By Molly Moore
It was the question weighed on editorial pages, in government offices and at cybercafes around the globe today, as analysts sought to assess the impact of the Starr report on world markets, politics and psyches.
To be sure, the salacious details of Clinton's White House exploits with former intern Monica S. Lewinsky gave the world's headline writers a field day. "Sex, Lies and Impeachment" and "Comeback Kid Plots Moves in Last Chance Saloon" were two of the headlines in the Times of London. "Cigar Sex. Phone Sex. Pizza Sex" read the triple-decker on Page One of the Sun, Britain's best-read daily.
But most of the world's press and international leaders approached the uproar with almost funereal somberness, viewing it as yet another potentially devastating blow in a relentlessly difficult summer.
In a season of international economic gloom, financial and political meltdown in Russia, heightened nuclear anxiety in South Asia, terrorism and war in Africa and growing uncertainty about the future on every continent, many eyes had looked to the only remaining superpower to maintain some semblance of stability on the planet. Now that hope is diminished.
"There is no doubt that a weakened presidency, its energy to deal with global issues sapped, is bad news for the world," intoned Singapore's Straits Times newspaper.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, fighting for reelection and trailing in the polls, took time out from his feverish campaigning to warn, "It is of the utmost importance that the only world power fully live up to its duties."
"Asia, Africa, India -- there are problems everywhere," Kohl told interviewers. "I can only hope the turbulence in Washington can be put to rest as quickly as possible so that the president is fully capable of performing his tasks."
In many nations, however, analysts are already writing Clinton's political obituary. "Two dark vans that drove [the report] to the Capitol were akin to hearses arriving to take away the corpse of the Clinton presidency," reported the Washington correspondent for the Sydney Morning News in Australia.
The overriding concern for much of the globe is the potential impact of political instability in Washington on already staggering world economies.
"Who can see clearly when a sexual virtuoso intern in the White House weighs more heavily on the markets than the economic achievements of whole countries and regions?" asked Hungary's largest daily newspaper, Nepszabadsag.
And in Mexico, where the stock market and peso have reached all-time lows in the past several days, the Mexico City daily La Jornada -- in an editorial headlined "Justice, morality, politics, business" -- fretted that the Mexican economy could crumple even further because of "a very peculiar combination of a strict respect for justice, a hypocritical moral puritanism [and] the revenge of a sector of the right."
In fact, that muddled confluence of disparate issues fascinates and confounds much of the rest of the world. In China, where the private lives of Communist Party leaders is off-limits to public discussion or the news media, television producer Jiang Jinglie marveled, "It's a sign of a democratic and legal society that this could happen to a president," adding that such a public scandal "would never have happened" to China's president.
But from France to Russia to Latin America, where political mistresses are part of the accepted political landscape, there was befuddlement over how sexual exploits could potentially bring down the most powerful leader in the world.
The French newspaper Le Monde dubbed it the "new McCarthyism, in which the panicked fear of Communism is replaced by the fear of sexuality."
In Russia, which has a collapsing economy and a crippled government and where members of the State Duma are said to have brought prostitutes into the legislative building, newspapers have all but ignored Clinton's problems. Even the threat of impeachment proceedings was allotted only a short, straightforward account in Izvestia, the main newspaper.
The newscaster for one of Hungary's largest commercial television stations dismissed the Starr report on today's newscast as "a several-thousand-page pornographic report" and questioned, "Which is more scandalous? That it happened or that the whole world can read this pornography?"
British tabloids, on the other hand, were wallowing in every sordid detail. The Sun, owned by conservative press baron Rupert Murdoch, sneered: "William Jefferson Clinton is unfit to be president of the United States. . . . He is a cheap and nasty guttersnipe with no principles."
The ongoing Washington scandal holds personal concerns for some world leaders. Aides to Japan's Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who is scheduled to make his first trip to the United States next week, are agonizing over the prospect of U.S. reporters ignoring Obuchi and peppering Clinton with questions about his sex life during a joint news conference.
In contrast, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is also scheduled to meet with Clinton in New York next week, telephoned the president as soon as news of the Starr report broke, spent 30 minutes commiserating with his friend and then made sure his spokesman informed the news media of the supportive call.
Meanwhile, the foreign press remained fascinated by Washington's fascination with the unfolding scandal.
"Washington is a village gathering for a public execution, unsure what mood to strike," wrote Jonathan Freedland, correspondent for the Guardian of London. "It wants to hang its head low in shame, but it cannot resist the chance to gawk and gossip with friends, to soak up the spectacle."
Also contributing to this report were correspondents Pamela Constable in New Delhi, William Drozdiak in Berlin, Peter Finn in Warsaw, Lee Hockstader in Jerusalem, David Hoffman in Moscow, Michael Laris in Beijing, T. R. Reid in London, Charles Trueheart in Paris and Serge F. Kovaleski in Caracas, Venezuela.
Editorial comment from around the world.
The Guardian, London
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company