Prague, 9 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue today to weigh the pros and cons of the possible use of NATO force against Serbian forces in Kosovo as well as in other parts of Serbia. At the same time, yesterday's historic decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to launch a formal investigation of Bill Clinton also evokes some comment about the President's difficulties and their effect on the U.S. role in the world.
GUARDIAN: The risk of using force may have to be taken
Britain's Guardian daily titles its editorial, "Moving Milosevic: Force Can't be Ruled Out." The paper writes: "The failure of Europe and the United States to do anything serious about Kosovo has been far more of a scandal than other events which have usurped that title in 1998." The paper continues: "Now the drama of embassy evacuations, shuttles to Belgrade, NATO discussions, contact group meetings, and military preparations suggests that, finally, we are getting ready to deal with the problem of Kosovo, and if necessary to undertake armed action to coerce (Yugoslav President) Slobodan Milosevic."
The editorial then goes on to raise some questions: "Yet there are clearly doubts about such action in several and perhaps in all of the NATO countries....Warnings that were not in the end carried out, condemnations which were no more than rhetorical, and resolutions which led to no action litter the recent history of former Yugoslavia. So do compromises with the war-makers and ethnic cleansers, chief among them Milosevic."
The paper concludes with qualified support for the use of force against Serbia: "It is never clear where military action will lead in the longer run," it writes. "But it is not necessarily where those who initiated it wanted to go. Yet the risk may have to be taken, because the aim of preventing Milosevic from poisoning the future of the peoples of Kosovo and Serbia is so important."
TIMES: Charitable relief would save more Kosovar lives
In today's London Times, columnist Simon Jenkins takes an entirely different stance in a commentary titled, "Oh, what a silly war." Jenkins asks: "What is most likely to happen?" He answers: "The same mess as in Iraq (during and after the 1991 Gulf War). The bombers go in and cause general mayhem. The incensed Serbs pledge bloodthirsty revenge on every Kosovar. NATO falls apart over what to do next. Time passes....Nothing happens until another atrocity occurs. Then the sabers are rattled again, the bombers threaten again."
Jenkins continues by posing another question: "Can nothing else be done?" He responds again: "Not much. Great powers have to learn afresh each generation that to be powerful is not to be all-powerful. I have heard or read nothing sensible that the West can do in Kosovo, politically or militarily. Yet humanitarian relief and refugee assistance saved lives in Ethiopia, Croatia, even Afghanistan."
He adds: "Charitable relief would save more Kosovar lives than would...bombs....(So) if asked, can nothing be done? the answer is: plenty. We ran the Berlin airlift without feeling obliged to restart the Second World War."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Only violence can end violence
The case for using Western force in Kosovo is made today by Peter Muench in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. In a commentary he writes: "There is a clear answer to the death and terror, the expulsions and massacres of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo: military intervention. Only violence -- or the credible threat of it -- can end violence."
The commentary continues: "The question of intervening in Kosovo has become a test of faith for NATO....Washington sees itself as confronted with an old evil in the Kosovo debate: the Security Council (on which Russia and China have veto powers) is still blocking the U.S. even after its victory in the cold war."
But Muench concludes that, despite Russian and Chinese resistance, the use of Western force is still imperative: He writes: "Those who speak against a military strike, because out-of-touch Russian wranglers will not give their say-so, are certainly sticking to the letter of international law....Yet, at the same time, they are violating its spirit. In the worst case, they are making themselves guilty of possible genocide."
WASHINGTON POST: Air strikes are more likely to produce the opposite effect
In a news analysis for the Washington Post, R. Jeffrey Smith says a debate is growing within NATO on the use of air strikes against Serbia, with the central questions being, "Would they Help or Hurt Milosevic?" Writing from Belgrade, Smith says that, according to "the optimistic views expressed here by a few Western diplomats, air strikes would finally propel Mr. Milosevic to grant concessions on Kosovo...This view (also) holds that the popular anger provoked by a military confrontation might eventually be turned against Mr. Milosevic and weaken his political standing."
But, Smith continues, "many intellectuals, dissidents, and business people (in Belgrade) say that air strikes are more likely to produce the opposite effect, provoking a wave of nationalism and political repression that would strengthen Mr. Milosevic and undermine his already weak domestic opponents."
Smith also says: "Thus far, Mr. Milosevic's usual strategy toward the West -- belligerence, followed by eventual grudging acquiescence and...failure to follow through on his agreements -- has succeeded in (his) autocratic state, which has been politically and economically isolated from Europe for the past seven years."
NEW YORK TIMES: There cannot be a special standard for presidents who lie under oath
Commenting today on the U.S. House of Representatives' decision to launch an investigation into Bill Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair -- an inquiry that could lead to the President' impeachment -- the New York Times titles its editorial, "A Grim but Historic Day." The paper writes: "By becoming the third president to face an impeachment inquiry, Bill Clinton has secured an unfortunate historic distinction that he provoked with reckless personal actions and self-defeating political and legal tactics."
The NYT continues: "In Thursday's (congressional) debate on the legal case, the essence of the Democratic (Party) argument remained that Clinton's behavior was repugnant but that his was an individual failing rather than an offense against the state that warrants removal from office." The paper continues: "At its most elemental, the Republican (Party) response is that by lying under oath and sending others out to make sworn statements he knew to be false the President failed in his constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed."
The paper then delivers its own view: "On the evidence so far, we regard Clinton's false testimony as an offense against the rule of law that Congress cannot ignore....There cannot be a special standard for presidents who lie under oath. That has led (us) and many citizens of all stations to advocate a censure conditioned on Clinton's admission of lying under oath and provided that we have seen the worst evidence against him."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: The absence of American leadership makes the world a very nervous place
The Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial today addresses foreign concerns that, in the paper's words, "the U.S. could cripple its leader over what the French might call an affair of the heart." The WSJ writes: "In affairs of the heart, we are quite willing to concede that many of our foreign friends have earned the right to declare themselves more sophisticated than most Americans....But," the paper continues, "with regard to political structure, we may modestly assert that America's Founding Fathers built the worlds' most sophisticated system of government."
The WSJ editorial continues: "The immediate cause of the foreign concern...is the frightening prospect of a United States with a shell of a leader....The hard truth is that absent American leadership, the world becomes a very nervous place. It will now come under strains, but not break."
The editorial also says: "The American tradition at the center of the Clinton scandals is the rule of law. The U.S. preoccupation with the law as ultimate arbiter of public behavior has long been a source of friction with other countries....The equality of all men before the law is as precious to Americans as any of the animating traditions elsewhere."
HERALD TRIBUNE: The United States has been weakened in three vital ways
Writing in today's International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis addresses herself to the question of whether Clinton's problems have reduced U.S. influence in the world. She believes they have, writing: "This presidency, and thus the United States, has been weakened in three vital ways by the continuing obsession with a tawdry scandal of sex and lies."
Lewis explains: "First, (the scandal) is a preoccupation, distracting time and energy from urgent problems. Second, a caution is imposed that brakes any bold projects which might be wise and useful but not immediately popular, for fear of losing support."
"Third," Lewis writes, "is the need to hoard (presidential) clout. The influence a president can exert and the obligations he can call in must be focused on what he wants done. If he needs them to save himself, not much is left for other projects."
She concludes: "The country and, as the affair drags on, the world, is being punished by the American failure to get on with vital decisions."