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Remember the mantra from the Clintonistas regarding the investigation by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr?

“Four years and $40 million.”

I can almost hear the screeching political hacks passing themselves off as “journalists” — people like Ellen Rattner and Geraldo — joining in the chorus.

“Four years and $40 million.”

What they were talking about, of course, was the length and cost of probing a series of scandals perpetrated by Bill Clinton. Yet, the length and cost weren’t the fault of Clinton. Oh no. The most powerful politician in the world was simply a victim of a witch-hunt — one that wasted time and taxpayer money.

“Four years and $40 million.”

But let’s put things in perspective. As president, Bill Clinton has wasted six years playing footsie with Saddam Hussein and squandered $5.5 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars on containing the Iraqi threat — and that’s before the costly Desert Fox operation launched Wednesday. On Wednesday alone, some 200 cruise missiles were fired by the Navy at Iraqi targets. Each one of those high-tech bombs cost about $1 million. That’s $200 million right there, just on ordnance, in one day — five times the amount spent by Kenneth Starr.

Yesterday, they began launching the more expensive cruise missiles — fired from the Air Force’s B-52s. Those two-ton babies cost more than $2 million each. Let’s assume for the moment, that another 200 or so were launched. That’s 10 times more than the Starr investigation cost — just to blow up some buildings, kill some Iraqis and put on a little impeachment show-stopper.

Last October, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided $97 million in military aid to opposition groups in the country. You can bet most of that money has already found itself in Swiss bank accounts, given the low level of conflict Saddam Hussein is facing internally. Earlier this year, the U.S. set aside $5 million for the support of Iraqi political opposition, and another $5 million for broadcasting by Radio Free Iraq. But all that is peanuts compared to the price tag for enforcing the no-fly zones. That project cost U.S. taxpayers $2 billion in 1998 alone, and that’s far from the total cost. It doesn’t include expenses involved in deploying forces in the region last February.

That was the last big buildup by Clinton. It involved 34 ships, 440 planes, and 44,000 troops. In November, we went through a similar exercise involving 14 ships, 300 planes and 27,500 troops. Now we’ve got Desert Fox.

I’m always happy when Americans question the excessive spending by the federal bureaucracy. I, too, think Kenneth Starr spent too much. I can’t understand what he did with $40 million. Yet it represents nary a drop in the bucket in evaluating the way Washington has thrown away your money.

Can anyone honestly say that the $5.5 billion we’ve invested in our Iraq policy over the last six years has proved worthwhile? Are we not exactly where we started six years ago? If anything, have we not lost national prestige and honor after having kicked Hussein’s butt in 1991? It would appear we’ve squandered more than money. We’ve squandered victory. We’ve squandered our standing in the world. We’ve squandered out principles. Or, I should say, Clinton has.

Let’s get beyond dollars and cents. Let’s talk common sense. When President Bush launched Desert Storm, he had the approval of the United Nations and the support of most civilized nations in the world. Begrudgingly, he went to Congress to authorize the massive strike. He got it, but with a majority of Democrats opposing the move.

This week, Bill Clinton ordered an attack on Iraq with the only real support coming from his friends in the United Kingdom. The U.N. specifically did not request nor approve of the action in advance. Clinton did not even bother asking Congress for authorization.

Yet, many of the very same voices that opposed Bush’s Desert Storm have endorsed Clinton’s Desert Fox. How can this be?

The answer is quite simple, folks. This is a political war — designed, programmed, and executed to enhance the standing of a beleaguered chief executive cornered in scandal. Defending this scoundrel — even while risking the lives of courageous and patriotic U.S. troops and innocent Iraqi civilians — is the first priority of the Clintonistas.

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