President bombs Iraqis, and his soft-guy image

MIKE ROYKO

June 30, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Only a month ago, President Clinton was jeered when he showed up for a Memorial Day ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial wall.

Unforgiving veterans hooted that he was a draft dodger, a war protester and kind of a soft guy.

But with one decisive act, he has swept aside the talk of draft dodging, war protesting and being kind of a soft guy.

And today he stands tall, a bold commander in chief, first in the hearts of his countrymen -- at least those 800 or so countrymen the pollsters phone after a newsworthy event.

He did this by ordering that part of downtown Baghdad be zapped by 23 of our big Tomahawk missiles so that Saddam Hussein and others would know that they can't mess with us and get away with it.

The attack was punishment for an alleged plot by villains from Iraq to bump off George Bush during a visit by the former president to Kuwait in April.

So we dropped the missiles on Saddam's intelligence headquarters, where the assassination plot is believed to have been hatched.

And now the White House is eagerly awaiting the next polls that measure Clinton's approval ratings. They are certain that the missile attack will give him a big bounce.

Of course, there are those who aren't impressed. You just can't please some people.

They say there wasn't much to be gained by blowing up the intelligence complex on a Saturday, when all of the villains were home and the only people in the buildings might have been some floor moppers and broom pushers.

And they also point out that we blew it up once before, and Saddam just rebuilt it. As for the computers and records that were destroyed, any computer hacker knows enough to back up data, so it's assumed the Iraqis have figured that out.

The bleeding-heart types are also questioning whether it was a good idea to shoot missiles at a target that is so near residential areas where innocent civilians live.

As it turned out, a few of the missiles did veer off course and land on some residential buildings, killing at least eight civilians and maiming another dozen or so.

But, hey, who is perfect? Even the greatest baseball pitchers throw wild pitches. Michael Jordan has missed easy slam dunks.

So when you push a button and send a bunch of missiles soaring several hundred miles, you can't expect perfection. Even the missile manufacturer's warranty says that a few of them might go hither and yon. And that's just bad luck for those people who happened to be living hither and yon.

In Clinton's defense, it should be noted that the missiles landed at about 2 a.m., when the innocent civilians were probably sleeping and never knew what hit them.

And as Slats Grobnik put it: "Who told those people to be Iraqis any way? Nothing would have happened to them if they had the sense to have been born Swedes."

Other nitpickers will ask why, if we are going to kill anyone, we didn't try to kill Saddam himself, since he is the worst of Iraq's evildoers.

Which just shows how little the nitpickers know about foreign policy, global strategy, balance of power, national interests and other topics of cocktail chitchat in Washington.

Of course we didn't try to blow up Saddam. We don't want to blow up Saddam. The last thing in the world we need is a dead Saddam. Why, if someone got lucky and dropped a missile on Saddam's lap, he would probably be in big trouble.

Dirty rat that Saddam is, we want him to stay in power so that Iraq doesn't fall apart, which would allow Iran to jump in and grab part of it and cause even bigger problems in that part of the world. So while Saddam is a dirty rat, he is our preferred dirty rat.

That's why we blew up his empty intelligence headquarters and a few innocent bystanders, or bysleepers, if you prefer. We let him know we're mad at him without harming a hair on his lip.

That's diplomacy.

But the most significant element of the missile attack is the growth of President Clinton into a hard guy.

It was only a week or two ago that Clinton stood by as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, his Supreme Court nominee, talked about her late mother.

Clinton was so moved that he got all teary-eyed and sniffly, which he has publicly done during other emotional moments. This is one of the reasons why some people thought he was kind of a soft guy.

But after the missiles landed, killing those civilians in their sleep, his spokesperson just said that he "expressed regret." No weeping or sniffling. Just a presidential expression of regret.

Which shows how a man can grow into a job. Here we have someone who ducked the Vietnam carnage because he thought it was wrong (and it would have disrupted his political aspirations). And he even took part in protest marches against the horrors of that war.

But now he has developed the kind of backbone needed to issue an order that results in the deaths and injuries of sleeping civilians.

He has learned that a man's got to do what a man's got to do.

Especially when those approval ratings are hitting bottom.

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