We all seem to have lost our sense of proportion. Why are the political leaders of the United States and the major media talking of impeaching Bill Clinton for lies about sex, surely not the most important sins of his administration?
If Clinton is to be impeached, why do it for frivolous reasons? I can think of at least ten reasons to impeach him, for acts far more serious than his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky or his lies to Kenneth Starr. I am speaking of matters of life and death for large numbers of people.
1. Clinton approved, very early in his first administration, an armed attack on the compound of a religious sect in Waco, Texas, under circumstances which clearly did not warrant losing patience with negotiations and choosing a military solution. As a result of the attack, eighty-one people died, including men, women, and children.
2. Also in that first year in office, in June of 1993, he sent bombers over Baghdad, claiming it was in response to a planned assassination of former President George Bush, visiting the Middle East. The \”evidence came from the notoriously corrupt Kuwaiti police. The U.S. claimed to be aiming at \”Intelligence Headquarters\”, but the bombs fell on a suburban neighborhood in Baghdad. At least six people were killed, including a prominent Iraqi artist and her husband.
3. While land mines strewn around the world continue to kill or cripple thousands of people each year, and although fifteen retired generals endorsed an immediate ban on all antipersonnel mines, the Clinton Administration refused to go along with a Canadian proposal for such a ban.
4. In Somalia, in June of 1993, with the country in a civil war, and people desperate for food, Clinton ordered a military operation to capture a popular Somali leader, General Adid. The result was the a thousand Somali casualties, soldiers and civilians, and a number of American Rangers. On June 15, according to the Associated Press, a U.S. helicopter fired a missile into a residential area of Mogadishu, wounding 12 Somalis. Ambassador to Somalia Robert Oakley later said the military operation was \”an unfortunate policy decision\”.
5. The Clinton Administration continued the embargoes on Cuba and Iraq, causing widespread misery in Cuba for lack of food and medicine, and hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq according to U.N. statistics. When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked if the goal of putting pressure on Saddam Hussein was worth the lives of large numbers of Iraqi children, she responded: \”we think it is worth it.\”
6. Claiming that he was introducing \”welfare reform\”, President Clinton in the summer of 1996 signed a law to end the federal government\’s guarantee, created under the New Deal, of financial help to poor families with dependent children. The Los Angeles Times reported: \”As … families battle a new five-year limit on cash benefits…health experts anticipate a resurgence of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases….\”
7. The Clinton Administration continued to spend $250 billion a year for the military, putting into jeopardy the lives and health of large numbers of Americans. Clinton was willing to spend two billion dollars each for the \”stealth bomber\” (the total cost would be 42 billion dollars) while putting perhaps a million people in jeopardy by taking away their federal benefits. .
8. With millions of people either homeless or living under desperate conditions and needing low-cost housing, the President in 1996 signed the \”Crime Bill\”, which allocated eight billion dollars to build new prisons.
9. Early in his first term Clinton signed legislation cutting funds for state resource centers that supplied lawyers to indigent prisoners. The result, according to Bob Herbert writing in the New York Times was that a man facing the death penalty in Georgia had to appear at a habeas corpus proceeding without a lawyer.
10. More recently, this summer of 1998, Clinton, wanting to react to the terrorist bombing of American embassies in Africa, bombed Afghanistan and the Sudan. He claimed that the Sudanese target was a plant producing nerve gas, but could not produce convincing evidence for this. Almost immediately, it became clear that the plant, contrary to the American claim, had been producing half the medicines used in Uganda. People there would die as a result of that bombing.
I am not seriously proposing to impeach Clinton for these actions, because they are not different in essence, from the policies of almost all American presidents, especially since the second World War when the United States became a military state. Both parties, Democratic and Republican have gone along with such policies. I simply wanted to put the cries for impeachment into a wider perspective, to restore a sense of proportion to our indignation, and to throw light on matters far more important than the president\’s sex life.
Howard Zinn is the author of A People\’s History of the United States and Professor Emeritus at Boston University.