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Wednesday, 26 August, 1998, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Clinton's timing called into question
Graphic
Is Bill Clinton trying to divert from his personal problems?
Timing was never Bill Clinton's strong point. But, like it or not, America's bombing raids have diverted the intense media spotlight from his "inappropriate" relations with Monica Lewinsky.

One poll carried out in the United States on Thursday night found 80% support among the public for the president's decision to strike at the alleged terrorist targets.

And while some political opponents suggested cynical motives were at play, support came from those who mattered. Leader of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott have strongly backed Mr Clinton.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich backed his opponent
"I think the president did absolutely the right thing" said Mr Gingrich.

Ironically, as the missiles were being launched, Miss Lewinsky, the former White House intern, was giving further evidence to the Washington Grand Jury that is investigating her relationship with President Clinton.

Mr Clinton's team remained defiant about the bombing raids. Defence Secretary William Cohen said: "The only motivation was our absolute obligation to protect the American people from terrorist activities."

But parts of the press will take more convincing.

Clinton
Bill Clinton remains defiant
Britain's biggest selling daily newspaper, the normally jingoistic Sun, cast a sceptical eye over Mr Clinton's motive.

"Bill zips into action" was the typically tabloid headline used to carry the story.

"Is this a ploy to distract attention from Zippergate - or a serious defence of the West?" comments the paper.

The paper notes eerie parallels with the plot of a recent Hollywood movie, Wag the Dog.

In the film, Robert De Niro engineers a phoney war to distract attention from a fictional US president beset by a sex scandal.

De Niro
Life imitating art: Robert De Niro began a bogus war in Wag the Dog
But again, Mr Clinton can be reassured by support where it matters most.

The New York Times believes "the United States has every right to attack suspected terrorists" and timing was of the essence since Pentagon officials were predicting further terrorist strikes against US citizens, it says.

The Washington Post is also right behind the President, believing America has an "obligation to fight back".

The paper says "there is no possibility that Mr Cohen or General Henry Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would order U.S. forces into action if they were not convinced of the necessity".

In the meantime at least, it seems Mr Clinton, known to his detractors as Slick Willy for his ability to escape politically embarrassing situations, has carried the people with him once again.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
The BBC's Philippa Thomas: "Cynicism is outweighed by public support"
See also:

18 Aug 98 | Americas
21 Aug 98 | Monitoring
19 Aug 98 | Clinton Scandal
22 Aug 98 | In Depth
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