In an interview Monday with the Corriere della Sera of Milan, Italy, Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff, lashed out at former Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris and blamed him squarely for Clinton’s troubles. Asked if impeachment had been avoidable, Panetta replied, “Of course. All Clinton needed to do was to tell the truth at once, instead of listening to the advice of his double-crossing ex-consultant Dick Morris. It was Morris, immediately after the scandal exploded a year ago, who explained to Clinton that America would never forgive him for his escapades with Monica. I had warned Clinton from the beginning about the bad influence of that man, who cares only about opinion polls, bends with the wind of the moment, and doesn’t give a damn about moral and political principles.”
Panetta said Clinton is in a state of enormous anxiety because “he knows he has damaged the historical inheritance, which he valued more than anything else.” His mental equilibrium is preserved by his powers of work and concentration, and his ability “to separate problems into categories, choosing which drawer to open at a time. … But grief and rage are eating his liver out,” Panetta said. In reply to a question about Hillary, he said that she is “such an inexhaustible source of inner strength that it was unthinkable to imagine that she could abandon him just at this most crucial moment.” He added, “Nobody knows how the crisis may have affected their marriage: but those who know the first lady well know that she is a woman of great strength, with very broad shoulders.”
The same Tammy Wynette qualities cannot be credited to the ex-wife of British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who left her to marry his diary secretary. In a new book serialized in the London Sunday Times, Margaret Cook excoriates Cook as a serial adulterer, liar, and drunk. Britain’s best-selling tabloid, the Sun, made the most of the scandal Monday with a front-page headline asking “Would YOU sleep with this man?”–complete with phone numbers that allow readers to offer a “Yes” or “No” response. “Robin Cook is, frankly, no Brad Pitt,” it said. “He has been likened in the past to a garden gnome and even a prawn. … And the Sun would dearly love to know the secret of his pulling power.” But in an editorial, the Sun said he should not be fired because “he performed well over the bombing of Iraq and has built up a solid relationship with his American opposite number Madeleine Albright.”
Both the Sun and the Sunday Times are owned by Rupert Murdoch, who was condemned Monday in an editorial in the liberal Guardian of London for “intrusion into the sad, sorry lives of others.” It said, “An uncomfortable pattern is beginning to emerge. … In Britain, Rupert Murdoch’s News International puts politicians on alert, whether by ‘outing’ [British Agriculture Secretary] Nick Brown in the News of the World or dishing the dirt on Robin Cook in the Sunday Times. In the US, the Murdoch-owned New York Post runs (later disproved) hokum about a Bill Clinton love-child, as if doing its bit to drive the president from office.”
The Guardian concluded that “perhaps it’s time Rupert Murdoch was held to account–not for his private life, as he insists on doing with politicians, but for the poisoning of public life across the globe.” In another Murdoch newspaper, the Times of London, columnist William Rees-Mogg wrote an op-ed piece Monday comparing the cases of Clinton and Cook. “Cast both stories as novels, and ask what is the core of the plot,” he wrote. “A mature woman is married to a man who is a perpetual adolescent; he is clever and good with words, but lacks a sense of self-worth, and relieves his depression with recurrent affairs of varying importance.”
Tony Blair, back from vacation to try to weld together his fractured and scandal-riven government, was mocked in the Christmas issue of the satirical magazine Private Eye for publishing so many articles in newspapers. Under the spoof headline “Blair wins ‘Journalist of the Year’ Award,” it wrote that the prime minister had “presented himself with the award for writing the greatest number of articles in newspapers in the last year.” The trend continued this week, not only in Britain but also abroad. There was a piece in a recent Wall Street Journal about the launch of the euro, and on Monday there were three more –one leading the front page of the Irish News of Belfast, one in Libération of Paris, and one in La Stampa of Turin, Italy (the last two defending Britain’s participation with the United States in military action against Iraq).
In a front-page La Stampa editorial Monday, a former Italian ambassador to Washington, Boris Biancheri, took issue with Blair and claimed that Britain’s part in the Iraq bombing “had above all the function of covering up what would have otherwise been an excessively visible American isolation.” He wrote, “To pretend that this was done to strengthen American confidence in Europe and faith in its credibility is frankly to expect too much of our credulity.”
In France Sunday, Le Monde devoted a full page to the alleged role of UNSCOM as “a toy of the American espionage services” in Iraq and carried a report from Jerusalem about the “decisive” role of Israel in eavesdropping on Baghdad. In Israel itself, the daily Ha’aretz led Monday with a report that former Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who appointed Benjamin Netanyahu as his top aide at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1982, has decided to stand against his former protégé for the leadership of the Likud Party and as its candidate for prime minister in the May elections. He made the decision after commissioning his own opinion poll, which showed that “Netanyahu has a credibility problem with nearly half of the Likud Party’s members who will vote in the primaries.”