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U. S. Strikes Hasty and Provocative

Michael J. Ring

If President Clinton had any credibility left after his embarrassing performance last Monday, surely his actions of last Thursday have wiped it away. In the wake of his grand jury testimony, Bill Clinton is struggling to maintain order in his presidency. His decisions to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan, however, have the opposite, chilling effect. At best, they were a poorly calculated, dangerous series of maneuvers that endanger America rather than protect it. At worst, they were a real-life "Wag the Dog" scenario, explicitly designed to avert attention from the White House sex scandal.

The administration, of course, denied that connection, saying these attacks had been planned for over a week, since shortly after the United States embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that prompted this retaliation. But as Clinton had also known for several weeks of his impending testimony about Lewinsky, this excuse rings hollow.

Even rejecting this motivation, these attacks are still highly irrational and potentially very damaging. The strikes last week were completely out of character for Clinton. He had previously followed a tempered, thoughtful foreign policy approach. While reserving the right to use our military power, he had given every effort to find a diplomatic solution to conflicts in the world's hot spots, and failing that, undertake joint military actions with other nations. Our work with the United Nations to resolve the conflicts in Iraq, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Bosnia are examples of this beneficial approach.

Last week, however, the United States stood alone in attacking a pharmaceutical plant outside Khartoum that was believed to be manufacturing chemical weapons and suspected terrorist camps in southern Afghanistan linked to Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. Our actions were not under the auspices of a multinational political or military alliance. They were provocative unilateral actions.

Perhaps these bombings were necessary and the targets attacked were actual terrorist sites. But if these facilities were known to have been a danger to American security for a long time, then why were they not bombed months or even years ago?

While our close allies issued supportive statements after the bombings, they were only words, not deeds. Many of the world's leaders were furious. Russian President Boris Yeltsin was particularly enraged that Clinton did not even have the courtesy to inform him promptly that these military actions were to occur. Given Russia's tenuous grip on free government and the thousands of nuclear warheads still at its disposal, any action which causes our relationship with Russia to decay is very, very serious.

Clinton's actions were greeted with equal abhorrence and disdain in much of the Muslim world, especially Pakistan. That nation, which has lodged a formal complaint over U.S. actions, justifiably feels its sovereignty was violated as American-launched, Afghanistan-bound missiles cruised through its airspace without its assent. Clinton's hasty actions have angered another nation in a delicate international conflict and could further destabilize South Asia in the wake of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests.

What shall the United States reap for its actions against bin Laden? These attacks have done more to endanger America's security than stabilize it. When we took similar action against Libya in 1986, we were met with retaliation when Pan Am Flight 103 burst in the Scottish sky. Already, United Nations workers have been injured in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The bombing of a Planet Hollywood in South Africa may indicate terrorists will not be cowed by U.S. attacks. Israel, the state least timid about using counterstrikes and assassinations as counterterrorist measures, only continually sentences itself to more retaliatory attacks as a result of its actions. Counterterrorist strikes are only effective when done as a multinational, thoughtful effort. These bombings clearly do not pass that test.

I fear Bill Clinton has lost control of his rational decision-making process and has endangered American security and lives in an attempt to save his presidency. Resignation suddenly seems a very palatable option.