Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Adverse Effects

About 10 years ago, the infamous impeachment attempt of former President Bill Clinton took place. The public scandal started when Linda Tripp provided Kenneth Starr with her surreptitiously recorded tapes of talks with Monica Lewinsky. On February 12, 1999 the attempt to remove Clinton from office eventually failed. Clinton’s impeachment was based on an alleged, negligible sin; not of having sex with a trainee, but rather not admitting that in public. His prosecutor Kenneth Starr as well as Monica Lewinsky later vanished from the scene. Starr himself was applying the morals of a hypocrite.

When focusing on tackling foreign affairs, Clinton was certainly one of America’s weakest presidents. Only 5 weeks after his inauguration, on February 26, 1993, the New York’s World Trade Center was shaken by an enormous bomb blast in the underground garage. The explosion yielded a 60 meter wide crater in the car park. One may wonder what Clinton would have done if the Twin Towers had actually collapsed with probably far more casualties than the second attack of September 11, 2001. The 1993 bombing was the first assault on American territory by Al-Qaeda, which wasn’t known at that time very much. I remembered the attack recently when listening to a CD with Steve Reich’s ‘City Life’ (Warner Nonesuch, 1995) which contains original voices of fire fighters after the assault in the WTC. Clinton’s later military activities and skirmishes in Mogadishu, Yugoslavia, or Operation Desert Fox in Iraq were generally strictly local operations not with the claim of a global war, which wages his successor now in the 7th year.

It is an interesting speculation how the Lewinsky Affair would later have occupied the ’lame duck’ of 1998 so that urgent tasks with regards to foreign affairs in Afghanistan with its catastrophic development under the Taliban regime were carelessly neglected. Or with respect to Iran, which had just ‘elected’ his more liberal reform president Mohammad Khatami, who would have deserved any support from the US Administration.

Clinton’s emotional condition in early 1999 may be better understood when reading his biography (Clinton, B. My Life, Hutchinson, London 2004). He writes, for instance, on p. 854:

"After the impeachment ordeal, people often asked me how I got through it without losing my mind, or at least the ability to keep doing the job (sic!). I couldn't have done it if the White House staff and cabinet, including those who were angry and disappointed over my conduct, hadn't stayed with me. It would have been much harder if the American people hadn't made an early judgment that I should remain President and stuck with it. If more congressional Democrats had bailed out when it looked like the safe thing to do in January, after the story broke, or in August, after I testified to the grand jury, it would have been tough; instead, they rose to the challenge. Having the support of world leaders like Mandela, Blair, King Hussein, Havel, Crown Prince Abdullah, Kim Dae Jung, Chirac, Cardoso, Zedillo, and others whom I admired helped to keep my spirits up. When I compared them with my enemies, as disgusted as I still was with myself (!), I figured I couldn't be all bad.

"The love and support of friends and strangers made a big difference; those who wrote to me or said a kind word in a crowd meant more than they will ever know. The religious leaders who counseled me (!), visited me at the White House, or called to pray with me reminded me that, notwithstanding the condemnations I had received from some quarters, God is love (!).

"But the biggest factors in my ability to survive and function were personal. Hillary's brothers and my brother were wonderfully supportive. Roger joked to me that it was nice to finally be the brother who wasn't in trouble. Hugh came up from Miami every week to play UpWords, talk sports, and made me laugh. Tony came over for our family pinochle matches. My mother-in-law and Dick Kelley were great to me.

"Despite everything, our daughter still loved me and wanted me to stand my ground. And, most important, Hillary stood with me and loved me through it all. From the time we first met, I had loved her laugh. In the midst of all the absurdity, we were laughing again, brought back together by our weekly counseling and our shared determination to fight off the right-wing coup (!). I almost wound up being grateful to my tormentors (!): they were probably the only people who could have made me look good to Hillary again. I even got off the couch (!)."
(Any additions in brackets).

And all the rest of it. A completely paralyzed president of the only superpower. A few months before that, Pakistan’s atomic bomb had exploded (May 28, 1998), American Embassies in Dar es Salaam und Nairobi had been bombed (August 7, 1998), the Mazar-e Sharif massacre of the Hazara had taken place (a full week in early August of 1998). Osama bin Laden had moved from Sudan to Afghanistan and had already started operating from Kandahar and even Tora Bora, and he and Zawahiri had written and signed a Fatwa of the Islamic Jihad against Jews and Crusaders (see Wright L. The Looming Tower. Al Qaeda’s Road to 9/11. Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2006).

As compared to the massive impact on global peace of the current administration in Washington, the Lewinsky affair appears completely ridiculous, of course. One might speculate, however, whether assaults which had been prepared during periods of forced inactivity of a more self-absorbed president could have been prevented if the American public had not paid so much attention to that kind of absurdity (given the support of other world leaders was in fact granted as described by Clinton). Nota bene, not of having sex with a trainee in the Oval Office or White House’s kitchen, but not saying the truth when it came to admit that in the public. I remember the day well when the Starr report was published in the internet and people all around the world could see the deconstructing of the most powerful man on Earth.

The most significant adverse effect might indeed have been the catastrophic escalation of global terrorism two 2 years later and, as a consequence, what people sometimes call World War IV.

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