Accountability at Waco
Jude Wanniski
August 30, 1999


Memo To: Brit Hume, FoxNews Network
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: No Fault Government

Your comments on FoxNewsSunday about the Beltway's tolerance for stupendous error were most welcome yesterday. We now learn six years after the fact -- as if we did not know back then -- that the FBI torched the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians and killed 76 men, women and children. Whoops, made a mistake. And what about our bombing of an aspirin factory in Khartoum, killing the poor folks in the vicinity? Whoops. And the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, demolishing the building and killing three diplomats? Whoops. Who is to blame? And if we can locate them, why are they still on the job? I continue to wonder who was responsible back in 1990, in the Bush Administration, for advising Saddam Hussein that we would not care if he invaded Kuwait to exercise his claims on the oil fields there. Whoops.

This is no-fault government, Brit. Nobody gets fired no matter how much blood is spilled because of their blunders. In 1993, when Waco went up in flames, we have the vague memory of President Clinton crawling under his desk in the Oval Office, insisting it was not his fault. Attorney General Janet Reno, who had been on the job for a few weeks when she gave the FBI orders to end the standoff at Waco with the use of force, stepped in front of the cowering Clinton and said she was responsible! But how come she did not resign? It of course was because the nation's feminists swooned at the true grit of Ms. Reno for being man enough to take the blame. Everyone deserves one boo-boo, don't they? If she had been forced to resign, Brit, do you think it possible that Timothy McVeigh might not have bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City? I know it is not polite to ask that question, but when there is monumental injustice, shouldn't we expect monumental outrage to form like a boil on society? That's where political terrorism comes from, no?

Why now, suddenly, a big deal about Waco? Ms. Reno says it may hurt her credibility, for goodness sakes. You know as well as I that Ms. Reno got her job at the Justice Department courtesy of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in early 1993 was running the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services, in keeping with her co-presidency. The federal government was too big for Bill, so he gave Hill several Cabinet officers to guide, to relieve the strain on him. It was Hillary who told Janet Reno (through Vince Foster) to stop fooling around with the Branch Davidians, to use some muscle to end the embarrassing standoff in Waco. Wasn't it? When does no-fault government end, Brit? If a President can be caught in a series of lies to a federal grand jury and every Democratic Senator says whoops, made a mistake, do we now have a total absence of standards of behavior in our government? Can a President get away with murder? Here is what I wrote to my Polyconomics clients at the time of the Waco travesty:

April 20, 1993
THE WACO FACTOR If President Clinton had been at the edge of embarrassment last week -- with the Beltway Establishment wondering about his capacity to govern, as he promoted a laughable VAT tax at the worst possible moment -- the tragedy in Waco yesterday pushed him over the brink. Attorney General Janet Reno manfully took complete responsibility for the decision to apply the full force of the federal government to a religious nut and his followers, as if he were Saddam Hussein. The President was less than macho, we all observed, in hastily advising the American people that it was not his decision. It was Ms. Reno's. The line of inquiry will now question the whole Politically Correct comedy of errors that put Ms. Reno into the position of having to prove her manhood -- as the first woman named the nation's chief law enforcement officer. The symbolism of having Mr. Clinton's first use of force as commander-in-chief result in the incineration of a Christian cult, as loony as its leader may have been, can only deepen the cultural divide that Bill and Hillary opened up with their gay military and federally financed abortions on demand. The nation's political leaders in Congress, Democratic and Republican, are now pondering how to deal with a White House that has this propensity to crash into territory without understanding the consequences.

We can already feel power shift from the White House to Capitol Hill as experienced hands decide enough is enough. At this rate, the President will rapidly become a figurehead, a ribbon-cutter unable to rally the American people behind any of his agenda. Paul Craig Roberts observes that we are getting close to parliamentary government, with Cabinet heads looking to the prime ministers of Congress for leadership. In their private newsletter today, Evans & Novak report: "His negatives are worse at this stage than any recorded since these measurements began to be kept. Democratic members of Congress from swing states and swing districts reported such negative feelings during their spring recess that the support level has continued to drop. Combinations of poor strategy, disorganization and just plain bad luck are conspiring to undermine the President's position."

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On April 28, within a broader commentary on "Boris and Bosnia," I referred back to Waco:

There is so little institutional memory in the President's young team that the disaster in Waco may have served a useful purpose by underscoring the unintended consequences of the use of force. That is, if not for Waco, the President might have already succumbed to the clamor to start the bombing. To prevent the possibility of child abuse by the Branch Davidians, the United States government wound up gassing the children and their mothers, and the religious zealots within burned Mt. Carmel to the ground. There is no more possibility of child abuse at the place. Saving the children of Bosnia via the bombing of the Balkans will yield the same result. The zealots will not only fight to the death, but with a determination to take everyone with them in an Apocalypse Now. Why not a surefire way of ending the ethnic cleansing of the region: Drop the big one.