International Papers

Clinton in the Senate Dock

Commonly described in headlines as “the trial of the century,” the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton received massive coverage around the world Friday, with journalists clearly under strain to find anything new to say about the president’s troubles. The angles varied widely from paper to paper. An editorial in the Jerusalem Post compared the impeachment in the United States with Israel’s current political turmoil and said that “[I]n both nations, people are getting frustrated with political systems that have become obsessed with themselves, and wish that what they see as unseemly distractions will be quickly over.”

In Paris, the conservative Le Figaro repeated the usual French view that Flytrap is a symptom of demented American puritanism. “Wake up, Tocqueville, they’ve gone mad!” began a front-page editorial signed by Franz-Olivier Giesbert. “When one observes the depressing spectacle presented by American democracy today, one imagines that the man who talked best about it cannot be feeling very well in his heaven. There is decidedly something rotten in the kingdom of democracy. The American obsession with truth and purity has turned morbid and demanding of psychoanalysis. It is even endangering the whole political system.”

In Tokyo, the Japan Times said the impeachment drama had been “sordid and embarrassing, lending itself to the worst sort of moralistic posturing and inevitable charges of hypocrisy and opportunism.” It went on, “It has ended or done serious damage to several once-promising political careers. … For all his accomplishments, Mr. Clinton’s legacy has been permanently stained.”

The British broadsheets strove for originality in their front-page headlines. The Daily Telegraph’s was “They came in, two by two, to call for Clinton’s head” over a picture of the House prosecutors arriving in the Senate. The Independent’s was ” ’Judge in Black’ is sworn in for trial of century,” focussing on Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s funereal garb. The Guardian’s was weirder still. “A moment of history to connect Andrew (1868) with Strom (96),” was what it said.

Only the Times of London was content with a normal headline: “The President goes on trial.” The paper’s main editorial Friday was not about the impeachment process but about a new revelation that Britain’s D-Day commander and military hero, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, had referred 50 years ago to the African as “a complete savage” whose only hope would be a British colonial “master plan” to carve out giant West, Central, and East African federations and unlock their vast wealth for Britain’s benefit. “Had Monty won, Britain would have imposed an indefensible, and unsustainable, version of apartheid,” the paper said. But it concluded that “the sobering fact remains that Africans today are poorer than they were” when Montgomery unveiled his plan.

Two continental European papers indulged their frequent penchant for interviews with American historians on current political questions. On Friday the Corriere della Sera of Milan, Italy, interviewed Professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who said that even if the impeachment of Clinton didn’t succeed, “its effect in weakening the institution of the presidency will continue to be felt for generations.” In Le Monde of Paris, the historian Fred Greenstein of Princeton University said nobody apart from “hezbollah Republicans” wanted the impeachment trial to continue beyond mid-February or for witnesses to be called. But Clinton had “generated an almost paranoiac fury among right-wing extremists who hate and despise him, and for whom he personifies the ‘permissive’ generation of the Vietnam war.”

In Canada, the new conservative national paper, the National Post, commented Friday that, despite its show of “serene confidence a trial will end in victory for Mr. Clinton and disaster for his opponents,” the White House was in reality “on the edge of panic.” This was because this “impeachment trial requires the White House to argue two tough–even incredible–propositions: first, the president did not perjure himself and did not obstruct justice; second, that even if he did, perjury and obstruction are not grounds for impeachment if they are committed in the context of sex.” The paper asked, “Can Mr. Clinton trust the Democratic senators, most of whom don’t like him much, to go on repeating these unconvincing lines week after week, month after month?”

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald called it “Clinton’s Trial by Chaos” and said in a commentary by its Washington correspondent that “beyond the elaborate facade of formality, the opening of the trial of William Jefferson Clinton was more reminiscent of a football scrum in a particularly vicious game.” The papers said, “It is like a parody of an end-of-the-millennium crisis. … Can the world’s greatest power really be reduced to this–a serious legal argument in front of the Senate about such issues as whether Bill Clinton did indeed touch Monica Lewinsky’s breasts and genitals?”

The Sydney Morning Herald also carried an interview Friday with Richard Butler in which the Australian weapons inspector conceded that intelligence gathered in Iraq by his UNSCOM team might have been secretly passed to the United States. “The idea that somehow products of our work could be diverted to other purposes is theoretically tenable,” he said, “but I have no knowledge of that.”