Prague, 21 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary focuses strongly on Saturday's impeachment of Bill Clinton by the U.S. House of Representatives, which leaves it up the Senate to decide the President's fate. The U.S.-British airstrikes on Iraq, which were halted over the weekend, also receive some comment.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Clinton should not resign
Three British newspapers carry editorials on Clinton's impeachment. The Times says: "Clinton should not resign. The Senate should not sidestep a trial. And America's allies will just have to live with the consequent uncertainty."
Those who call for Clinton's resignation, the FT goes on, "are wrong. And so are the advocates...of a form of pleas bargaining [that is, motion of censure]....The President himself endorsed this option in...his...speech on Saturday. Both these approaches are mistaken," the paper says," because they seek to short-circuit the balanced mechanism [of the U.S. Constitution]."
The editorial continues: ""The Constitution provides for a trial before the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court....Mr. Clinton has a right to that trial. He is correct in refusing to resign if he is to leave office, he should do so only if the Senate convicts him."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: Clinton's refusal to resign proves he is unfit
The Telegraph has a much different view, entitling its editorial, "Clinton Must Go." The paper writes: "The much-vaunted defiance of the Clintons is really an act of supreme selfishness. The U.S. is being made to suffer for the President's benefit."
The editorial goes on "So low has his credibility fallen that senior members of his Administration and his principal ally, [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair, were obliged last week to go to extraordinary lengths to deny that the timing of [the air strikes against Iraq] had been affected by the impeachment vote. Were Mr. Clinton an innocent man," the DT adds, "such damage to American prestige might have been justifiable. But he is not an innocent man: he hasn't a leg to stand on, and yet he's standing on it."
The DT also concludes: "If the President has any sense of honor left...he would resign. The fact that he refuses even to contemplate resignation is the final proof that he is unfit for office."
GUARDIAN: The Senate must step back from impeachment
The paper today says "Don't Impeach Him." In an editorial, the paper says: "Clinton has in many ways been a serious disappointment. The hopes he engendered at the beginning of his first term for a fairer society evaporated as he embraced the Republican agenda to win his second term. But this...is not an impeachable offense."
The editorial goes on: "The question is one of proportionality: should he be impeached as president or prosecuted for perjury once he has left office? His offenses surely fall short of 'high crimes and misdemeanors' required for impeachment."
The Guardian argues: "Censure him now, and prosecute him later by all means, but the Senate must step back from the grave step of impeachment."
IRISH TIMES: Clinton deserves censure, not impeachment
The Irish Times also notes Clinton's "search for a formula allowing the Senate to censure him rather than proceed to the full impeachment hearing....No contemporary politician," the paper says, "is more attuned to the fickleness of public opinion." It adds: "The sooner the matter is resolved the better it will be for American politics and a world anxious that U.S. leadership be exerted in a focused and responsible fashion."
The IT's editorial continues: "Unprecedented bitterness has characterized the campaign for this impeachment decision, only the second so far in U.S. history. Commentators correctly discern a general coarsening of the country's political fabric in the personal attacks, the win-at-all-costs attitudes and the negative campaigns which have now come to a crescendo."
It adds: "Confronted with the prospect of further long exposure to details of the [Monica] Lewinsky affair, it may well be that public opinion will swing towards the necessity of such a cathartic gesture [that is, resignation] from Mr. Clinton. Short of that, he still has a strong case to make. His recklessness, dishonesty and political misjudgments throughout the Lewinsky affair deserve censure, not conviction in an impeachment process."
GLOBE AND MAIL (CANADA): Clinton validates dysfunction if he resigns
The newspaper writes: "There are two things wrong with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton: its provenance and its relevance. It is rooted in a cynical, partisan legal trap, and it concerns a purely private matter, rather than a matter of state."
The paper writes that "private and personal affairs have been dragged into the public arena to be used as weapons in a moralist jihad that has all the quality of a school-yard brawl."
The editorial goes on: "Friends of the U.S. abroad can only be appalled and profoundly discouraged by the descent of the American political class into the sniggering, bitter, snooping and contemptuous world that passes for democracy in Washington and New York today. So far in this desultory year, it is the American people who have kept their sense of humanity, of proportion and of justice."
The paper concludes: "The U.S. Senate now has one last chance to pull back from the swamp and negotiate a sensible settlement with Mr. Clinton, avoiding a trial that would humiliate the United States around the world. One thing Mr. Clinton must not do, lest he validate this awful dysfunction, is resign." lh
SVENSKA DAGBLADET (SWEDEN): The grand trial increases Clinton's popularity
The paper writes today: "The paradox about Bill Clinton and the decision to start a grand trial against him is that what has been designed to remove him from power has in fact increased his popularity. Clinton has become a symbol as well as a question of principle....Clinton," the paper goes on, " has a superb instinct to blend the moral, the religious and the patriotic that few other American presidents have had. It has won him many admirers, but also many personal enemies."
POLITIKEN (DENMARK): The odds against Clinton are great
In Denmark, Joergen Larsen writes in a commentary: "In the midst of his political humiliation, President Clinton has one reason to cheer: the people of America support him more than ever. Three out of four, according to a new poll, think he is doing a good job as President, and two out of three say the nation should not be exposed to a protracted and complicated grand trial against him."
Larsen goes on: "A President who has but two years left in office, is almost by definition a tired one. The air has gone half-way out of the balloon, the big questions have been answered, the attention is directed at whoever is going to succeed him. In addition, Clinton has his own largely self-inflicted woes to take care of."
He sums up: "The odds against him are great, One house of Congress has declared he is incapable of leading the nation. Yet his Republican opponents suffer from a leadership crisis. Clinton must continue to ensure the 'outer front' as well, first and foremost in relation to Iraq. But even in the U.S. there are many doubts about what Clinton's long-term strategies are."
LE MONDE: Rarely has the U.S. given us such a show
"Fractured America" is the title of today's editorial in the French daily. The Paper writes: "Between the images of strikes on Iraq and the avowals of adultery by the new chief of the Republicans [Bob Livingston]; between the take-offs of bombing planes and the firing of political rockets in Washington; between the Pentagon's war communiques and the clamor of political jousting in Congress -- rarely has the U.S. --the mother of political spectacles-- given us such a 'show.'"
The paper goes on: "The collision of the two events --bombing Iraq and preparing for the [Senate] trial of the President because of the Lewinsky affair-- has produced an extravagant atmosphere in the federal capital....Bill Clinton wants to give a lesson to Saddam Hussein, while the Congress wants to give a lesson to Bill Clinton."
Le Monde adds: "The U.S...could easily be weakened by all this. For [perhaps] the first time in their history, both political parties have failed to practice the neutrality they usually do in difficult moments for the country --notably, when American forces are conducting an operation in a far-off place. Mr. Clinton has... sinned a great deal. But the responsibility for this crazy situation falls first and foremost on the Republican majority in Congress."
NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton must confess that he lied under oath
In the U.S., the Times writes today of "censure stirrings in the Senate." The paper says: "After the polarizing impeachment proceedings of the House, it is heartening to see the Senate already taking a more measured, less partisan approach to Bill Clinton's serious misconduct. An early and partial sampling of Senate sentiment Sunday suggests there are the makings of a bipartisan deal that would bring this matter to a just and speedy resolution by severely censuring Clinton while allowing him to complete his term."
The editorial goes one to say that, to make possible a censure motion, "Clinton must finally give up the concoction that he did not lie under oath in his August grand-jury appearance. All settlement possibilities flow from that confession, and without it Clinton will force the Senate and the country to endure an extended trial that will not serve the national interest and will further weaken an already shriveled presidency."
The paper adds: "Clinton can unlock the door to a censure package....The Constitution leaves little doubt that the Senate must open a trial when presented with articles of impeachment by the House. But there is no requirement that a case be carried to conviction or acquittal. By a simple majority vote, a trial can be suspended or ended at any time. "
The NYT concludes: "It is time for Clinton to end both his year-long estrangement from the law and his refusal to help settle the mess created by his recklessness, and for Congress to bring this case to a close."
WASHINGTON POST: The House has lowered the bar for future actions against presidents
The Post yesterday called Saturday's vote in the House to impeach Clinton a "mistake," writing: "It had an understandable basis, given both the President's misdeeds and his consistent and infuriating unwillingness to acknowledge them. But impeachment's supporters, in their enthusiasm to defend the legal system against President Clinton's abuses of it, ignored the long-range implications of their own votes. They have collectively --in some cases, for reasons of deep conviction, and in other cases, out of partisanship-- lowered the bar for future House actions against presidents."
The WP continued: "The combined message of Saturday's votes is that a single party in a lame-duck [that is, outgoing] Congress can impeach a twice-elected president who retains substantial public confidence. It can do so, moreover, on the strength of inadequately supported allegations of charges for which prudence might well caution against impeachment."
"And it can do so, finally," the editorial said, "by heavy-handed tactics preventing members from adopting more-cautious alternatives. One does not have to be a supporter of Mr. Clinton to worry that this message is dangerous both for the presidency and for the rule of law in the name of which he has now been impeached."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Senate should condemn Clinton and then move on
The Times wrote yesterday: "The Senate should adopt and send to the House a resolution expressing its abhorrence of Clinton's behavior and specifically condemning him for lying under oath. Clinton should agree beforehand to accept this condemnation, thereby, at long last, acknowledging his falsehoods and the dishonor he brought on his office."
"Then," concludes the paper, "our nation must move on, with the American people grateful that this vile and dispiriting business finally has been brought to an acceptable end."
NEW YORK TIMES: U.S. and Britain should be ready to attack again
Some newspapers continue commenting on the U.S.-British air strikes on Iraq which were halted over the weekend. The Times today writes: "Initial Pentagon assessments of the four-day air campaign against Iraq suggest that Saddam Hussein suffered heavy but not irretrievable losses. It may take Iraq as long as a year to restore its ability to deliver biological and chemical weapons against potential targets in the Middle East."
The paper goes on: "The U.S. and Britain should maintain sufficient forces in the area to attack Iraq again if it threatens its neighbors, expands its arsenal of mass destruction weapons or rebuilds the missiles used to carry them. But new air strikes should not be launched absent clear justification and careful diplomatic preparation."
The editorial also says: "The air strikes were aimed not just at Iraqi weapons programs but also at weakening Saddam's rule. Allied missiles and aircraft attacked presidential palaces, the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party and the barracks of elite security forces like the Republican Guard. These were legitimate targets since they have all been involved in Iraqi attempts to conceal biological and chemical weapons or missile production. But Washington should not delude itself into thinking that such attacks will pave the way for a revolt that topples Saddam."
AFTENPOSTEN (NORWAY): Britain has given its EU partners a cold shoulder
The Norwegian daily comments on the attacks against Iraq: 'When considering new action against Saddam Hussein, the Americans and the British should seek broader [international] support. The United Nations and the veto-holding powers Russia and China should not be sidetracked. Britain has given its European Union partners a cold shoulder in this crisis despite Tony Blair's assurances to the contrary."
The paper's editorial goes on: "Arab protests against the bombardments could be dangerous. They are aimed directly against Washington and London, but indirectly they slash at moderate Arab leaders. They can be used by radicals and/or fundamentalists to undercut the West's position in the oil-rich Middle East."
The paper concludes: "After several days of war, the politicians of the West should commence a serious discussion about how a life-threatening despot can be stopped. There has hardly been such a discussion in the past."