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Western Press Review: Leadership Embattled In Russia And U.S.

  • Don Hill

Prague, 14 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- While the U.S. public watches obsessively the continuously more detailed travails of U.S. President Bill Clinton, the world press observes wonderingly the deportment of the Americans. In Moscow, 8,000 km away, a different kind of leadership crisis slowly unfolds as President Boris Yeltsin's new Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov struggles to tame a tangle not of his doing.

Following is a broad sampling of Western commentary over the weekend and today on the Clinton scandal:

NEW YORK TIMES: Poetic justice is not real justice

The New York Times, editorial -- "As for the American people, if they choose the path of limited sanction, they ought to do so with a vow of remembrance about the costs of accepting a person who has presidential-scale vision but lacks matching character, judgment and discretion."

The New York Times, political columnist William Safire: "Many will find poetic justice in Clinton's escaping discovery of high crimes and being brought down by lower crimes. But poetic justice, or rough justice, is not real justice."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Clinton's behavior is at the margins of impeachability

Washington Post, editorial -- "Mr. Clinton's behavior is at the margins of impeachability, straddling the line that separates disqualifying crimes from conduct that merely mars indelibly the presidential office and the man who holds it."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Clinton should resign

Three newspapers of the Knight Ridder newspaper group in the United States, under one ownership, called Sunday in separate editorials for Clinton to resign.

The Philadelphia Inquirer -- "He should resign because his repeated, reckless deceits have dishonored his presidency beyond repair. He should resign because the impeachment anguish that his lies have invited will paralyze his administration, at a time when an anxious world looks to the White House for sure-footed leadership."

SEATTLE TIMES: It's about abuse of his high office

The Seattle Times -- "He lied to the country. He lied to members of his Cabinet and let them continue the falsehoods for his personal benefit. He used other officials and spent tax dollars to stonewall, delay, deny. He took the lie into American homes, into Congress and to the U.S. Supreme Court where, pushing a bogus argument for presidential privilege, he forced the Secret Service to take a legal bullet. It's not about sex. It's about misconduct and abuse of his high office."


The San Jose Mercury News: "Bad judgment. Flawed character. Disrespect for the law. A crass willingness to abuse other people and the prerogatives of high office. He also had the brazen ability to lie convincingly, to his family, his staff, his Cabinet. In the White House. In a deposition, to a grand jury. Under oath. On television, to the entire nation. He looked us all in the eye, and lied."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Pakistanis: Clinton deserves to be stoned; Russians: Clinton is not guilty

The Financial Times of London reports today: "Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, yesterday predicted a swift end to the Clinton crisis and said he wanted 'the best for him.'" The newspaper says that Netanyahu has reason to hope that Clinton's preoccupation with the scandal will take pressure off Israel to accede to a U.S.-designed peace deal with the Palestinians. The newspaper says: "Mr Netanyahu has had his own brushes with political and sex scandals." The Financial Times says a Pakistani fruit seller spoke for many Pakistanis when he said Clinton "deserves to be stoned and that poor girl (Monica Lewinsky) let off."

The newspaper says: "President Clinton is not guilty according to Russians. On the streets of Moscow, communists, democrats and ultranationalists, who can rarely agree on anything, spoke with one voice."

TIMES: President Clinton is not quite politically dead

The Times of London, editorial -- "Kenneth Starr's investigation of the Monica Lewinsky affair has left President Clinton desperately wounded but not quite politically dead." It says: "In a parliamentary system, Mr. Clinton could be forced to submit his resignation because he had lost the confidence of key colleagues."

The Times also conducted its own review of press commentary and reported these editorial comments:

Italy's La Repubblica -- "We Europeans can only stand aghast at a nation which is so infantile it actually considers bringing down a president for doing what goes on all over the world."

From France: Le Journal du Dimanche -- "More than ever the Comeback Kid seems determined to fight."

The weekly magazine Marianne called the report of special counsel Kenneth Starr "the first porno assassination in history."

Le Monde entitled an editorial "Hell is American."

It seems that nearly everyone has an opinion about the direction that Russia's new political leadership will, or ought to, take. If Russia were to heed the advice of the Western press, it would have to mount its horse and ride off at once -- in seven directions.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The character of the new Russian government is clear

The British newspaper Financial Times says today in an editorial that at least a partial return to central planning seems imminent. It says: "If the first appointments in the new Russian government are anything to go by, its character will be clear. Yuri Maslyukov, the deputy prime minister who will be economic supremo, is a senior Communist party member and former chairman of Gosplan, the state planning agency that controlled the entire Soviet economy and presided over its disintegration."

NEW YORK TIMES: Now comes the hard part ...

Celestine Bohlen wrote yesterday in a news analysis in The New York Times that Prime Minister Yvegeny Primakov faces a tug of war from many points. She wrote: "Winning approval from Russia's strident and stubborn parliament on Friday turned out to be an easy day's work for Russia's new prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, the savvy diplomat who has made a career of playing both ends against the middle. Now comes the hard part as the 68-year-old former intelligence chief sorts through the pile of conflicting economic plans and emergency measures he inherited on taking office, and which Saturday continued to pour in from all sides."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The conference showed who is in charge

Actually, Primakov appears quickly to have set his own direction, Marcus Warren writes today in a news analysis in the Daily Telegraph, London. The writer says: "Less than two days after being confirmed in office, he summoned (Russia's) most powerful ministers to a conference at the ugly, box-like headquarters of the foreign intelligence service on the outskirts of Moscow." He writes: "No details emerged of the agenda. But whatever the so-called power ministers discussed, the conference was a spectacular way of showing the country who is in charge."

TIMES: Mr. Primakov may not be able to find a compromise

In The Times of London, Richard Beeston writes in a news analysis that Primakov is trying to reassure the world that his government will abandon market reforms. Beeston says: "Russia sought desperately to ease growing concerns at the weekend that the new government of Yevgeny Primakov will abandon reforms and move closer to a Soviet-style command economy." The writer says: "Mr, Primakov tried to assure jittery investors in Russia, many of whom lost hundreds of millions of pounds when Moscow defaulted on its debts and devalued the ruble, that the country would pay off all its creditors." Beeston writes: "However, commentators have given a warning that Mr. Primakov may not be able to find a compromise to Russia's serious economic problems."

WASHINGTON POST: The new team represents a return to discredited policies

Commentator Adrian Karatnycky, president of the U.S.-based Freedom House, writes today in The Washington Post that the new leadership team represents a return to the discredited policies of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Karatnycky writes: "The dramatic standoff between anti-reform communist hard-liners and the moderately reformist administration of President Boris Yeltsin has yielded a stunning result in Russia: the ascendancy of a third force, the Gorbachevites, to the apex of Russian politics, and the return of Gorbachevism as the fundamental direction in Russian political life. The three men who stand at the top of the new government -- Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov; the (new) first deputy prime minister and economic czar, Yuri Maslyukov; and the new Central Bank chairman, Viktor Gerashchenko -- were an integral part of the Gorbachev-led team that guided the Soviet Union in its waning days."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Europeans can and should take the lead in helping Russia

Commentator William Pfaff writes today in the International Herald Tribune that Europe now must rush in where the U.S. leadership is too preoccupied to tread. He says: "As always, political crisis is accompanied by misery for the Russian people. Winter is about to arrive, at a moment when existing channels of food and fuel are failing."

Pfaff writes: "Leaders of the European Union argue now that social cohesion and institutional reform are much more important to Russia than the West has until now admitted." The writer says: "It would be possible for Western governments and agencies to finance Russia's basic imported food needs for the winter." He writes: "Given the policy paralysis in Washington, this would seem a matter in which the Europeans can and should take the lead."