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Western Press Review: Clinton Completed, Kosovo Pending

  • Don Hill

Prague, 15 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With an almost audible sigh of relief, Western press commentary seemed this weekend to wrap up the Clinton scandal and trial. More commentators' attention turned to Kosovo and the extended negotiations in Rambouillet, near Paris.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: This never was a crisis

Some U.S. commentary took a self-congratulatory tone; hailing the Senate's refusal to convict President Bill Clinton as proof that the system works. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, said in an editorial Sunday: "Americans are resilient, and our constitutional system has withstood far more severe assaults over the past 210 years and will easily survive this one. This never was a crisis that took the nation to the brink."

LE MONDE: The America of common sense has triumphed

From Paris, Le Monde also finds the outcome positive. It editorializes today: "The verdict pronounced by the Senate denotes the first serious halt signal for the neo-conservative crusade, begun in the early '80s, which sought to steer Americans moral and sexual behavior. The America of common sense has triumphed over fundamentalist pastors. America, which wants to preserve the achievements of the '60s, which these people wanted to abolish. The Americans have identified more with Bill Clinton than with [prosecutor] Kenneth Starr, and that is all for the better."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Senate's acquittal of President Clinton ushers in a new era of distrust in Washington

But the New York Times sees trouble ahead. It said in an editorial Sunday: "The Senate's acquittal of President Clinton brings relief to a scandal-weary country, but it ushers in a new era of distrust in Washington."

WASHINGTON POST: The Constitution lost in a big way

The Washington Post Saturday called the congratulations contingent "nonsense." It said in an editorial: "Senators and commentators Friday were eager to brand the vote a victory for the Constitution. That is nonsense. The Constitution lost in a big way the moment the man in whom it vested the entire executive power of the United States decided to cheat a court in order to protect himself. That this matter is finally over is a good thing. And Mr. Clinton, to be sure, can now rest easy in the knowledge that he will serve the rest of his term. That is not, however, any kind of vindication worth celebrating for Mr. Clinton, much less for the Constitution. It is a simple judgment - more mature, perhaps, than principled, and made with every understanding of the ignoble qualities of the man who sits in the Oval Office - that not every offense is worth punishing. That judgment is nothing to gloat about."

TIMES: Democrats should view his acquittal as a portent of trouble to come

Commentator William Rees-Mogg, writing in today's The Times, London, sums up Clinton as a "robber Humpty Dumpty" . Rees-Mogg writes: "There is a simple rule to apply to Bill Clinton; when he is down, he is about to come back up, and when he is up he is about to fall back down again. His whole political career, since he was first elected as Governor of Arkansas has been that of a robber Humpty Dumpty. He was first called the Comeback Kid when he lost the governorship and then won it back."

The writer says: "His moment of maximum danger is when he is up. Then he is likely to make one of the hubristic mistakes which have disfigured his career. The moment of danger for his opponents is when he is down; he is then as dangerous as a cornered animal. By this rule, [his fellow] Democrats should view his acquittal by the Senate as a portent of trouble to come."

WASHINGTON POST: The world is wondering what has happened to its greatest democracy

A former Democratic member of the House of Representatives, Henry Reuss, in a commentary in Saturday's Washington Post questioned the basic constitutional impeachment process. He wrote: "The damage wrought by the impeachment fiasco will linger on. A precious year has been taken from the pressing problems of government. The world is wondering what has happened to its greatest democracy. Reckless partisanship engendered by the proceedings continues to seethe. There must be a better way to run a government." Reuss concluded: "Congress has not exactly covered itself with glory of late. It could make amends and restore public confidence if it now proceeded to study whether gridlock does not need a better safety valve than impeachment."

ARIZONA REPUBLIC: You've turned a system of governing into a dirty joke

And Arizona Republic reporter P. J. Erickson, speaking, he says, for the American people, published Sunday an open message to U.S. political leaders: "It's simple, you political wizards: We're sick of you. We're sick of your spin-doctors, your campaign managers, your [public relations] specialists, your trial balloons, your mindless babbling, and the media advisers who dress you in your TV shirts and power ties. We're sick of your photo opportunities, your sound bites, your campaign financing schemes, your junkets and your pork barrels, your chest-pounding righteousness, and your weaselly, squirming rationalizations."

The writer concluded: "So enough with the fratricidal back-stabbing and shooting yourselves in the foot. Our forebears provided us with as good a system for governing as ever existed. You've turned it into a dirty joke. Stop the circus. Start the statesmanship. Do something!"

TIMES: Prospects for success at Rambouillet are poor

Turning to Kosovo, The Times in London editorializes pessimistically today: "[U.S. Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright's message yesterday to President [Milan] Milutinovic of Serbia could not have been blunter. Unless the Serbs begin serious business at the Kosovo peace talks, they face NATO air strikes. Her exasperation, shared by all the Contact Group members, is fully justified." The editorial says: "Ms. Albright has succeeded at least in forcing the two sides to meet face-to-face. But this does not signify much. Both want to give an impression of negotiating in good faith; neither has any intention of doing so."

The Times concludes: "Prospects for success at Rambouillet are poor. The Serbs are still not reconciled to any meaningful autonomy; the Albanians are determined to fight for immediate independence. They have five days to draw back from the brink."

NEW YORK TIMES: There are fears that the administration is marching into an ancient swamp

In an analysis in today's New York Times, Serge Schmemann writes that the United States remains wary of Kosovo involvement. He writes: "While President Clinton's proposal to send American troops to Kosovo heartened promoters of a more active American role in preventing ethnic carnage, it also aroused fears that the administration is marching into an ancient swamp without a clear idea of how not to get mired in it."

NEW YORK TIMES: The division runs to the core of the future mission of the alliance

And Craig R. Whitney writes in the same newspaper that NATO itself could become a casualty. He says in an analysis: "The NATO alliance, as it approaches its 50th anniversary celebrations in Washington in April, is hardly one big, happy family. While the latest squabbles have been over how to share the burdens of placing troops in Kosovo, the division is bigger than any single issue, running to the core of the future mission of the alliance. Whitney adds that "The European allies are complaining about American highhandedness, the elevated place of what the French call American hyperpower and what Europeans see as a growing tendency by Washington to go it alone. American officials answer that they welcome a more active role for the Europeans, but that the Europeans are incapable of taking the lead, even when the United States offers it to them."

HERALD TRIBUNE: For NATO the seeds of opportunity or discord lie at Rambouillet

In today's International Herald Tribune, Washington Post commentator in Paris Jim Hoagland agrees. He says: "The United States and its main European allies have dragged Serbs and ethnic Albanians to France to reconcile their murderous differences. In this exercise of diplomatic desperation lie seeds of opportunity or discord for an Atlantic alliance struggling to find a new identity beyond the Cold War."