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Western Press Review: The West Focuses On U.S. Crisis

By Don Hill/Esther Pan/Dora Slaba

Prague, 27 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A writer for the German news agency, Deutsche Presse Agentur, takes the traditional line today that, in their greater sexual sophistication, European officials are baffled by the U.S. reaction to the scandals surrounding U.S. President Bill Clinton. But a sampling of the European press suggests a broad understanding in Western Europe of the U.S. sensitivity to the interplay of legal, political and moral questions.

TIMES: It is so much harder for politicians to hold truth at arm's length in America

The Times of London says today in an editorial that in the largest perspective, it's U.S. democracy, not prudery, that is being laid bare. The Times says: "Tonight Bill Clinton delivers his address on the State of the Union, an annual event that counts as one of the great display pieces of American democracy. It is doomed to be overshadowed by another, more compelling display; that of the unforgiving force that American democracy, more than any other, can muster against politicians held to have abused their office."

The editorial says: "What makes Mr. Clinton suddenly so vulnerable (is) -- as Tocqueville observed 150 years ago -- the interaction of constitutional and legal constraints on power with a culture of direct democracy that is distinctively American." It says: "In other Western countries, this machinery may seem viciously destructive of public life."

But, The Times concludes: "If America continues to set the standard for democratic freedoms in the world's eye, it is not because it is less corrupt than other countries. It is because it is so much harder there for politicians to hold truth at arm's length."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: There are times during any presidency when events will call for sound judgment

The U.S.-owned Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes today that foreign affairs, more than domestic, constitute an area where presidential character counts. The editorial says: "Among the falsehoods that the general Clinton apologia has propagated over the years is the notion that his critics are distracting him from the important job of running the country." It says: "There are times during any presidency when events will engage the world's most powerful elected official and call for sound judgment, decisiveness and effective leadership. It is at these times, we have argued against many protestations, that the character of a president really does matter. Faced with the most serious scandal of his life, we find a president not only short on the moral authority necessary to send soldiers to war Over Iraq), but risking ridicule if he decides to do so."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Those who drafted the U.S. constitution did not expect America to be a world power

The British newspaper Financial Times says the U.S. system wasn't designed for dealing with international emergencies. In an editorial today, the daily says: "Those who drafted the U.S. constitution did not expect America to be a world power, and did not wish it to be one. They designed a system of checks on executive power, with the result that the United States often appears weakens when its democracy is strongest."

Recalling Watergate, the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon, the editorial says: "Clinton's present difficulties arouse similar anxieties, in a world already depressed by the obvious reluctance of the U.S. body politic to assume the burdens of world leadership or to accept the constraints of a consensual world order."

LIBERATION: Ultimately Congress will decide Clinton's fate The French daily Liberation today carries a news analysis by Washington correspondent Patrick Sabatier contending that the resolution of this matter ultimately will be political, and that the outcome remains uncertain. Sabatier writes: "Polls taken this weekend "show that public opinion has not given in to the media frenzy, and that the public is reserving its judgment while waiting until the facts are established. Even though the popularity of the president has dropped, 59 percent of Americans think that he 'does a good job as head of state.' "

The writer says: "These figures are important, because it is ultimately Congress, before which Clinton will deliver his address on the State of the Union, that will decide his fate. Of course, things would be very different if it is proven that he lied, and especially if he encouraged Monica Lewinsky to give false testimony."

European Press Looks Askance

Here's a sampling of commentary from other Western Europe newspapers:

Aktuelt, Copenhagen -- "The current Clinton affair is a classic example of how politics and the media in our information age merge, and also how people's reactions suddenly capsize and develop completely unpredictably in the face of bombarding by the media. The United States it seems does not want to get rid of President Clinton, whether or not the people believe in his protestations of innocence in the sex affair or not"

Der Tagespiegel, Berlin -- "Is Clinton not capable of ameliorating the reproaches, is he finished politically, is resignation inevitable?" The commentary says; "Never has any President appeared on Capitol Hill to deliver the State of the Union report surrounded by such uncertainty. How could it be otherwise? "

Nuernberger Zeitung -- "The president's credit balance with the American people finally seems to have been exhausted."

Aachener Nachrichten -- "What sort of a country is this that drags its president on a daily basis through the mud, essentially nonsensical dung? European sense of justice shakes its head speechlessly: The person besmirched with dirt can wash himself clean, but what happens to the mudslingers?"

El Mundo, Madrid -- "It is difficult to say whether the smear story will ruin Bill Clinton. But it is certain that it has done enormous harm to the image of U.S. justice all over the world. It is said that the concern is to ascertain whether Clinton lied when he claimed he had had no sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. We Europeans, who have been taught to respect the right of the individual, pose quite different questions. How can one make assertions about someone's private life in spite of the fact that neither of the participants has been charged with anything?"