Business As Usual At White House, Officials Say
Iraqis read news reports that Clinton may cover his domestic problems with military action against Iraq
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 26) -- The Clinton administration says it's business as usual at the White House and that international affairs are not being short-changed, despite concerns that charges of a sex scandal have distracted the president.
"The work on Iraq, the work on the Middle East peace process and on the Asian financial crisis continues with no effect," says State Department spokesman James Rubin.
But in Baghdad, the Iraqi propaganda apparatus was quick to charge that President Bill Clinton would try to cover his domestic problems with a military move against Iraq.
And, indeed, U.S. officials say plans are moving toward a military strike against Iraq. But they say those plans have been in the works since last November, when the Iraqis prevented United Nations weapons inspectors from entering
so-called "sensitive sites."
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "would be very foolish to gamble that this scandal will make the United States any less resolute toward him," one diplomat said. "On the contrary, this is the one issue on which even a weakened president can be sure of bipartisan congressional backing."
The image of a besieged U.S. president briefly brought relief for Asian currencies, which stabilized against the greenback. But in most world capitals, the reaction was one of dismay.
"It is quite serious. Asian financial markets, Iraq, they
are all getting pushed to the side because of what is happening in Washington," one Western financial source said in Tokyo.
Charges took focus off Mideast talks
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser for former President Jimmy Carter, the last Democratic
commander-in-chief, said there's no question that Clinton's foreign policy-making will be affected until sex allegations involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky are resolved.
"It makes it very difficult, obviously," he said through a
When former President Richard Nixon was beleaguered by the Watergate scandal, he used international affairs -- particularly the historic opening to China and a visit to Moscow -- to divert attention from his problems at home.
Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state, said later that there had never been a more dangerous time in world history. Kissinger said Nixon was depressed and about to resign while the United States and the Soviet Union still had nuclear missiles pointed at each other.
Clinton and Netanyahu discuss the search for Mideast peace as the presidential scandal was breaking
The allegations last week of sexual misconduct involving Clinton took the focus away from his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Little was accomplished, and there were suggestions that the president was distracted.
Should that be the case, said Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, "That's a problem. That's a problem."
The Israelis were more circumspect.
"We're not concerned with these matters," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week. "We are continuing with the quest for peace -- in an uninterrupted way."
But an Arab diplomat said Monday, "One basic lesson of the peace process is that you need a strong presidential presence in it."
European papers predict Clinton's fall
There also have been suggestions of a "Wag the Dog" scenario involving Iraq. In the movie, a president wages a fake war to divert attention from allegations he molested a young girl at the White House.
Actors Robert De Niro (left) and Dustin Hoffman talk on the set of "Wag the Dog"
Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Clinton has been wounded by the allegations. He called it "a real tragedy because people will perceive this as a 'Wag the Dog' situation, even though I think the administration will try and do what needs to be done.
"The international perception of the U.S. leadership is hobbled," Kagan said. "The assumption is, the president is weak. And this has a direct and immediate impact on the way other countries deal with us."
Newspapers in Europe already are predicting that Clinton will not recover from the scandal.
"He can forget his ambitious domestic policy projects,"
Germany's liberal Frankfurter Rundschau said in an editorial.
"Plans are already being made in the corridors of power for
the time after Clinton. As a weak president at home, he will
also lose influence abroad."
"With a captain in dire straits, will the American ocean liner transform itself into a little diplomatic Titanic?" the French leftist daily Liberation asked in an editorial Monday.
'A perception the president is distracted'
"I think this has a pervasive impact on how he conducts foreign policy on a number of levels," said Marlin Fitzwater, White House press secretary during the Reagan and Bush administrations. "There's a perception the president is distracted and in trouble."
Among Clinton's most immediate concerns is that he may have difficulty convincing Congress to provide big bailouts for Asian economies that are in deep trouble. Asian diplomats in Washington tell CNN they are unconcerned, but they also declined to speak on the record.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is expected to visit Europe and the Persian Gulf region later this week to deal with the most pressing issue -- wrestling Iraq back into compliance with the terms of the Gulf War agreement.
But the tough job of rebuilding support in the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein is bound to be even tougher no matter what the administration says.
Correspondent Steve Hurst and Reuters contributed to this report.