Collective Sigh Heard Round the World
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 14, 1999; Page A22
BERLIN, Feb. 13 After watching in perplexed amazement while Washington stood by transfixed by President Clinton's impeachment trial, the rest of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief with the news of his acquittal and expressed the hope that he would now turn his attention to what they considered more important business.
Much of the world never understood how the president of the world's superpower could find himself in such jeopardy over a sexual dalliance with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. As a result, they saw the closing chapter of his trial as a much-belated attempt by the American political system to come to its senses.
In Mexico, where Clinton is scheduled to arrive Sunday to meet President Ernesto Zedillo, commentators described the impeachment process as an absurd melodrama. "It's incomprehensible for the majority of Mexicans that an intimate relationship . . . would be converted into a political persecution," observed political analyst Sergio Sarmiento.
The Argentine writer Tomas Eloy Martinez lamented the saga that led to Clinton's trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice as "a pathetic story" replete with "moral hypocrisy" and the "horror of the temptations of sex."
In Israel, Ehud Barak, the leader of the opposition Labor party who is trying to oust Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in May elections, wrote to Clinton applauding the Senate vote and saying he believes it will enable the president to concentrate on other matters, such as reviving the Middle East peace process.
Across Africa, the scandal managed to intrude into people's lives even though many were facing more serious matters, such as a simmering war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In the Eritrean capital of Asmara, people expressed amazement that a political crisis that grew out of private acts could obsess the United States for more than a year.
"It was in everybody's face," said Sarah Bereket, 20. "Believe me, people are tired of hearing about it." Others said they hoped that Clinton would be able to focus on more pressing issues, such as border skirmishes on their continent. "The presidency is much more than what Mr. Clinton has gone through," said Solomon Abraha, a travel agent.
European governments refrained from public comment on Clinton's victory. "As we have said all along, this has been a matter for the American Senate," said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Newspapers felt no such constraints.
"Thank goodness it is all over," observed the lead editorial in London's Independent newspaper. It went on to describe Clinton as "a shamed president," but expressed admiration for his Houdini-like ability to survive what once seemed like an impossible plight.
Much of the political coverage of Clinton's impeachment trial split along partisan lines in Britain, and the denouement in the Senate was no different. A headline in the Daily Mirror lambasted the "Randy Sinner's Cheap Lies" and an accompanying column concluded that "Bill Clinton emerges from this sorry saga with zero credibility."
Other British newspapers suggested that Clinton's reputation suffered such serious damage that it could hamper his ability to conduct foreign policy in his last two years in office.
In Germany, newspaper editorials savored the irony that the biggest losers in the Lewinsky scandal might turn out to be Clinton's most zealous political enemies.
The conservative daily Die Welt observed that the Republicans inflicted a humiliating moral defeat on themselves by persisting in pushing the impeachment process despite an overwhelming desire by the American public to drop the case..
"The highest price will be paid in any case by the Republicans," said the lead editorial in Die Tagespiegel, Berlin's most prominent newspaper. "Those who broke ranks will be deemed traitors to the party, and those who voted guilty will be seen as traitors to the American people."
In Poland, the political columnist Jan Skorzynski wrote that Clinton would be tarred by the infamous scandal that led to his impeachment, regardless of what he accomplished during his presidency. But his foes did not fare well, either. "It looks like everybody lost: politicians, prosecutor [Kenneth Starr] and the mass media," he said.
In Russia, reporters drew comparisons with ailing President Boris Yeltsin's possible impeachment process, which was inspired by his critics in the Communist-dominated lower house of parliament, the State Duma.
The newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta ran the headline, "In America, this result could be forecast. Not in Russia." While Yeltsin will probably avoid being impeached because his ouster would require a 75 percent majority in parliament's upper house, it might soon be heatedly debated.
Correspondents Karl Vick in Asmara, Eritrea, T.R. Reid in London, Peter Finn in Warsaw and David Hoffman in Moscow contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company