OK, let’s get this straight. With the House of Representatives scheduled today to begin its first impeachment hearing in 130 years, the president yesterday decided to bomb Iraq.

Is it a matter of coincidence? Oh sure. And Santy Claus is coming a week from tonight. Yet, many in Washington are pretending these two issues are unrelated. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a single real American in the last 12 hours who isn’t 100 percent convinced that Clinton bombed Iraq for one reason — to forestall an impeachment debate he was losing and a vote that was not going his way.

Why on earth would the raid have to be conducted yesterday. Why not two weeks ago? Why not two months ago? Why not next week?

Think about the illogic, folks. For more than six years, the Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, despite a series of promises to the contrary, has defied U.N. arms inspectors. Last week’s betrayal was hardly unique. During the Persian Gulf War and thereafter, the heaviest air bombardments in world history failed to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But now, a vastly inferior force facing a 48-hour time limit is supposed to achieve what Desert Storm could not.

But as big a mistake as this misbegotten-bombing raid represents, a larger gaffe is the postponement of impeachment proceedings. They should not be put off — not for one day, not for one hour.

Yesterday I listened with dismay to Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress diss the idea that that the impeachment hearings prompted the bombing. I have yet to meet one normal American citizen who thinks the timing of the raid was motivated by anything but the hearings.

If ever there was a compelling illustration of why we need to proceed with impeachment immediately, Clinton has provided it with this “Wag the Dog” scenario. The Iraq attack shows why it is a pressing national security matter to remove Bill Clinton from office. This is a president who is putting U.S. servicemen and women in harm’s way purely, solely, only because of concern for his own personal and political future.

After all, the United States, despite six years of Bill Clinton as president, is still the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. Why should it allow a tin-pot dictator like Saddam Hussein to influence our own domestic political agenda?

Bill Clinton says some nasty things about Saddam Hussein, but, the reality is, Iraq’s leader is the president’s greatest political ally — and vice versa. Both Hussein and Clinton are playing “beat the clock.” They are both involved in stalling for time. Clinton was hours away from impeachment. Hussein was hours away from being caught red-handed with weapons of mass destruction.

So they play into each other’s hands. They are perfect foils. Hussein’s ace in the hole is to tie the U.S. government up in knots, to provoke domestic dissent as the Vietnamese Communists did, to raise enough doubts in the minds of Americans that their will to fight is dissipated. Even as U.S. warplanes bomb his country to smithereens, Hussein has won a political victory by buying time for Clinton and postponing a historic vote in the House of Representatives. Clinton, of course, was grateful for a little breathing room.

In a way, I’m afraid House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde may have unintentionally invited this raid by announcing the hearings were set for this morning — and then telegraphing that they would be called off if it became necessary to attack Iraq. His announcement made the decision for the president a no-brainer, an inevitability. Suddenly it became vitally important to attack Iraq immediately. Clinton had been losing support in the House for days. The historic impeachment vote against him was a given. With an attack, he could buy more time and hope for, well, a political miracle.

What would any self-respecting liar and reprobate do in a similar situation?

Call it a Hail Mary pass — or, maybe, a Hail Monica. With seconds on the clock, fourth and 10 and behind by six, the Comeback Kid had to do what he had to do.

Yes, folks, he is that unscrupulous. Remember, this is the president who refused to serve in Vietnam in 1968. Another young man may have died in his place back then so he could rise to the highest office in the land. But his only concern then is his only concern today — protecting his own rear-end.

But, on the tragic side, how many American soldiers and innocent Iraqi children will die so that this president can continue to hide from justice — to subvert the Constitution?

Even the suspicion that the commitment of military forces could have something to do with presidential scandal is reason enough to wrap up this impeachment business quickly and finally.

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