By Brigitte L. Nacos
In 1998, two weeks after terrorists drove car bombs into U.S. embassy compounds in Kenya and Tanzania causing hundreds of deaths, the U.S. military targeted Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and what was described as a “chemical weapons related facility” in Sudan with 79 Tomahawk missiles. The strikes were launched three days after President Clinton had publicly admitted an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Opinion leaders, especially the president’s adversaries in Congress, claimed that Clinton had ordered what the White House labeled counterterrorist strikes in order to draw attention away from his sex scandal. Not only were the critics amply covered by the news media, reporters, too, expressed skepticism about the president’s motives.
Characteristic for the media’s stance was an exchange during a press conference at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense William Cohen was asked by one reporter whether he was familiar with the Wag the Dog movie in which an American president cooks up an imaginary war for the purpose of deflecting interest away from his sexual encounter with a teenage girl. “Some Americans are going to say this [the missile strikes] bears a striking resemblance to Wag the Dog,” one reporter said. “How do you respond?” Cohen replied that “the only motivation driving this action today was our absolute obligation to protect the American people from terrorist activities.”
Strangely, after President Trump ordered last Thursday a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield controlled by President Assad’s military in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 80 people, neither Washington’s political elite nor media pundits and correspondents questioned Trump’s motive—even though he and his foreign policy advisers changed their posture vis-à-vis Syria’s autocratic ruler within days from no- interference-in-Syria’s-domestic-politics to a categorical no-peace-with-Assad at a time of an all-time low presidential approval rating for Trump.
It is indeed astounding how 59 inconsequential missile strikes led immediately to a robust pro-president rally among the usual TV talking heads among Trump supporters and skeptics applauding the “decisive” presidential move and declaring that through this decision Donald Trump had truly become the President!