FLASHBACK: Conservative Lawmakers Decried Clinton’s Attacks Against Osama As ‘Wag the Dog’

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"FLASHBACK: Conservative Lawmakers Decried Clinton’s Attacks Against Osama As ‘Wag the Dog’"

In his interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, former President Bill Clinton noted that the political right, which now accuses him of not doing enough to stem the al Qaeda terrorist threat, criticized his 1998 missile strikes in Afghanistan as “wag the dog.” Clinton said:

The people on my political right who say I didn’t do enough spent the whole time I was president saying, Why is he so obsessed with bin Laden? That was wag the dog when he tried to kill him.

Originating from a 1997 movie, Wag the Dog was a phrase used by the right to suggest Clinton’s airstrikes were driven by ulterior motives in an effort to distract the public. Some examples below:

Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-NV):

‘Look at the movie Wag the Dog. I think this has all the elements of that movie,’ Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said. ‘Our reaction to the embassy bombings should be based on sound credible evidence, not a knee-jerk reaction to try to direct public attention away from his personal problems.'” [Ottawa Citizen, 8/21/98]

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA):

There’s an obvious issue which will be raised internationally about the response here as to whether there is any diversionary motive involved. … I have deliberated consciously any references to Ms. Monica Lewinsky, but when you ask the question in very blunt terms, the president’s current problems have to be on the minds of many people.” [CNN, 8/20/98]

Former Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO):

“‘We support the president out of a sense of duty whenever he deploys military forces, but we’re not sure – were these forces sent at this time because he needed to divert our attention from his personal problems?‘ Ashcroft said during the taping of a TV program in Manchester, N.H.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/21/98]

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX):

“I’m very supportive of the strike that has happened, but I will tell you that the timing is very questionable. This was the day that Monica Lewinsky has gone back to the grand jury, evidently enraged. Certainly that information will be overshadowed.” [Dallas Morning News, 8/21/98]

Former Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN):

“Coats (R-IN), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, ‘While there is clearly much more we need to learn about this attack and why it was ordered today, given the president’s personal difficulties this week, it is legitimate to question the timing of this action.‘” [CNN, 8/20/98]

Former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL):

“Although most in Congress rallied around Clinton on Thursday, two Republican U.S. senators and one Central Florida congressman broke with the tradition of standing behind a president during a foreign crisis.Sen. Daniel Coats, R-Ind., Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Palm Bay, publicly questioned Clinton’s motives in launching the attacks so soon after his public admission of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. … ‘The president has, indeed, broken the trust of the American people, and these are legitimate questions that must be answered.’” [Orlando Sentinel, 8/21/98]

Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA):

“All I’m saying is if factors other than good intelligence, military necessity, being prepared for the consequences entered into it, then it is wrong, and it appears that one of those factors that may have entered into it is to take something that could have been done a week ago and do it today in an effort to divert some attention.” [Fox News, 8/20/98]

Much more at Salon’s War Room.

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