Small World

Jewish World Review /Jan. 19, 1999 / 2 Shevat, 5759

Europe's Really Worried Now



By Richard Z. Chesnoff

WAY BACK IN '98, when the Oval Office sex scandal burst forth in full, lurid detail, most folks in Europe seemed bemused (if confused) by the degree to which it totally captured America's political attention.

"Like most Puritans, you Americans are obsessed with sex," was the way one old French friend put it. His conclusion, and that of many other Europeans: "You've gone a little crazy; hopefully, it will pass."

Well, it hasn't. And with the world watching the spectacle of an American President standing partisan trial because he allegedly lied about a sexual dalliance, most folks I spoke to on a trip to Europe last week are now convinced we've gone completely nuts, if not criminally insane.

"Here in Europe, a politician's private life is just that his private life," says popular French writer Marek Halter. "Besides, it's normal. If a man betrays his wife, he doesn't admit it."

But Halter says the issue is greater than playing truth or consequences about infidelity: "A big democracy cannot allow clandestine love affairs to determine the global future. You are the only superpower left. Just how do you expect anyone to take American leadership seriously if you bring your national political life and the world's to a grinding halt because of Clinton's private life?"

As Halter and many other Europeans see it, the humiliating impeachment process is pecking away at the presidency and will continue to do so until both Bill Clinton and America lose their leadership potential. "You are endangering the world."

The fact is, it's already had its eroding effects. The French are convinced the recent bombing raids on Iraq were merely political expediency. The French government, which has been dancing around the issue of sanctions against Iraq in hopes of finding a way to renew business ties with Saddam Hussein, has now openly challenged the American-led position and calls for an immediate lifting of the sanctions.

As for Saddam, he must be doing one of those Hitler-like victory jigs around whichever of his 80 palaces he's currently hiding in.

The weakening of America hasn't gone unnoticed in the rest of the Mideast, either. Palestinians and Israelis alike fear for the future of their fragile peace process. As David Makovsky, senior analyst at Israel's prestigious daily Haaretz, puts it: "We worry that America is so preoccupied with the trauma of a stained dress that it will forget about real issues and lurking dangers."

And that's just the Mideast. What about the ecological-political crisis in the former Soviet Union? North Korea's saber-rattling? The impact of the new Euro currency? Famine and genocide in Africa? The economic hemorrhaging in Brazil? You name it.

"The U.S. is strong enough to eventually bounce back from most anything," says leading Zurich business consultant Uelrich Richard. "But in the short term, all this impeachment business will hurt both the dollar and the stock market." Adds Richard: "Frankly, I'm confused. The Republicans are shooting themselves in their own rear end."

Of course, Republicans and other partisans of impeachment will self- righteously argue that they are placing the values of democracy above all, that impeachment for the sake of truth and honest government demonstrates America's strength, not its weakness.

But here, too, Europeans disagree. "We cannot understand," says Marek Halter, "how the Congress of the greatest democracy in the world ignores the opinion of the majority of its citizens who clearly don't want this impeachment process. Where is the interaction between legislators and the citizenry? You are not showing your strength, you are showing weakness, and in a very direct way, you are strengthening your totalitarian critics."


JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His book on the wartime plunder of the Jews, Pack of Thieves, will be published by Doubleday in 1999.

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