Bill’s Crowd Can’t Avoid Plain Facts

The week the Monica Lewinsky story broke, it looked as if the helicopter was about to take off from the South Lawn. The week of the State of the Union address, it looked as if President Bill Clinton was going to become the fifth face on Mount Rushmore. Now it is clear that we are settling in for a long story. It won’t be a long story because the case is complicated. Instead, it is a simple one. If the President did not have an affair with his intern, why was he calling her on the phone, giving her gifts and sending her to one of Washington’s biggest machers for employment advice?

Presidents typically don’t know their interns’ names. If he did have an affair with her, wouldn’t he advise her to deal with it in the same way that he himself has-by legalisms, lying and stonewalling that insults the intelligence?

There is no way for the President’s defenders to pry him out of this crack: (1) No scenario other than an affair explains the relationship. (2) The affair makes the President’s behavior stupid, arrogant and dishonest (stupid because he was sure to be caught; arrogant because he believed he could escape by having his underlings cover for him, and by defaming them if they balked; dishonest because-well, look at the Red Bliss potato on the cover of Feb. 9’s Newsweek , and judge if that is an image of candor). Clinton defenders I have talked to begin by denying (1), though they immediately fall back to the prepared position of saying, “So what?” They cannot cope with (2).

The story will be long because it has fallen into the meshes of an independent counsel, who will be challenged by the Clintons’ legal machine. Discovery, privilege; suit, countersuit; investigation, negotiation-it all takes time. But that is what the law has in abundance. “The law’s delay,” as another leader in a bind put it.

While the law takes its course, other items may float to the surface like dead fish. There, out of the past, was Charlie Trie, the Arkansas-Asian fixer, turning himself in at Dulles Airport. Have Mr. Trie’s Asian patrons decided that the President is no longer worth protecting? Has the Asian bear market induced them to cut their losses?

What Senator Fred Thompson was unable to learn about the campaign finance scandal, the President’s foreign money men may be willing to admit on their own. And if Mr. Trie comes, can Craig Livingstone and Anthony Marceca be far behind? Say this for J. Edgar Hoover-he amassed files he should not have had, but he never let 900 of them walk over to the White House in the company of a bouncer and a repo man.

Not that I underestimate the seriousness of the Lewinsky affair. It is an affront to small-r republican mores. An employee of ours (the President), in a house we own (the White House), had another employee (Miss Lewinsky) service him. George III’s only scepter was the one he carried on state occasions, and no courtier had to kiss it. Patriarchy-not some feminist bugaboo, but the old-fashioned numero , with prostrations, obeisances and droit du seigneur -rules.

It is awkward because other things will be happening, too, like wars with Iraq. When the bombers fly, every evening’s news will have some sidebar on Wag the Dog -a bitter and clever little movie. But Iraq is not Albania, and the anthrax is not being supplied by Dustin Hoffman.

This crisis began last year when Saddam Hussein interfered with United Nations inspection teams on the grounds that they included Americans. The Yank issue was a distraction to get the world talking and to keep the inspectors at bay while his scientists moved their work along. Even if he were to let the inspectors back in, the progress that he already has made would be difficult to detect and reverse. So Saddam Hussein would be in a position to rattle his phials at Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia, or Israel.

We cannot remount the Gulf War. Our military is heading back to late-1970’s levels of hollowness, thanks to spending cuts and a focus on other priorities (e.g., women fighter pilots and officers who follow higher sexual standards than their Commander in Chief). Instead of leading a grand alliance, we will probably have only Britain and Israel on our side. That makes it unfortunate that the Administration has been treating members of the Likud Government as if they were difficult bimbos.

On the other hand, Saddam Hussein does not have the hardware he had six years ago. We should avoid the masochistic errors of soothsayers like Edward Luttwak, who predicted tens of thousands of American casualties and Iraqi legions that were 10 feet tall.

What we should have that we did not have in 1991 is an endgame scenario. The point of the exercise should not be to make Saddam Hussein a nice person, but to hustle him out the door. National Review senior editor Peter Rodman and other conservatives have proposed setting up an Iraqi government in exile, funded with sequestered Iraqi assets and established in the no-fly zones of northern and southern Iraq. Paradoxically, the absence of a United Nations mandate might make such a scheme easier to accomplish, not harder.

We go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Our quarrel with Saddam Hussein is not that he is a tyrant. He is incapable of destroying us. But he is bent on mischief in his neighborhood, which has resources that we need.

We tried dealing with him before Desert Storm, then containing him afterward. Now it looks like time for containment with an edge.

We should not let even a war distract us from our business at home. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan had it right-there is no constitutional crisis. The President has cohorts of diplomats and officers to take up the slack while he prepares his defense, charts the right-wing conspiracy and interviews interns. President Al Gore or President Newt Gingrich would not do any worse. Let justice reign.

Bill’s Crowd Can’t Avoid Plain Facts