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Analysis: Clinton's Troubles Open The Door To Harsh Questions

By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (Aug. 21) -- Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. Bill Clinton looks to be just plain damned.

In the immediate wake of his confession of a "wrong" relationship with Monica Lewinsky, America's president is stuck between the rocky job of leading the world's remaining superpower and the hard place he's in because of his damaged credibility.

A s usual in times of international trouble, a majority of lawmakers rallied to support the president's decision this week to order missile attacks on suspected terrorist-linked sites in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Still, immediately following Clinton's announcement, there were whispers it was all a "diversion" and a handful of members of Congress publicly questioned his timing.

Leading that charge Thursday was Sen. Dan Coats. By Friday, though, the Indiana Republican tempered his earlier comments. Coats said he supported the operation but added, "It is the president's private scandal that is leading to the public's skepticism."

That's true. By cheating on his wife and lying about it to the country for seven months, Clinton gave an already cynical public license to wonder if he was playing "change the subject."

It also gave lawmakers justification to come out in the early moments of an international crisis and make potentially harmful criticisms of the commander-in-chief, before they even heard the evidence of why the attacks were ordered.

Members of the military and intelligence communities were right to be offended by the "Wag The Dog" parallels, which -- if true -- would mean they were complicit in an effort to save Clinton's political hide.

White House staffers were rightfully angry as well. Should the president have delayed action until the Lewinsky mess had settled down? If another act of terrorism had cost more American lives, the president would have come under intense and deserved fire for not acting more decisively.

But the kneejerk reactions after the attacks show how the broken trust has undermined Clinton's presidency.You almost want to pity the man. For the rest of his term, even when he's telling the truth, some people will think he's lying. Say goodbye to the bully pulpit for now.

How seriously Clinton has damaged his presidency remains to be seen. The real test of the damage will be the next domestic issue the president tries to press with Congress or sell to the American people.

Vietnam aside, most presidents have been able to count on bipartisan support in international affairs.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for Clinton inside the "water's edge." There is plenty of room for contention between the separate ends of Pennsylvania Avenue over the next few months as Washington debates highly charged issues like patient rights, managed care reform, the budget and the parties fight for control of Congress.

Unless the American public remains strongly in the president's corner, look for the next few years to be extremely ugly.

In Other News

Friday, August 21, 1998

White House Says Clinton Needs Attorney-Client Privilege For Impeachment Fight
Cohen, Albright Brief Lawmakers On Raids
Trial Dates Set For Trie, Kanchanalak
Events Leading Up To Clinton's Order To Strike Back
Poll: Most Americans Support Sudan, Afghanistan Strikes
'Wag the Dog' Back In Spotlight

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