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Jewish World Review / Aug. 18, 1998 / 26 Menachem-Av, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

The wages of dishonesty

THE TRUTH IS ON OUR NATIONAL MIND this week. We keep hearing that a small amount of lying, about the right sort of subjects, is certainly a thing to be overlooked.

Can someone who lies about small matters and large, when it counts and even when it doesn't, ever be relied upon?

This administration has been extraordinarily lucky in facing no serious foreign policy crisis in five and a half years. That does not mean the Clinton administration has not been tested. It has, and has failed dismally, both to project resolve to enemies and to level with the American people about what we are really doing on the international front.

The latest news from Iraq suggests that Clinton administration dishonesty will have consequences for our national security for years to come and offers proof that when a president lies promiscuously, a nation that elects him is asking for more than mere embarrassment.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen appeared on television several months ago carrying a 5-pound bag of sugar. His warning was that an equal amount of anthrax could kill millions of people and that Saddam Hussein had already stockpiled great quantities of the stuff. A few months later, the United Nations inspection teams unearthed clear evidence that Iraq had loaded VX nerve gas onto ballistic missiles before the Gulf War and then attempted to conceal what it had done. Other administration officials, including the president himself, warned six months ago that Saddam would be severely punished if he refused to permit "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted" cooperation to U.N. inspection teams.

All of the administration's warnings have amounted to empty bluster. Saddam has repeatedly flouted the U.N. sanctions imposed after the Gulf War and has found after each encounter that the U.S. president does not mean what he says.

When Saddam first thwarted the U.N. chemical and biological weapons inspectors and ostentatiously kicked out of Iraq all of the American members of the inspection team, President Clinton rattled his saber a bit and then tamely backed down when the Russian foreign minister -- an old ally of Saddam's -- brokered an "agreement."

Within a few months, Hussein again provoked a confrontation with the United States. The president harumphed and even threatened war -- not because U.S. interests were at stake, mind you, but because Iraq had committed the truly unpardonable sin of defying the United Nations. But then, within a few days, when the soft-on-Iraq U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan offered to serve as mediator, the president backed down again.

Throughout these little minuets, the president signaled in ways Saddam Hussein understands that America is not serious. While Iraq was thumbing its nose at us and moving forward with every deadly weapon it could lay hands on, President Clinton was permitting Iraq to double its national income by selling more oil for "humanitarian" reasons. By June of this year, President Clinton had cut in half the troops he had sent to the region during the last confrontation with Iraq in February.

But the story reported by Barton Gellman of The Washington Post last week goes one step beyond pusillanimity and into the realm of deceiving the American people. Though both the United States and Great Britain had promised immediate military action if Saddam failed to abide by the Annan-devised agreement -- the so-called "snap back" policy -- both nations, apparently in collusion, have decided to simply pretend that the violations are not happening.

While Secretary of State Madeleine Albright boasts publicly that we are "keeping Saddam in his box," she is apparently directing Richard Butler, leader of UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team, to refrain from making surprise inspections of suspected chemical, nuclear and biological weapons sites in Iraq. The Post reports that the go-slow directive Albright delivered coincides with Iraq's announcement of total non-cooperation with UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Administration.

The Clinton administration has issued the all-too-familiar word-parsing explanation that the secretary of state didn't "order" Butler to do anything.

Americans will remember that reassurance months or years from now, when we must again sacrifice men and treasure to clean up the mess this president has left.


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6/12/98: Wisconsin: a trail blazer?
6/9/98: These girls say no to sex, yes to excellence
6/5/98: Lewinsky's ex-lawyer would feel right at home as Springer guest
6/2/98: English? Si; Republican? No!
5/29/98: The truth about women and work
5/27/98: Romance in the '90s
5/25/98:Taxing smokers for fun and profit
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5/15/98: Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash
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4/15/98: Tax time
4/10/98: Armey states obvious, gets clobbered
4/7/98: A nation complacent?
4/1/98: Bill Clinton's African adventure
3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
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2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
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12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.