International Papers

Saint Monica

The majority of newspapers around the world disapproved of the impeachment trial of President Clinton and hoped for his acquittal. The exception was the British press, which divided along predictably partisan lines. Following the Senate votes, the conservative Daily Telegraph said, “a decent man would have resigned when his public lying had been revealed,” whereas “Mr. Clinton hung on, correctly calculating that a mixture of brazenness, legal equivocation and personal charm would see him through.” But the paper pronounced him “the lamest of ducks,” which, it said, is “a loss not only to the Americans, but also to their friends around the world.”

The Times of London, another anti-Clinton paper, splashed the headline “Clinton: The Great Escape” across its front page and said in an editorial (“Suspended Sentence”) that a “revival in Mr. Clinton’s standing can only be achieved through foreign policy,” which will require a huge investment of his time for uncertain returns. “Some [foreign policy initiatives] would invite internal opposition and risk damaging his precious poll numbers,” the Times said. “That should not be an excuse for inaction. Alan Greenspan’s financial decisions have been the making of the Clinton presidency. It is time that the Chief Executive made rather more of his presidency himself.”

In an editorial it called “The end of the Zipper,” the liberal Guardian said one of the losers in the scandal was the American media, which constantly predicted a national mood swing against the president, when none was there. “They also compromised some of their own most cherished ethical standards, a mistake they may live to regret,” the editorial said. It acknowledged, however, that three “stars” of the affair had emerged with credit: Monica Lewinsky “who showed some class in her testimony … and who refused to surrender to the bullying of Mr. Starr’s witchfinder-general”; the U.S. Constitution, which “showed it is robust enough to survive even the madness of 1990s puritanism”; and the American people, who held their nerve throughout and “were able to distinguish between the President and the man, accepting one even as they acknowledged the flaws in the other.”

The liberal Independent on Sunday, in an editorial headlined “The stained presidency,” said that “to anyone sane it was always obvious that impeachment was a hideously inappropriate and disproportionate punishment for President Clinton’s ‘low crimes and misdemeanours,’ ” but that didn’t absolve the man. “Clinton’s behavior has been contemptible throughout, from his initial offences, to his legalistic evasions, to his unbearably mawkish and snivelling apologies,” the paper said. “Although Clinton has shown again an astonishing talent for survival, it cannot be pleasant for him to contemplate how his presidency will be remembered by posterity.”

In Rome, La Repubblica focused on Clinton’s loneliness as he prepared to repay, against Republican opposition, those who had stood by him for 13 months–the black lobby, the women’s organizations, the left-wing Democrats, and his wife Hillary–who would now be presenting their bills. The paper said Saturday that Clinton’s task in his remaining 18 months in office is to show that he has become a man. His first step–his apology to the American people in the Rose Garden on Friday–was “a step in that direction,” La Repubblica said. It concluded, “Perhaps even Monica, watching him from afar, felt a last shudder of tenderness and regret for her ex-lover, so important and so alone.”

In its editorial Sunday headlined “The rout of the Starr judges,” Le Monde of Paris called Clinton’s victory in the Senate impeachment trial “the first serious setback for the crusade led by the neo-conservatives since the beginning of the 1980s to dictate the morality and sexuality of Americans.” It said, “A certain America has triumphed over the other: that of humanist good sense has beaten that of the fundamentalist preachers, that which wants to preserve certain achievements of the 1960s has beaten that which wants to abolish them. … The country has recognized itself more in Bill Clinton than in Kenneth Starr, and so much the better.”

Canada’s most influential newspaper, the Toronto Globe and Mail, said Monday in an editorial that the reason Americans had forgiven Clinton his lies and misdemeanors was that he was a victim of entrapment–“by a politically motivated independent prosecutor … using information that invaded his privacy and subjected him and his family to worldwide humiliation.” The paper added, “If Mr. Clinton survives as something of a victim through all this, Monica Lewinsky survives as something of a heroine. Of all the people involved, she is the one who apparently never lied or knowingly broke a confidence. She never sought publicity about her affair with the President, and so far has done nothing to exploit it. … Ms. Lewinsky has behaved with admirable restraint and dignity throughout the piece, the only player to come out entirely clean.”

In Egypt, the semi-official press was determined not to write off Clinton as a lame duck. “It is difficult to concede to the argument that, despite his acquittal, U.S. President Bill Clinton is likely to be paralyzed through his remaining period in office,” Al Ahram said in an editorial Monday. But it pointed out that “some of Clinton’s major achievements, such as the peace deal in Ireland, the strategic partnership with China and the Wye Plantation Memorandum between the Palestinians and the Israelis, have been attained at the peak of his crisis. … It does not stand to reason, then, that the man who so succeeds while preoccupied with a moral scandal that could have cost him his seat at the Oval Office, would be paralyzed and disabled once the episode is over.”

Following Madeleine Albright’s visit to Rambouillet, France, Sunday to inject some momentum into the stalled Kosovo talks, Le Figaro of Paris said Monday that there was a rare unity at the moment among the six members of the “contact group”–the four leading western European powers, Russia, and the United States–despite America’s constant temptation to put NATO, “the unchallenged instrument of its politico-military domination of Europe,” at the center of the stage, which, in the view of Paris and Moscow, would risk benefiting the Albanians and threatening only the Serbs. The paper said the most important question remained what would happen if an agreement isn’t reached by the extended Feb. 20 deadline, and to that “nobody knows the answer.” Libération carried a cartoon of a fierce-looking Albright brandishing a fly swatter and saying, “Make peace or shit!” But it said she had “broken the ice” at Rambouillet.

As he prepared to leave London to set up an American Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles, Britain’s most famous theater director, Sir Peter Hall, wrote in the Mail on Sunday that Prime Minister Tony Blair, promoter of “Cool Britannia,” has in fact betrayed the arts by refusing them subsidies. Hall said that Britain has enjoyed “a half-century of pre-eminence in this field of endeavor” and that this could now be destroyed. “Never forget that, in Shakespeare’s time, we created the greatest theater culture in the history of the world. … Some 30 years after his death, the theaters had been destroyed, the actors dismissed and the playwrights sent into exile. The Roundheads had arrived. They seem to be visible again.”