Clinton's timing of attack impeccable for publicity


June 30, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

I have only one problem with our missile attack on Baghdad: The time of day it occurred.

Our Tomahawk missiles landed on Iraqi intelligence headquarters at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Why that late?

I thought we were supposed to be killing terrorists, not cleaning ladies.

While I have never been to Iraq, I have been to the Middle East and I can tell you there are very few eager-beaver types at their desks at 2 a.m.

Why would you be trying to impress your boss if you worked for Saddam Hussein? What would it get you? If you worked real hard and put in a lot of hours would he promote you to Vice Dictator?

By 2 a.m., in fact, even the cleaning crews were probably long gone. The only thing we were likely to blow up were photocopiers and fax machines.

So what message were we sending? Mess with our ex-presidents and we'll mess with your office equipment?

I would have thought that 2 in the afternoon on a Monday would have been a better time for an attack if we really wanted to get the guys who planned to kill George Bush.

Nor did the Pentagon's official explanation make any sense to me: We picked 2 a.m. on a Saturday night (technically Sunday morning) in order to avoid "civilian casualties."

But civilians are going to be home in their beds at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. (Baghdad does not have much of a disco scene.) And that is where some of them were when three of our missiles went astray, dropping 2,952 pounds of high explosives on their heads.

[Let me say right off that three misses and 20 hits is an excellent batting average and I have no problem with our military's accuracy -- just as long as nothing ever falls on my head.]

So, to me, the timing of our attack makes sense only when you look at what time it was in America:

It was 6 p.m. on a Saturday when the missiles landed.

Which meant the administration could flood the Sunday talk shows and also make the covers of the news weeklies.

And before any naysayers or critics or whining talking heads could even gather together all the facts, the administration had Vice President Al Gore on "Face the Nation", Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell on "Meet the Press", Secretary of State Warren Christopher on "This Week with David Brinkley", a Time cover that said "Hitting Back at Terrorists" and a headline on Newsweek's cover that said "Striking Saddam."

Better yet, by launching the attack on a Saturday afternoon, Clinton could give "off the cuff" remarks about it on his way into church the next day.

Clinton rarely takes questions on his way into church, but this Sunday he walked over to the cameras.

And, holding a Bible in his left hand, he declared the attack a success and, taking note of the civilian casualties, said, "I'm sorry that had to happen, but we had minimal loss of life."

Which is true. By striking at such a late hour in Baghdad, we were sure to kill very few people in the intelligence headquarters.

We are calling this a "proportional" response to the Iraqi plot to kill George Bush in Kuwait. Because the plot failed and nobody got blown up, I guess we decided it would look bad if we blew up too many Iraqis.

But our attack is supposed to raise the question in the mind of Saddam Hussein: "Gee, if they send 23 missiles when a bomb doesn't go off, what will they send if one does?"

In America, however, people were not talking about the message that Clinton was sending to Hussein. They were talking about the message that Clinton was sending to the American people and to Congress:

Clinton had shown how decisive he could be.

He had shown he had no qualms about using military force. (In other words, just because Clinton didn't want to get killed in Vietnam 24 years ago, doesn't mean he doesn't have the guts to kill people today.)

He had shown he was no pushover.

And it all worked.

Before the bombing, a New York Times-CBS poll found Clinton with a 39 percent approval rating. After the bombing, Clinton's approval rating leapt to 50 percent.

And Clinton has learned a valuable lesson:

Launch Tomahawk missiles against your enemies and the American people will love you for it.

So if I were Bob Dole, I'd watch my step from now on.

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