The Wag the Dog Caucus

Nothing better symbolizes the poisoned partisanship of the times than the number of prominent Republicans who seem to believe that James Carville orchestrated the attack on Iraq. That master cynic, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, was at least muted in his words as he opposed the timing of the cruise-missile assault. Just before the bombing of Baghdad, Florida’s Tillie Fowler, the token woman in the post-Gingrich GOP House leadership, claimed that the Iraqi showdown was just a ruse by a president who “is shameless in what he would do to stay in office.” And Gerald Solomon, the soon-to-retire chairman of the House Rules Committee, couldn’t resist a swan-song appearance before the TV cameras as he blustered about Bill Clinton, “For him to do this at this unbelievable time is just outrageous.”

Chatterbox, who is far from the second coming of Curtis LeMay, tends to support the bombing raids as sadly inevitable. But he also suspects that political considerations may have subtly influenced president’s decision. Calm down, Chatterbox is not endorsing those irresponsible GOP conspiracy theories. The truth may be precisely the opposite of what the Tillie Fowlers fear.

Confronted with a unanimous endorsement of the Iraq-and-ruin attacks by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Clinton may well have decided that he lacked the political muscle to resist these bombs-away pressures. Up to now, Clinton has been the leading skeptic among those sitting around the Situation Room table about the policy merits of an all-out cruise-missile assault on Saddam. But if, on the eve of the House vote, rumors spread in military circles that Clinton was fecklessly resisting military action, Congress would have gone beyond impeachment and recommended lynching. So Clinton took the politically prudent course, bowing to the hawkish wisdom of his military advisers, and let the bombs fly.

Walter Shapiro