London Calling

London Calling

London Calling

What the foreign papers are saying.
Sept. 17 2001 11:30 PM

London Calling

Regular "International Papers" columnist June Thomas files this column from London, where she has been stranded by flight disruptions.

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Britain's weekend papers were fat and photo-filled. In Sunday's Observer, Peter Preston detailed the extra copies cranked out by the London dailies last Wednesday: The broadsheet Daily Telegraph increased its press run by approximately 20 percent, the middle-market Daily Mail by 25 percent, and the Daily Express by 10 percent. Even so, it was difficult to buy a paper. Most newsagents were sold out even in big cities—in Manchester last Wednesday, only a few copies of the Communist Morning Star and a handful of foreign papers were left on the shelves by midmorning.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

With the benefit of several days' reflection, most of the British papers stuck to the tone they'd struck in the hours immediately following the terrorist strikes: Liberal columnists warned that retaliation would lead to heightened conflict, and conservatives claimed there was no other choice.

In the Observer, an op-ed advised that the West "will not purchase security from terror by terrorising thousands more innocents in other countries." Writing in the International Herald Tribune, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans urged America to channel its anger to the fight against terrorism's sources rather than lashing out at Afghanistan:

The masterminds may well prove to be those terrorists still being harbored by the Taleban leadership in Afghanistan. But heaping further misery on those Afghans who had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks will only convince the next generation of refugees and orphans that the West is an implacable and irrational enemy bent only on the endless destruction of a weak and helpless people.

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The Sunday Telegraph blustered that the choice was between "appeasement or war. … The appeasers argue that retaliation will be a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, and that is probably so. But to argue that for the West to do nothing would have the opposite effect is nonsense." The editorial presented Britain's unflinching support for the United States as a matter of obligation—and managed to make a few digs at European politicians:

Twice in the last century, this country and others like it were saved by American intervention. Alliance carries with it obligations, and it is encouraging that Tony Blair's support for the President has been so robust in contrast to the deplorably equivocal remarks made by Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, and Louis Michel, the Belgian foreign minister and current holder of the EU Presidency, who simply said: "We are not at war." Yes, we are, Mr. Michel, as Nato has already agreed.

Several writers, in their search for the "underlying causes" of Tuesday's terrorism, looked toward Israel. In the Observer, veteran columnist Richard Ingram announced, "Noticeable was the reluctance throughout the media to contemplate the Israeli factor—the undeniable and central fact behind the disaster that Israel is now and has been for some time an American colony, sustained by billions of American dollars and armed with American missiles, helicopters and tanks." An Observer editorial said the United States needs to understand why it earns so much hostility around the world. It continued: "It will, in particular, make little progress without coming to terms with the consequences of its unqualified support for Israel and the deeply disquieting methods that country is using to sustain its position in Palestine. No progress in a 'war' against international terrorism is possible without stopping the Israeli settler movement and one of its consequences, more than a million people living in refugee camps: it is as simple as that." Still another Observer columnist quoted a statement in the Israeli paper Ma'ariv: "From the perspective of the Jews, it is the most important public relations act ever committed in our favour. The pictures are terrible and they are better than a thousand ambassadors trying to explain how dangerous Islamic terror is." In Saturday's Daily Telegraph, Barbara Amiel refused to blame Israel:

While there is no doubt that the struggle between the Jews and Palestinians has inflamed many of the groups involved, that conflict is a figleaf for the real battle. Emerging evidence shows that Tuesday's outrage had been planned for at least two years—at the height of Oslo's hopes. If Israel were to be removed from the equation, the war would continue.

There were few good reviews for President Bush's crisis management. His only praise came from the populist Sun, Britain's most-read paper. It said: "Some commentators poke fun at Bush because he doesn't have the gift of the gab like Bill Clinton did. But Clinton was a glib liar and a cheat. Is that the kind of President they would prefer when their country is at war with a vicious enemy?" The Daily Mirror, the Sun's biggest tabloid rival, took the opposite view. Comparing the crowd's reaction to Clinton's and Bush's walkabouts in New York, it declared: "The 42nd and 43rd presidents had come to lift this devastated city with their charisma but there had been no comparison with their impact. Clinton had been towering and inspirational. Bush merely a lost novice. Which gave America one more reason to weep." Even Bush loyalist Mark Steyn found the president's performance wanting. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he admitted: "Those of us who began supporting George W. Bush's candidacy before he even declared it have spent the last two years defending him from Democrat accusations that he's an articulate mediocrity who's helpless without his daddy's buddies. To put it at its mildest, this week he didn't exactly quash that." He continued:

Where Bush isn't getting it right, though, is tonally. On Thursday, he became moist-eyed as he talked about "hunting down" the terrorists. Crying is fine, but at that point it seemed to weaken his words. The difference between this and Oklahoma City is that it's not about "healing" and "closure" and all the other cheap, empty Clintobabble. If Bush got out more among his people, he'd understand that they don't want him to share their grief so much as articulate their anger.