the ingenuity of all of Mr. Clinton’s sex lawyers. How do you rationalize destroying half of a nation’s capacity to manufacture therapeutic drugs because of a suspicion the same facility may be able to make some form of poison gas? If Mr. Clinton did what it appears he did in Sudan, it was a monstrous act.

If he had compelling evidence, not yet made public, that the Sudanese were doing what he accused them of, and if he had the sanction of some legitimate international body to destroy this putative poison gas capacity, it behooved him not to bomb the place but to insert a ground force to go in, attempt to capture the factory with a minimum of damage, destroy the offending equipment and get out.

This wasn’t done because the President is scared out of his wits that there will be American casualties. Hence his reliance on dangerous and ineffective long-range weapons of mass destruction. What he is doing is the equivalent of arming the New York City police with flame throwers, bazookas and machine guns to put down a civil disturbance. People may disagree about whether or not the United States should play the world cop role, but there can be no reasonable disagreement that, if it does, it should do it right. As it is, Mr. Clinton looks like a gutless politician ready to kill noncombatants in other countries rather than risk the lives of his own soldiers. That may wash with the yahoos whom he plays to with as much zest as do the Republican members of the impeachment committee, but it is contemptible.

Instead of his perpetual personal appearance tours, the President owes it to his compatriots and the world to go off somewhere, sit down, think through what he’s up to and then make a serious, non-sound-bite speech laying it out. He has more explaining to do than his spasmodic long-range bombing attacks.

He needs to address the nation and the world about the narcoleptic American policy in central Africa, where crimes against humanity have been committed the last couple of years on a scale not seen since the days of the Pol Pot murder machine in Cambodia. It is a bitter, bitter business. Here we live in a land where there are many new Holocaust museums. What are these places for? Are they only to mourn people who were murdered 50 years ago? Are they not to be a warning and a beacon to those now living? If so, then why the abjuration “Never again,” when it has happened again and the United States, along with its closest allies, has stood aside and done nothing to stop the butchery?

There are so many questions about foreign policy and conduct that Mr. Clinton does not speak to, not the least of which is the never-ending mess in Yugoslavia, a mess, let it be quickly inserted, made worse by the President’s craven refusal to use the infantry to quell the killing there. Again, there is the resort to long-range bombardment.

The situation in Kosovo also demands an exposition of American policy and principles. Kosovo is a province of the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia so that, by the standards of the past, at least, the intervention there is an intrusion in another nation’s internal affairs. That is not to say it isn’t warranted, but it implies a new fabric of international law and usage.

Until the end of the Cold War, a despot had been conceded the right to murder, torture and rape his own people without hindrance from the outside. Now that is changing, but what are the new rules and will the United States play by them? If a massacre of 50 or 60 human beings in Kosovo can trigger outside investigations and arrests and punishments, then what about the event in Waco? Will the United States, as it has not yet done, acquiesce in a limitation of national sovereignty? What constitutes a crime against humanity as compared to a terrible crime but not one cognizable by the new international law enforcement institutions just coming into existence? There are yet other questions, as pressing and important, about the case of Augusto Pinochet.

To all of this, we get nothing from Mr. Clinton, who gives the impression that he doesn’t know the difference between being President and being a celebrity. His traffic-snarling descents hither and yon may feed his hunger for fan club adulation, but signing autographs won’t cut it, no more than his vacuities about boldness, leadership, vision and the 21st century. For a man who loves to wave his mouth around, it is long past time that he say something worth listening to.