Today's Papers

Not So Clean Livingston

The nation’s split-screen crisis leads all around–with banner headlines referring to both impeachment and Iraq the order of the day. The papers note that the House impeachment debate begins this morning and presumably a third day of military actions will soon follow. So at some point then, there will be at one and the same time charges raining down on Bill Clinton’s head and bombs raining down on Saddam Hussein’s.

The papers report that in the first two days of the Iraq operation, there were no U.S. casualties, and that in Baghdad, officials are claiming that at least 25 Iraqis have died. The coverage also quotes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Henry Shelton’s comment that targets successfully hit included Saddam’s Baghdad military headquarters and barracks there housing his security forces. He is also quoted saying that other strikes were “not as successful.” None of the papers note the Pentagon briefing technique on display here: While Shelton illustrated the successful hits with before and after photos, the misses were not illustrated. It’s reported that one of the Baghdad sites struck by cruise missiles was the home of the youngest of Saddam Hussein’s three daughters. The Washington Post quotes an Iraqi official asking if her house was one of the key structures for the rule of Iraq. Nobody explains whether or not the building seems to have been hit intentionally.

USA Today, the New York Times and the WP all run President Clinton’s forceful response to the suggestion made previously by senior Republicans that he ordered the airstrikes to distract from the drive to impeachment: “I don’t think any serious person would believe that any president would do such a thing.” The papers also note a general climb-down among the Republican bigfeet from such suggestions, and indeed, everybody carries Newt Gingrich’s remarks on the House floor that “no matter what our debates at home, we are as a nation prepared to lead the world.”

The NYT front features a story stating that while American and British forces have targeted military, intelligence, and communications facilities, they have avoided hitting known Iraqi chemical and biological weapons sites in order to avoid unleashing plumes of poisons into the air that could kill Iraqi civilians. The paper notes the oddity of this given that one of the stated aims of the strikes is non-proliferation. A piece on the Los Angeles Times front offers something of an answer: The Clinton military strategy is “containment-plus,” the plan to use force whenever needed–not just this one time–combined with financial incentives to motivate some indigenous Iraqi force to rise out of the chaos thus created to topple Saddam.

The papers note some international criticism. The WP says that Russia’s lower house of Parliament passed with only one dissenting vote a resolution saying the U.S. strikes were terrorism. The NYT reports that at the U.N., Iraq, China and Russia all called for an immediate stop to the raids (using its time-zone-assisted later deadlines, the LAT reported this yesterday). The WP says there were protests in Cairo, Beirut and Jordan.

Meanwhile, the papers report, Congress yesterday was the site of bitter debate over whether or not the impeachment debate and vote should proceed while our forces are fighting overseas. Everybody notes that Bob Livingston, in his first floor speech since being chosen to be the next Speaker, claimed as precedent the Nixon impeachment hearings, which he claimed went on when “troops, American troops were deployed in the field in Vietnam….” No member of Congress nor any paper but the NYT caught Livingston’s mistake. But the Times, befitting its reputation for solid historical reporting, notes that in fact, the last American combat troops left Vietnam seven months before the House Judiciary Committee got the Nixon case.

Livingston’s other big whoops of the day got a lot more attention. Because of the imminent release of a Roll Call piece based on a story Hustler is apparently working on indicating that Livingston has had numerous affairs during his 33-year marriage, Livingston preemptively fessed up. He suggested that his situation was different from Bill Clinton’s because his affairs were “not with employees on my staff, and I have never been asked to testify under oath about them.” Well, Congressman, just to reassure the nation, you wouldn’t mind doing that now, would you?