Sunday, August 20, 2006

August 20

On 20 August, 1998, three days after conceding that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky had strayed into the unspecified realm of the “inappropriate,” President Bill Clinton addressed the nation on a subject of mortal concern. Tapping out the beat for a conga line of non sequiturs that would become ever longer within the coming years, Clinton announced that
our battle against terrorism did not begin with the bombing of our Embassies in Africa, nor will it end with today's strike. It will require strength, courage, and endurance. We will not yield to this threat. We will meet it, no matter how long it may take. This will be a long, ongoing struggle between freedom and fanaticism, between the rule of law and terrorism. We must be prepared to do all that we can for as long as we must.

America is and will remain a target of terrorists precisely because we are leaders, because we act to advance peace, democracy, and basic human values, because we're the most open society on Earth, and because, as we have shown yet again, we take an uncompromising stand against terrorism.

The particular subject of Clinton’s address was his decision that day to authorize attacks on several alleged terrorist facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan, a $79 million volley of cruise missile strikes bombastically known as “Operation Infinite Reach.” The American attacks came in retaliation for the August 7 truck bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, operations that caused massive casualties, including 5000 wounded and more than 200 killed.

One of the facilities destroyed on August 20 was the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. During the week after Al-Shifa was obliterated (along with its night watchman), Clinton administration officials claimed, variously, that the plant was producing nerve gas precursors; that the facility was either owned by or maintained financial ties to Osama Bin Laden; that Al-Shifa produced no medicine or drugs of any kind; that the factory was closed to the public and heavily guarded by the Sundanese military; and that the plant served as a source of WMD to Iraq. In short order, each of these claims proved to be spectacularly incorrect. Al-Shifa in fact produced at least half of Sudan’s medicines, including chloroquine, a standard treatment for malaria. During the year following Operation Infinite Reach, malaria and a host of other treatable diseases killed tens of thousands of Sudanese.

Texas Governor George W. Bush, commenting on the day of the missile strikes, offered the following words of wisdom: "I think you give the commander in chief the benefit of the doubt. This is a foreign policy matter. I'm confident he's working on the best intelligence available, and I hope it's successful."