You are on page 1of 2


October 5,1998

Close But No Cigar

n August 20 last, President Clinton personally
ordered the leveling of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant on the outskirts of Khartoum. More
or less simultaneously, another flight of cruise
missiles dropped in various parts of Afghanistan
nd also-whos counting?-Pakistan in an aplarent effort to impress the vileOsama bin Laden,
fho hopes to bring a 3udgmentalmonotheism of
i s own to bear on these United States and is thus
n some peoples minds a sort of towelhead version
If Ken Starr.
Sources in US intelligence apparently claimed that there was
only one window through which to strike at bin Laden, and
that the only time they could hope to hit his Afghan fastness by
this remote means was on the night of Monica Lewinskyg return
to the grand jury.Lets assume that they were correct. After all,
they helped him build and equip his camps and they may know
something we dont (even if they did end up missing him). Furthermore, the hideous Taliban regime is not available for the
receiving of diplomatic notes, has even executed some Iranian
envoys and seems in other ways to be deaf to shame.
But Khartoum? There are two separatebut related questions
here. First, was the Al-Shifa factory a Tom Clancy caldron of
devils brew? Second, did it have to be hit that very night? The
first question does involve the second, but for convenience lets
summarize its headings. The Administration said that no medical or commercial products were made at Al-Shifa. It added
that the factory was directly related to bin Ladens occult commercial empire. It further said that traces of the chemical compound Empta had been found in the soil outside the plant.
Within days, there was an amazingly swift climbdown from all
these claims:
0 Vials of medicine and other evidence of civilian pharmaceutical manufacture were pisible in photographs of the first
days debris. The German ambassador to
Werner Daum,
sent a sarcastic cable to Bonn saying that he knew the Administrations claims were false. Tom Carnaffin, the British engineer
who was technical manager at the time of the plants construction, attested that the plant had no space for clandestine experimental work. Other engineers and architectspointed out that the
factory had no air-sealed doors, essential if poison gas is to be on
the menu. The Sudanese government called loudly for an international inspection, which the Clinton Administration-once so
confident4eclined to endorse. By the first week in September,
Defense Secretary William Cohen admitted that he should have
known that Al-Shifa made medical and agricultural products
(and made them, I would add, for one of the most immiserated
societies in the world).
0 Secretary Cohen also admitted in the same statement that
there was no longer any direct financial connection to be asserted between bin Laden and the plant. But he was still pretty sure
that there were indirect ones. That could be. There are also
many straightforwardconnectionsbetween the turb>anedone and

Saudi Arabia:Does anyone believe that the United

States would bombard a Saudi Arabian target and
let the monarchs find out about it from CNN or
when the missiles fell?
0 The presence of Empta (0-ethylmethyl phosphonothioic acid) proves nothing on its own, whether
found in the soil near a factory or inside the factory
itself. I spoke to R.J.P. Williams, who is a professor
of inorganic chemistry at Oxford and considered
something of an authority on biological systems,
and on Empta. It can be an intermediatein the production of VX gas, he told me, but it can also be an intermediate
for dealing with agriculturalpests and for many other purposes.
We must be told where the compound was found, and in what
quantity it is known to have been produced, and whether there
is any ascertainable link to nerve-gas production. Trace elements in adjacent soil are of no use. Either the Administration
has something to hide, or for some reason is withholding the
much for the legitimacy of the legally accurate target.
But suppose again that all these suspicions could be dissolved,
and that we knew that the factory was runby Doctor No or Herr
Blofeld or Fu Manchu. What was the rush? A chemical weapons
plant still could not have been folded like a tent and spirited away
in a day or so.
the United States has diplomatic relations
with Sudan. (It even used these relations, not long ago, to press
successfully for the deportation of bin Laden.) Was there a d6marche made between the State Department and the Sudanese
regime? (We want to see inside this factory right away and will
interpret refusal as a hostile act.) There was not. Even Saddam
Hussein was, and is, given more warning than that.
Well then, what was the hurry a hurry that was panicky enough
for the President and his advisers to pick the wrong objective and
then, stained with embarrassment and retraction, to refuse the
open inquiry that could have settled the question in the first
place? There is really only one possible answer to that question.
Clinton needed to look presidentialfor a day. He may even have
needed a vacation from his family vacation. At all events, he
acted with caprice and brutality and with a complete disregard
for internationallaw, and perhaps counted on the indifference of
the press and public to a negligiblesociety like that of Sudan, and
killed wogs to save his own lousy Hyde (to say nothing of our
new moral tutor, the ridiculous sermonizer Liebeman). No bipartisan contritionis likely to be offered to the starvingSudanese,
unmentioned on the prayer breakfast circuit.
This is why I agree with those who say that we must put Monica behind us and stop our comic obsessionwith sex (or sex, as
the Presidents filthy-minded and incompetent lawyers are still
compelled, for perjurious reasons, to call it in their briefing). Its
not the cigar stupid. Its the cruise missiles launchedto cover the
shame. Clinton must not resign, nor should he be impeached.
He andhis fans have earned the right to serve out their whole

You might also like