International Papers

Humble Pie

As all Europe heaved a sigh of relief over the Kosovo peace deal, a feast of humble pie was consumed in Fleet Street Friday as British newspapers grudgingly admitted that air power alone seems to have done the trick. The Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian, and the Independent, which all spent the war urging a land invasion of Kosovo, were disconcerted by the fact that a peace settlement has apparently been achieved without one. “We take no comfort in saying that NATO’s bombing, in crude terms, ‘worked,’ ” said the liberal Guardian in an editorial that honorably recalled its previous insistence that Slobodan Milosevic could not be “bombed to the negotiating table.” The settlement was “a victory for NATO and a vindication of its belief in modern air power,” said the conservative Daily Telegraph–but the paper qualified this with a claim that Milosevic only capitulated because of “the growing willingness of the Alliance to consider the deployment of ground troops.”

The Independent said that “victory for NATO should also put an end to the thoughtless assertion that ‘wars cannot be won from the air.’ ” Thoughtless assertion or not, this is what the Independent had been saying all along. Or had it? “This newspaper consistently called for the deployment of ground troops to be threatened–and to make the threat credible, NATO would have had to be prepared to go through with it,” it said Friday. So it never really wanted a ground invasion–just a credible threat of one! The Times, which had been just as eager as the other broadsheets to send in the troops, sought to preserve its dignity by avoiding the issue altogether. In an editorial urging the allies to remain wary, it said NATO should not suspend its air campaign until Serbia “is in compliance with all its commitments” and warned that Russia’s involvement in the international peacekeeping force was “a potential bear trap.” It said, “A ‘unified control and command’ should not become cover for a semi-detached Russian military presence that could permit the creeping partition of Kosovo.”

The tabloid Sun, the Times’ down-market stablemate in the Rupert Murdoch empire, has the advantage of having always campaigned against the commitment of ground troops to Kosovo, and so headlined its editorial Friday “Air might WAS right” as vindication of its stance. The Sun, which is Britain’s biggest-circulation paper, may have been heading for a confrontation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on this issue, but the peace agreement ended any danger of that. Instead, the paper presented the deal as a personal triumph for Blair, who, it said, stiffened the backbones of “wobbling alliance partners” such as President Clinton. “One man’s evil ambitions caused the Kosovo crisis,” it went on. “One man’s resolve has played the lion’s share of ensuring he has not been allowed to succeed.”

In a report from its Washington correspondent Friday, the Independent said that the Belgrade agreement, if it sticks, will be a victory for Clinton over his generals. “Bill Clinton’s war, dismissed as a ‘coward’s war’ and ridiculed as ‘immaculate coercion,’ will be vindicated,” Mary Dejevsky wrote. “His insistence that the conflict be conducted from the air and only from the air, and that an air war was winnable, was denounced in military circles, ever more openly, as the irresponsible reverie of a non-military man.”

The Financial Times of London reported Friday that an international banking deal between the Bank of Scotland and the Rev. Pat Robertson is “almost certain to unravel” following an attack by the televangelist on Scottish homosexuality. The paper said Bank of Scotland Chief Executive Peter Burt flew to the United States to confront Robertson for saying on his U.S. TV program The 700 Club that “in Scotland you can’t believe how strong the homosexuals are. … [Scotland] could go right back to the darkness very easily.” Robertson, who claims his family emigrated from Scotland in 1695 (the same year the bank was founded), made a deal with it last March to start a telephone banking service in the United States. The announcement sparked a storm of controversy over his reputed bigotry, however, and scores of the bank’s customers, including charities and trade unions, threatened to take their business elsewhere. In a “right of reply” column in the Independent of London last week, Robertson wrote: “I abhor bigots and bigotry. I denounce racists and racism. … Discrimination in whatever form or guise has no part in my beliefs or my life.”

The FT also reported Friday that the number of European Internet users almost doubled last year and is expected to achieve overall household penetration of 17 percent by the end of this year. A forecast due to be published next week by Dataquest, a market research company, suggests that Europe is beginning to close the “technology gap” with the United States, the paper said.