The Breakfast Table

Land of the Free

Dear Ruth:

Let me do my patriotic duty and seize on the last line of your last transmission to point out to those Slate readers who are nervous travelers that the Canadian dollar is now at 65 cents US. A Canadian diner on the Maine-New Brunswick border is advertising the following special: for $10 US bucks, you get eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee-and $10 Canadian in change. If not quite the land of the free, it’s the land of 50% off. And there’s no need to fear Islamic terrorists on the Interstate!

Forgive me if I bypass your concerns about international law, etc. We’re just going to have to disagree on those, as we did last week. My view is that if somebody injures Americans and threatensAmerican interests, then the U.S. government should whack the hell out of him. If that somebody retaliates, why whack the hell out of him. Let me proceed to what is to me the more nerve-wracking issue: the Wag the Dog problem. I believe that this mission is not motivated by domestic politics. Why do I believe that? Obviously not because I have any evidence to justify that view: it’s all tip-top secret. I believe it because men like John McCain and Sandy Berger tell me so-and I believe in them.

But that brings to the fore the hideous damage that President Clinton’s deceit has done to the interests of the U.S.. Your feminist instincts probably bristled at my use of the word “men” in the previous paragraph. The word is chosen advisedly, because one of the persons who ought to have our confidence-the secretary of state-is nowhere to be seen. And why not? In part, I think, because her credibility has been retroactively destroyed. In that famous session on the White House portico, when reporters asked whether the assembled cabinet secretaries believed the president, there was a fatal interval in which Daley and Shalala hemmed and hawed. In that interval, Albright seized the initiative and emphatically declared that she did. In other words, she’s a gullible chump. If she were now to tell us that she believed the president’s assurances about the bona fides of Thursday’s raid, it would add scarcely one jot of credibility.

It’s right and proper to debate the utility of force in a given situation, or even in general. But it is verydamaging to the country that we should be entertaining the doubts that none of us-and none of America’s allies-can help entertaining about this raid.

Do you know the story about Dean Acheson and Charles De Gaulle in a similar situation? In 1963, President Kennedy sent Acheson on an emergency mission to present to the allies the U.S. satellite photographs of the Russian rockets in Cuba to obtain their support. The story is told that when Acheson called on De Gaulle–not a leader ordinarily given to outbreaks of passionate pro-Americanism–De Gaulle refused even to look at the photographs. Do not insult me, he is said to have said, by showing me proof. If the president tells me it is so, I believe it is so.

Maybe nobody can believe in a president that much in this more skeptical era. But it would be nice if we could believe in him more than we believe in this one. (Charles Krauthammer had an excellent column in yesterday’s Post about why this president has forfeited that trust: it was the seven months of additional lying and forcing his friends to pretend they believed the lie, rather than the original lie itself, that has so shattered his credibility.) More than nice: it’s necessary. And it’s entirely Clinton’s fault that it is otherwise, and it will remain his predicament until he leaves office or is removed.

We are coming to the close of our correspondence, so let me summarize where we stand on our wager. I made four predictions about the Monday speech:

1. The dress was real. Apparently I’m right about that one.2. The president would not use a semantic defense. Wrong.3. The president’s speech would be an emotional tour de force. Wrong again.4. He’s finished. Pending.

In other words, the wager will turn on question 4. If I am right, you owe me the autographed magazine; if Iam wrong, I owe you the photo. We ought to set a deadline. Christmas?