International Papers

Lame Ducks, Etc.


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Under the main front-page headline “Clinton Bombed Civilians on Purpose,” the liberal Observer of London reported Sunday that the president knew he was bombing a civilian target when he authorized the U.S. attack on a Sudan chemical plant last week. Tests he had ordered showed there was no nerve gas on the site, the paper claimed. An editorial described the missile attacks as a disaster: “The hasty resort to violence shows that yet again the US is failing to grasp the political reasons for Islamic anti-Americanism. … Until it addresses its failure to pressure Israel into making concessions to legitimate Palestinian claims, and recognises that the continuing presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca, creates deep offence, … the cycle of attack and retaliation will continue.” The conservative British Sunday papers the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph supported the missile strikes.

La Repubblica of Rome published an interview Sunday with Sheik Omar Bakri, described as Osama Bin Laden’s spokesman in London. Bakri has pledged global war against the United States “until every American soldier has been withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and the whole Persian Gulf and until the embargo which is starving the Muslim people of Iraq has been lifted.” Clinton, he predicts, will never be able to lay his hands on Bin Laden’s fortune–which he estimates at nearly $1 billion–because it is held in secret by various financial and commercial agencies in Europe and the Arab world and managed by surrogates who don’t even know who Bin Laden is.

Following President Boris Yeltsin’s new purge of the Russian government, his forthcoming meeting in Moscow with President Clinton is being discussed in western European newspapers as a summit of two lame ducks. Under the headline “The Blind Man and the Paralytic,” an editorial in the Paris daily Libération called Yeltsin “a man old before his time, diminished by sickness and by his obsession with power, who fails in everything he does and who is leading his country to ruin.” Clinton, it said, is hardly less handicapped. “In contrast to the dollar, but just like the ruble, he is devalued, ridiculed and lacking credibility,” Libération said. “It is a far from ideal position from which to negotiate with a partner who has nothing more to lose and who cunningly exerts an effective blackmail by threatening even greater chaos.” In a front-page editorial in Sunday’s La Repubblica titled “The Crisis of the Lame Ducks,” the paper’s founder and former Editor Eugenio Scalfari attributed the world’s financial crisis to the absence everywhere of political leadership.

In Israel Sunday, the conservative Jerusalem Post said it is “a disgrace” that President Clinton’s war against terrorism is not getting the full backing “of all politicians in Congress, all US allies in the democracies, and all its so-called friends in the Arab and Islamic world.” It said, “A ‘Lewinsky motivation’ can be dismissed as tabloid trash–for except in the world of movies and conspiracy theories, that is not how the vast machinery of United States intelligence, military, and diplomatic services operate. In any case, since Clinton’s presidential approval rating remains barely dented by the Kenneth Starr investigation, it is nonsense to suggest he needed a cruise missile strike against terrorists to enhance it.”

By contrast, the liberal daily Ha’aretz said Clinton’s military initiative is “doomed to failure” unless it is accompanied by diplomatic efforts to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs. “That,” it said, “is America’s challenge.”

In the Muslim world, the Pakistani daily Dawn announced a “new American doctrine of unilateral brinkmanship” by which the United States claimed to be sole “international sheriff, judge and hangman, all at one and the same time.” It asked: “If the US is to replicate the judicial standards of the Wild West across the global stage, what need for the flummery of the United Nations and all the talk that goes with it of international law and morality? If the US thus, in the best Hollywood tradition, is to shoot from the hip, why not push the whole UN edifice into the Atlantic Ocean?” In Bangladesh, the Daily Star called the U.S. missile attacks “utterly injudicious and irresponsible” and “a wanton display of vengeance by the world’s only super-power.”

Russia’s biggest-circulation newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, gave a horrific account of the experiments inflicted on Soviet cosmonauts in the 1960s. Their training, kept secret from even their wives, involved making them lie motionless for two months with their heads lower than their legs, keeping them for long periods in isolation chambers in total darkness and silence, making them give samples of bone marrow and muscle and bone tissue without anesthesia, and starving one man for 20 days while showing him pictures of food. Only now are the stories leaking out, the paper said.

Japan’s biggest daily newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, published an interview Sunday with Woody Allen, who, asked to sum up the 20th century in a single word, replied, “Disappointing.” He told interviewer Hiroki Fukuda that this century, more than any other, has been steeped in blood and controlled by the power of insanity. Its pre-eminent symbol is the concentration camp, or perhaps the nuclear bomb, he added, and one cannot look forward to the 21st century with any optimism.