International Papers

The President of the United States Stands Naked

If you missed the most recent installments of this column, here they are: posted Friday, Dec. 18, and Tuesday, Dec. 15.

The impeachment of President Clinton dominated front pages around the world this weekend. Britain’s Sunday Times called for Clinton’s resignation, saying that the spectacle of a trial in the Senate would subvert “America’s responsibilities as the world’s only superpower.” Meanwhile, the right-wing Spanish newspaper ABC applauded impeachment because it illustrated “the fact that even [the president] is subject to political machinery of rare democratic perfection.”

Where the Sunday Times suggested that Rep. Bob Livingston’s resignation “shows Mr Clinton the way,” an editorial in the Age of Melbourne, Australia, called it “a bizarre political gift” to the president. Livingston’s act “instantly blurred the Republican argument that the President’s impeachment is based on the issue of lies and the law rather than sex. … Mr Livingston’s resignation unleashes the spectre of a political system convulsed by regular revelations of sexual affairs and demands from the Republican’s [sic] religious right for sexual purity.”

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald presented the weekend’s events as “the logical conclusion to the late-20th century drama which has been quietly corroding the old certainties of political power throughout the world’s mature democracies. … That is, when the personal really is political, not merely a feminist catchcry, and when new technologies and competition are driving the media to deliver unparalleled, all-news-all-the-time access to the lives of those in power, we should not be too surprised to see a US President on the brink of losing his job for having an affair.”

In Britain, the Independent on Sunday, which called Clinton “a shallow, fawning mountebank, and a man whose serial adultery might be overlooked more easily but for his serial mendacity,” was just as hard on his Republican foes. It said, “The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower seems to have been possessed by a zeal which is less ‘republican’ or ‘conservative’ than Maoist. These people will not be happy until they have inflicted ritual humiliation on Clinton in the spirit of the Cultural Revolution.” An editorial in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post concurred, describing the impeachment debate as “a disgraceful partisan spectacle, an act of vengeance rather than justice, a triumph for the fundamentalist Christian Right that will haunt Republicans for a long time.”

Clinton’s comment last week that attacking Iraq during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would be “offensive” drew several responses. In Britain, the Times said that the “considerate gesture … is like any hiatus in hostilities, a backhanded concession to the victim: a hearty breakfast for a condemned man.” In Lebanon, an editorial in Saturday’s Daily Star suggested that the strikes would have been more effective if they had been made after Ramadan ended and predicted that “it now seems likely that the strikes will have to be suspended for about a month while devout Muslims take leave of food and drink during daylight hours and Mr. Clinton continues to take leave of his senses at all hours. Having been supplied with so much notice, Saddam will then be able to make good use of that month to conceal or destroy whatever the U.S. and Britain failed to eliminate.” (For more on the etiquette of fighting during Ramadan, see Slate’s”Explainer.”)

Britain’s involvement in the Iraqi airstrikes earned it little more than condemnation and condescension. A Sunday op-ed column in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said that the “British mobilization … helps London more than it helps Washington. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who contributed a symbolic squadron of Tornado bombers to Clinton, is only signaling that the Americans are not alone.” Writing in Canada’s new national newspaper the National Post Saturday, Mark Steyn observed that the U.S. media coverage of the strikes barely mentioned Britain’s participation: “This is the thanks a chap gets for providing the most naked of presidents with his only international fig leaf.”

An editorial in Sunday’s International Herald Tribune, headlined “Britain’s Slavish Devotion to America,” claims that Britain’s tendency to ally itself so closely with the United States reflects the country’s inability to reconcile itself with Europe. Instead the British have attempted “to stay on the world stage by associating themselves with U.S. global supremacy. The United States finds them useful and is too polite to tell London how little weight it carries in the world. The Germans, French, even Italians and Spaniards, may say so. But they do not say it in English. So Britain does not hear.”