We have heard it ten thousand times, “George Bush diminished our standing around the world.”   Those that hold this point to the US invasion of Iraq, coercive interrogation, and his general “cowboy image” as the primary reasons.  But what about Bill Clinton’s role in precipitating the decline of American standing.  In an age where one year later Team Obama is still using “the previous administration” as the reason for its failures, considerations on what Bush inherited are rarely mentioned.

Throughout the 1990’s the Clinton Administration employed the “containment” strategy on Saddam Husein regime in Iraq.  The UN, backed by the USA’s military and economic power, placed rules on Iraq’s weapons development programs.  As the vanquished aggressor of the Gulf War, they were required to allow  weapons inspectors (UNSCOM) to verify that they were not building nuclear or biological weapons (WMD). 

Many claim that Clinton had Husein “bottled up”, but their were several troubling incidents during this time.  In 1993, the Iraqi’s attempted to kill George Bush 41.  Clinton retaliated with missile attacks and airstrikes.  In 1994, the  Husein began a serious mobilization for the invasion of Kuwait, an obvious violation of the Iraq Gulf War agreements.   Another major scandal was the Oil-for-Food gambit, where the UN was party to a major violation of their resolution against this behavior.  Then in  August of 1998, Saddam announced suspension of UN inspections. 

In October, The Iraq Liberation Act became US Law.  This measure declared that the United States begin a process that would remove Saddam Husein from power.  Republicans and Democrats alike were denouncing him as a tyrant.  It was official doctrine that we were moving to get rid of him, hopefully through sanctions, but by force if necessary.  In December, UNSCOM removes its staff, and there was no way to know if  Iraq had WMD’s. 

That same month, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton for obstruction of justice and perjury.  At the time when he was due to begin court proceedings against him, he ordered airstrikes against Iraq. 

The international outrage was undeniable.  Europeans, Asians, and especially the Middle Easterners saw this attack against Iraq as a smoke screen for Clinton’s immorality and legal perils.  The press called it “wag the dog”.  This major American military operation was discredited by the suspicious timing.  Whether this was what he was really doing is not even the point.  

But it really, really, really does not look good.

What is important is that he ordered the strikes so close to when he was due in court, and anyone who opposed the action could use the coincidence to deprecate United States.  And what’s more, this man’s rotten behavior put our nation’s security at risk, because  he was vulnerable to blackmail and extortion.  Who knows what was leaked in his attempt to conceal his improprieties. 

Also, unlike the media manufactured world view of George Bush as being unpopular, the hit on our standing because of Clinton was tangible and based on justifiable complaints.  If the decision to launch a devastating attack against a weaker nation could be made so capriciously, and with such an insidious purpose, what kind of people must we be?  If the president of the United States is willing to kill thousands of civilians just to avoid being exposed as a bad husband and a sex fiend, then what dishonorable things is he capable of if he had something even more to gain?

The fact is as a people we are better than that, and history tells that tale.  But on that day, Clinton made it easy for our detractors to deny that we were better.

Saddam was emboldened by this fiasco.  From 1999-2002, Iraq fired at American and British planes enforcing the Iraq no fly zones.  This occurred at an almost daily, and certainly weekly basis.  The planes responded in limited ways by targeting mobile radar and missile firing vehicles. 

So one could say that in many respects the second Iraq war began with Bill Clinton’s childish, selfish, reckless combination of bad judgement in his personal life and even worse judgement in his role as commander-in-chief.

How many times have we heard about George Bush inheriting “this mess”. 

Not many, if any, because like him hate him, he was a man who took responsibility for his the situation.

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