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Reaction to U.S. Bombings Positive

August 21, 1998

Divided over President Clinton’s personal life, critics and supporters in Congress are mostly united behind his decision to bomb terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan.

``This does not involve the president of the United States,″ said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. ``It involves the security of our nation.″

But there were discordant voices in the choir. While some of the nation’s most prominent Republicans rallied behind Clinton, others questioned the timing of Thursday’s attacks _ just three days after the president admitted having an improper relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

``Because this president has broken his bond of trust with the American people, his motives will be suspect in every action he takes _ both at home and abroad,″ said Rep. Jon Christensen, R-Neb., nonetheless adding that he supported the bombings.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind, said, ``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.″

``The president in his statement indicated that these were groups that had attacked Americans before, so then why did we wait until now to do something?″ he said.

Others said the attacks seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to the recent movie ``Wag the Dog,″ in which a president stages a fake war to divert attention from an Oval Office sex scandal. Some non-politicians also questioned the president’s motives.

``I think any intelligent person could see through it _ it was a political act,″ said Umar Abdul Haqq, a counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in Los Angeles. ``Two days ago he was proven a liar. A dishonest act won’t correct another dishonest act.″

Michelle Perez, 27, an office worker in Phoenix, said the strikes sounded like a bad idea.

``(Clinton) has got to do something to make himself look like a president right now,″ said ``No one trusts him right now.″

But many praised the president’s judgment and rallied to his side in the first real test of his clout since the Lewinsky confession.

Among them was House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who dismissed as ``sick″ suggestions that Clinton was simply trying to distract attention from his personal life.

The United States ``did exactly the right thing today,″ said Gingrich, R-Ga. ``We cannot allow any terrorist group to attack our citizens or our interests without forceful and focused retaliation.″

Chad Boulanger of Portland, Ore., said Gingrich’s comments ``dispelled the `Wag the Dog’ theory.″

``I take the action for what it was _ to stop the terrorists and to make them pay for what they did,″ said Rep. Dan Burton R-Ind. ``And that was the right thing to do. That’s coming from one of the president’s severest critics.″

Other prominent Republicans who lauded Clinton’s decision were Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Arizona Sen. John McCain, New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms.

``Anyone who says this is politically motivated is absolutely wrong,″ said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, ranking Democrat on the House National Security Committee.

Others also said they supported Clinton, if only because his decision to attack was backed by military leaders they trust.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said those involved in the planning included Defense Secretary William Cohen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Joseph Ralston.

``I think they would be the first to jump up if our military people were being put in danger for political reasons,″ Stevens said. ``I just discount that entirely.″

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