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Thursday, December 17, 1998 Published at 14:43 GMT

Scepticism and support swirl around Clinton

A majority of Americans say the president had no ulterior motives

In the wake of the US-led attack on Iraq, Republican leaders and impeachment supporters are voicing scepticism over the timing of the attack.

Tom Carver: Republicans attacking Clinton over timing of attack
Even before the bombing began, the Senate Republican leader Trent Lott announced he would not support US air strikes against Iraq.

[ image: Mr Livingston hinted at scandal]
Mr Livingston hinted at scandal
"I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Mr Lott said in a statement, adding "both the timing and the policy are subject to question".

The incoming Speaker of the House, Bob Livingston, visibly agitated, was more guarded. He said he would not "second guess" the administration, "but as to the matter of timing, we leave that to the best judgement of the American people".

"Never underestimate a desperate president," said a furious House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.). "What option is left for getting impeachment off the front page and maybe even postponed? And how else to explain the sudden appearance of a backbone that has been invisible up to now?"

Accusations expected

David Shribman: Opposition has broken with tradition in attacking Clinton over foreign policy action
Accusations that Mr Clinton was "wagging the dog" - an illusion to a the now-famous movie where the US president declares war to distract from a sex scandal - were inevitable. With a steady stream of Republican moderates coming out for impeachment, passage of one or more articles of impeachment seemed virtually certain.

As if anticipating criticism, Mr Clinton carefully laid out the reasons, timing and goals of the air strikes and stressed the strikes were unanimously supported by his national security team.

President Clinton's statement in full
"Saddam Hussein and the other enemies of peace may have thought that the serious debate currently before the House of Representatives would distract Americans or weaken our resolve to face him down," he said.

"But once more, the United States has proven that although we are never eager to use force, when we must act in America's vital interests, we will do so."

Public sees no dog

But an overwhelming number of Americans support President Bill Clinton's decision to strike and reject the view he did so to delay an impeachment vote in Congress.

[ image:  ]
Asked for their view on the decision to launch the strike, 74% of respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll answered that they approved of the move while 13% said they disapproved; 62% of those surveyed said they saw no ulterior motive in Clinton ordering the attack.

At Lulu's bar in Washington DC, one woman told BBC News: "This should have been taken care of a long time ago. I think he's doing the best he can."

Other polls conducted by leading US media organisations showed similar results.

The "strong and sustained" attack began on the eve of an historic vote in the US House of Representatives on whether to impeach Mr Clinton over charges he lied under oath to hide a sexual relationship he had with Monica Lewinsky.

Stark division

An ABC News poll highlighted stark divisions of opinion on the attack between those who support and oppose impeachment of Mr Clinton.

Among supporters of impeachment, 62% believed Clinton ordered the attack to delay a scheduled vote in the US House of Representatives.

But among the majority that oppose impeachment, 81% thought Clinton's reasons for ordering the attack were sound, the ABC poll indicated.

[ image: Robert De Niro: Life imitating art]
Robert De Niro: Life imitating art
Meanwhile, in an ironic twist of events, Hollywood actor Robert De Niro, who starred in Wag the Dog, has been busy campaigning for Mr Clinton's survival.

De Niro, who plays a presidential spin doctor in the film, has been telephoning Republican congressmen, trying to persuade them to vote against impeachment.

"This was something that he did on his own. He was not asked to do it," said De Niro's spokesman Stan Rosenfield.

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