The ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Saddam Hussein of Iraq reminds me of the touted but phony rivalry of two professional wrestlers, one of them representing the good guy and the other a professional villain. In a series of matches across many years, they meet in contrived fights, which the good guy always wins. Everything is carefully staged and the purpose, of course, is not to defeat evil but to sell tickets.
In 1991, when George Bush stopped the successful advance of our troops on the way to Baghdad, it became evident that there was a subtext to the conflict: we did not quite want to get rid of Hussein, which could have been easily accomplished after a few more days of fighting. The official-unofficial story at the time was that we needed a unified Iraq, that a country splintered and held partly by the Kurds was more dangerous in the geopolitics of the region, etc.
Keeping Hussein in place has served another purpose for President Clinton, reminiscent of the wrestling metaphor above and commonly referred to as "Wag the Dog" syndrome after last year's movie of that name. Whenever the going gets tough in Washington, we find a reason to launch an air strike at Hussein. We can all get organized around the need to defeat the evil wrestler and forget about the political mess that is our government today.
Being an optimist about human nature, I found it hard to believe that even Bill Clinton (who is a man of very easy and contingent morality) would launch an air strike for no reason but to delay the voting of articles of impeachment. Nonetheless, Mr. Clinton's easy standards have allowed him to drift into a situation where almost no-one could say with conviction that the airstrike was completely unrelated to the impeachment. Mr. Clinton, an excellent salesman, knows that he must sell himself first before persuading the American people of anything.
Whether Mr. Clinton's political motivation in bombing Iraq was complete, in the back of his mind, or unconscious, Mr. Clinton is to be blamed for getting himself into a situation where military actions can be subject to such openly ambiguous interpretations.
If our troops had gone the distance in 1991 and deposed Hussein, the action would have been about as morally justifiable as wars can ever be, given the unwarranted invasion of Kuwait. But keeping Hussein in place, for the purpose of punching him out whenever its convenient, is unconscionable and even sadistic.