August 21, 1998
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields analyze a week that included President Clinton's nationally-televised admission that he had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky and a missile strike against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan.
A RealAudio version of a discussion on the grand jury process.
August 20, 1998:
Text of speeches on the military strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan.
August 20, 1998:
Congress reacts to the military strike against terrorists.
August 19, 1998:
Should President Clinton resign?
August 19, 1998:
Why won't the press drop the Lewinsky story?
August 18, 1998:
Public opinion on the president's address.
August 18, 1998:
Denver discusses the president's testimony.
August 17, 1998:
A special package of coverage on the president's testimony.
August 13, 1998:
What impact will Starr's investigation have on the presidency ?
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Starr Investigation.
The White House.
MARGARET WARNER: For political analysis of this extraordinary week we turn to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. The overnight polls, Paul, showed pretty overwhelming support for the air strikes and for the president's handling of it. Can the administration maintain that support?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, in the short turn there's almost always-in fact, I can't think of an exception where the public hasn't supported a president who wants to use force. I think the longer run risk for the president is that if, in fact, as Madeleine Albright suggests, and Sandy Berger, that we are entering a war-and my own sources on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon take this very seriously-as seriously-then there may be future casualties, and there may be civilian casualties and future terrorist acts. So the president really has to sustain that campaign; he has to make sure that he wins, that we win, that bin Laden and the other terrorists can't continue to strike because if this goes on for a couple of years and there really are terrorist incident after terrorist incident, that is going to be hard on the president.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree that the president in doing this kind of created an expectation of success that now he's going to have to meet?
Congressional support for the U.S. missile strikes.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think as far as an undeclared or declared war on terrorism, that's true, Margaret, but I think there's no question in my conversations with people on Capitol Hill, there's strong backing for this, for this action, for this president, and I think the lie was put very quickly to the sort of cute and cynical "Wag the Dog" scenario that emerged that this was done for political purposes. Norman Schwarzkopf, the general who commanded our forces in the Persian Gulf, explained-General Hugh Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not be a part of any political hanky-panky. It was very fortuitous that the administration had a Republican secretary of defense, Bill Cohen, who would not have tried to just change the subject. So I think this is a pretty serious-I think thoughtful-effort. Whether it's wise is another question, but I think it's serious.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Paul, that if we are in this new kind of war, that people on the Hill will sustain that kind of support? I mean, you heard what Sammy Berger said, essentially they're going to want better, either better intelligence, that involves more money, they're going to want certain diplomatic steps, they're going to want support for maintaining the kind of forces in the region that would enable us to take-make strikes like this.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. In fact, I think the criticism of this administration that I've heard today and in recent-and since the bombing last week from Capitol Hill is not that they have been too eager and wanted too much; it's that they've not done enough. When the Khobar Towers bombing took place in Saudi Arabia, no real response, certainly no military response. Saddam Hussein seems to be asserting himself again, not a great deal of response. The North Koreans are shredding the 1994 nuclear agreement, again, not much of a response. So I think we are seeing a reassertion of national security as a political issue. It's really gone away since the Gulf War ended, and I think we're going to be seeing that as a bigger issue. And, if anything, the pressure will be on the president to do more, not to do less in this regard.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you think Democrats and Republicans on the Hill will support those kinds of efforts?
MARK SHIELDS: I see no body of opinion on the other side on this. I mean, it's not simply-this isn't a recent policy response where the administration has not gone after terrorist acts. I mean, 241 Marines were blown up in a Lebanon barracks in 1983, and there was no response; there was no reaction, other than within 96 hours the invasion of Grenada, where, of course, a Communist takeover of a medical school presented a real national security threat to the United States. That was changing the subject, and I think this-I think this is a different ball game right now.
The "Wag the Dog" scenario.
MARGARET WARNER: So what did you make, Paul, of the reaction that Mark also mentioned among some Republicans, the so-called "Wag the Dog," linking the timing of these attacks to the president's problems on the Lewinsky-Starr front?
PAUL GIGOT: It was only a handful. I think that-I mean, Arlen Specter-frankly, he's a lethal weapon on his way to a TV camera. I think you've got to take that with a grain of salt. But I thought when Dan Coats says something, I usually listen, because he's a serious guy; he's not a grandstander, and I took that as a sign that-of how much credibility the president has lost on Capitol Hill. I think Dan Coats was wrong. He got a briefing today and issued a somewhat more moderate statement, although still not full-fledged support. But the timing-the thing that struck Coats when listening to him was not that the president was necessarily diverting attention from the Lewinsky case. It was why was the action so precipitant this time when it hadn't been over the first six years of his presidency-that was the striking thing to a lot of Republicans, and even John McCain said something like that-why did it-the last seven months had been about delay, and I think that's the critical-and about ignoring some of these problems-and that's the bigger problem for the president more than just the "Wag the Dog" speculation, which is frivolous.
MARGARET WARNER: But the polls-the same polls that showed support for this, Mark, did show that about a third of the public-at least when they were presented with the question-also said they thought the president did it to divert attention from his problems. I mean, how do you explain that?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it-we just had a president go on national television where 80 percent of the people say they saw him and admit that he lied and they had the videotape at home. So-
MARGARET WARNER: You don't think it's hard to explain at all?
MARK SHIELDS: The credibility wasn't helped this week, and there's a skepticism, there's a cynicism in our national life, which is nothing new, and this certainly is reinforced. So I think that the end of the "Wag the Dog" scenario was, quite frankly, applied by Speaker Gingrich and by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, both of whom backed the president's action and sort of shot down the-and Arlen Specter did change his position and tune today, as well, from Pennsylvania.
Should the calls for the president's resignation be taken seriously?
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the strikes did come amidst, of course, the continuing reaction to the president's speech, and there were a number-a growing number of editorials and columnists-not the public-but the editorials and columnists calling for the president's resignation, also some Republicans. How seriously do you take this resignation talk that we heard mid-week?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, the American people are quite ambivalent about this. They want it over, both the NBC survey and the Los Angeles Times survey say Americans just as soon have the whole thing dropped; they were not pleased with the president's apology; they were not satisfied by it, but they're sick of it. Resignation is a nice easy, apparently ouchless, painless way of doing that. It-I think it's absolutely dumb and would be counterproductive to the nation in the long run. We had resignation of one president. That was after 18 months. That was after he was impeached by the House of Representatives. That was after documented allegations and convictions on a number of very serious charges, and when his conviction by the Senate was not only inevitable but apparent. And there is cathartic process that we go through here, and I think that that's terribly, terribly important. To call for a resignation from certain people on the Republican side-from Bill Bennett, I think, from Dan Quayle, from Gary Bauer, who have been leaders of the moral element in that party-is probably genuine and felt. Others are not quite as sincere, and they, quite frankly, don't want the president to leave; they're looking forward to running against a bruised, distrusted, battered, and bloody Bill Clinton, and having Democrats have to defend him in November.
PAUL GIGOT: The resignation calls to pay attention to are from Democrats, because this president is going to be president as long as Democrats want him to be. You don't have partisan impeachments in this country. I mean, you just can't do it. You can't overturn elections that way.
MARGARET WARNER: And a president isn't going to decide he has to resign either if just the other party is talking about it.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, certainly not this president. I mean, he'll need the National Guard before he's going to resign, and he's made that clear. He's made that very clear himself when he was asked about it. But you do hear Democrats-there are very few-I think Paul McHale is the only one-Democrat from Pennsylvania-who has called for resignation. I've heard some newspapers call for it. But there's a great deal of unease among Democrats because they don't know what happens next; they don't know what Ken Starr has; they've now been lied to once; they've climbed out on one limb; they're not about to climb out on another, and so we have a very important event coming up, which is that Starr report, and I think then you're going to see the White House look very, very carefully at every Democrat out there, because that's who holds his fate-it's in their hands.
Will the president address the nation again about the Lewinsky matter?
MARGARET WARNER: The papers were full this morning, Mark, of reports from the Martha's Vineyard White House, some presidential advisers are saying the president has to come out and say something else before the Starr report comes out. Do you think that's the case?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's certainly-there's a lack of full satisfaction, expiation, contrition felt that the president did not deliver on that, and I don't know what the president will do. I mean, certainly if he comes out and gives another speech like he gave Monday night, I don't think it will be helpful.
PAUL GIGOT: I would agree with that. It's interesting. I mean, right now 50 percent of the public, according to one poll I saw, doesn't believe that Starr is going to have evidence of serious crimes or serious evidence rather of crimes. If Starr has that, I think you have the potential for the same people who are now some of the same people who are saying we want it over with, to say wait a minute, this is more serious now, this is not merely a question of infidelity and lying to the public, it's a question about the rule of law and about national standards, national ethical standards, and that becomes a very perilous debate, I think, for the president and for Democrats.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And we'll be there for it. Thank you both very much.