Clinton Accused Special Report
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Full text of Saturday's White House response. The Starr report is also online.

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Full Coverage: Including More Post Stories

World Weighs Impact of Starr Report

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 13, 1998; Page A42

MEXICO CITY, Sept. 12—"Hasta la vista, amigo?" screamed the bold headline this morning in one of Mexico City's most respected newspapers, beneath a photograph of a beaten-looking President Clinton.

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.

Outrage, Comparison, Compassion:
Editorial comment from around the world.

The Sun, London
"William Jefferson Clinton is unfit to be president of the United States.... He is a cheap and nasty guttersnipe with no principles.... If he says he has one hand on his Bible, you wonder what he's doing with the other one. ... The lying fornicator must go."

The Guardian, London
"Four years of dogged sleuthing with virtually unlimited powers of search and subpoena, and at the end of it [Starr's] remorseless searchlight catches and freezes two people engaged in a spot of slap and tickle. At the revelation of this offence, the most powerful country in history grinds to a shocked and ghostly standstill....That Clinton's misjudgment in a private matter of sex has occasioned public agitation is an accident of history. He must not be made a scapegoat."

The Irish Times, Dublin
"The gravity of the case against [Clinton] is clear -- even if there remains a lingering suspicion that the whole sorry business from Whitewater onward owes much to a tawdry alliance between deeply conservative forces in American politics. It is also the case that the personal charges against President Clinton pale in comparison to the more substantial political case levelled, for example, against President Ronald Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair."

La Jornada, Mexico City
"The president of the world's greatest power could be subject to political trial and eventually dismissed due to a very peculiar combination of a strict respect for justice, a hypocritical moral puritanism, the revenge of a sector of the right ... and the worries of the financial world over stability in the United States in a time of severe crisis at an international level."

The Times of India, New Delhi
"Can the self-appointed guardian of transnational codes of conduct afford, in terms of its own self-image, to allow itself to forget or forgive in its chief executive the sin of being only too human? Ultimately, President Clinton's unpardonable offence may prove to be not monstrous turpitude but common humanity. If in the end he is sacrificed on the altar of America's hubris, his impeachment will be a ritual exorcism ... for the heresy of being a mere flesh and blood mortal."

Le Monde, Paris
"This new McCarthyism, in which the panicked fear of Communism is replaced by the fear of sexuality, cannot be considered just an American curiosity, something exotic to our Latin culture. The influence the United States has on the whole world makes this a menace to us, too. The inquisitor Starr is the product of a long trend in which so-called moral and family values are turned into political doctrine, and on which Bill Clinton himself, in part, built his second term. If he has sinned politically, it's in playing that game which today has become his trap, and his drama."

"Clinton's administration is losing political initiative and is assuming the defensive. Today the House of Representatives intends to make public the report of the independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr on Monica Lewinsky's case.... [E]ach of the charges is enough to impeach him. In the past the position of the president was reinforced by the fact that the state of the economy in America was okay; however, now this last trump card can be beaten in his fight with opposition in the Congress.... If things develop like this further on, very soon friends Bill and Boris will be able to call each other only like private persons."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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