Iraq and Impeachment

President Clinton did the right thing in launching air strikes, with Britain, against Saddam Hussein's war machine. He did it at the right time: while the weather allows, while troops are ready, before the Ramadan holy month began, and before Saddam had time to hide forces and equipment.

It's understandable, but regrettable, that many congressional Republicans, particularly Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, question the president's timing. Mr. Clinton's credibility with GOP members had been seriously damaged by his behavior even before the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which, for them, is merely the icing on the cake. Republicans remember that on more than one occasion, the president has told them one thing during legislative negotiations, only to march out before the TV cameras and say the opposite a short time later.

Still, it's a sad commentary on the state of American politics that the president has to defend his military decisions from comparisons with a silly Hollywood movie.

There is no doubt some action was necessary. Saddam has time and again obstructed United Nations inspectors trying to verify that he has ended his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, only to promise cooperation when threatened with force.

Senator Lott observes that administration policy has done nothing to get rid of the central problem: Saddam's dictatorship. It's fair to say that the US and its allies need a comprehensive strategy towards Iraq that goes far beyond air strikes.

Meanwhile, the House also did the right thing in postponing the impeachment debate for at least a day.

Democrats argue debate should wait until combat has ended. But it's hard to know when that might be. With wavering GOP moderates coming down almost unanimously against the president, impeachment on a straight party-line vote is virtually assured.

Members' decisions on how to vote have not come easily. Republicans of all stripes decided to impeach after carefully considering the evidence that the president lied under oath. Many know they could get shellacked at the polls for doing so. Democrats, too, are in a tough position, defending the presidency and seeking fair play for a president they know has acted badly.

Democrats will try to substitute censure for impeachment on a procedural vote that will probably fail. Whatever the outcome, the larger concern of upholding the Constitution and the traditional moral underpinnings of the nation is of prime importance.

President Clinton needed to act on Iraq's challenge, and now.

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