What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 7 1998 3:30 AM

A wave of anti-American feeling swept through the European press this week, fueled by a mixture of Monica Lewinsky, Karla Faye Tucker, Saddam Hussein, and the cable-car disaster at Cavalese in the Italian Dolomites. Anti-Americanism was exceptionally strong in Italy, where a U.S. Prowler jet on a low-flying exercise from the U.S. air base at nearby Aviano cut through the wire of a cable car Tuesday and sent 20 skiers plunging to their deaths. Thursday's Italian papers were packed for the second day running with negative comment about the United States, taking their lead from President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and Prime Minister Romano Prodi, both of whom, despite President Clinton's apology, had used harsh, undiplomatic language to condemn the U.S. role in the tragedy.


In La Repubblica of Rome, the respected columnist Giorgio Bocca accused the U.S. commanders at Aviano of "manifest and inexcusable arrogance." For months on end, Bocca said, they had ignored repeated civilian warnings and protests about the low-flying exercises. "There is a fundamental contradiction in American foreign policy," he wrote. "On the one hand, the United States has realized that the world cannot be entrusted solely to the pursuit of profit and to the indiscriminate use of the global capital market, and it has breathed new life into supranational institutions like the IMF and the U.N. Security Council. On the other hand, the American military continue to regard their host countries as subject to their military needs or to their war games while they live in superb isolation in their uncontrollable, inaccessible bases. Perhaps imperial powers have always behaved like that, but it's not pleasant and it's not dignified for those who have to bear the consequences--in this case tragically."

In Corriere della Sera of Milan Thursday, front-page commentary brought Tucker, Lewinsky, Aviano, and Iraq together under the headline "The Sad Face of America." Author Gianni Riotta said: "The old and tired Yeltsin raises his voice against his country's Cold War enemy in tones that haven't been heard in the Kremlin for years. An astute politician, Yeltsin recognizes the sad face of America and seizes the opportunity to appear as a wise elder statesman." There was now a risk, Riotta added, that the Europeans would see only this "sad face" and forget the millions of "respectable Americans" more interested in debating issues than in oral sex.

La Stampa of Turin Wednesday attacked the U.S. military as "Rambos" in a headline and published a front-page column the next day titled (in English) "Yankee Go Home." This was not a call for action, however, but a nostalgic evocation of the Italian anti-Americanism of the past. All Italian newspapers prominently reported the Communist Party's new demand for the closure of U.S. bases on Italian soil and the remarks made by the parish priest of Cavalese about President Clinton, whom he called variously a "womanizer," a "warmonger," and "a man without moral or political principles."

In France, Germany, and Spain, the execution of Tucker in Huntsville, Texas, was the subject of much adverse comment. In Paris, both Le Monde and Libération featured it in their front-page lead stories and their main editorials. In Libération, a smiling photograph of Tucker filled two-thirds of the front beneath the headline "A Frightening America." The editorial inside described Tucker as "a manifestly sincere penitent," and said, "One couldn't imagine a better argument against the death penalty than Karla Tucker, or a better demonstration of the absurdity of a social vengeance that is taken after 14 years not against the author of the crime, but against this other person the criminal has become in the meantime." The editorial said that Gov. George Bush Jr. had made the right decision, from his own point of view, to show no mercy--after all, he might wish to run for the U.S. presidency, which is probably how Bill Clinton thought when he was governor of Arkansas and didn't once exercise his power of clemency.

Le Monde's front-page cartoon showed the traditional figure of death, with a syringe in one hand and a scythe sporting the stars and stripes in the other, facing a sea of television cameras and announcing, somewhat obscurely, "Me, I've had an adventure with the Governor of Texas." The newspaper's main headline was "The execution of Karla Tucker underlines the banalization of the death penalty in the United States," while its editorial, headlined "A Justice That Kills," said this was a kind of justice that could never be justified. The paper quoted Amnesty International statistics showing that, out of a total of 193 countries in the world, 100 had abolished the death penalty. The United States finds itself in the company of countries like China and Iraq, it said, adding, "The social and racial logic that the United States has never radically questioned deepens the barbarism of the American exception." It is common knowledge among criminologists that "the death penalty strikes first and foremost at the underprivileged. Of the 3,300 people awaiting execution in the United States on Jan. 1, 1998, 48 percent were white and 41 percent black, [even though African-Americans] represent only 12 percent of the American population."

As he departed for Washington on an official visit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair published an op-ed article in the conservative Daily Telegraph of London reaffirming Britain's readiness to take part in military action against Iraq. He wrote that an American journalist had recently asked him if he had "considered cancelling the visit in the light of the media frenzy that has surrounded President Clinton over the past couple of weeks." "The thought had not even crossed my mind," Mr. Blair wrote. "The idea that we should distance ourselves from an ally and a friend because of short-term media turbulence is absurd." Two days earlier, Hugo Young, chief columnist of the liberal Guardian and normally very sympathetic to Blair, had written: "What is unfolding between London and Washington shows the same submissive respect by the lesser for the stronger partner as prevailed in the Reagan-Thatcher years, highlighted now by Britain's solitary, potentially catastrophic, part in a joint venture against Iraq."

The Independent of London reported Thursday that "air strikes against targets in Iraq will start in 12 days time on 17 February, if current diplomatic moves to defuse the crisis fail." Quoting "sources in Washington," the Independent's Jerusalem correspondent, Patrick Cockburn, said planners considered this the optimum date for attack, because by then 1) the United States would have three carriers in the Gulf and 2) the United States and Britain would be able to say they had given ample time for diplomatic moves by Russia and France to bear fruit. In the DailyTelegraph, British military historian John Keegan wrote that a new air campaign against Iraq "would probably have to be nastier than it was before, directed at civilian targets, which the coalition forces deliberately spared in 1991." He proposed the targeting of the Iraqi electricity grid, but acknowledged that a lengthy interruption of service would inflict much misery on the Iraqi masses.

In Asia and Africa the Monica Lewinsky scandal was still alive and kicking. The Post Express of Nigeria said in an editorial that it would like to "commend the American people for their watchful insistence on probity and moral rectitude for public office holders," but proposed caution in pursuing Clinton because "it will be foolhardy for America to cut its nose to spite its face." The Pioneer of India said it was appalled not by the idea of Clinton and Lewinsky having an affair but by "the world's refusal to be shocked by it." It blamed "this non-judgmental stand" on the expression "It's my life"--"the magic mantra of our times which spells instant immunity from all wrong."