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TIMELINE  |  FLASHBACK '91  |  FORCES IN THE GULF |  VIDEO  | BIOWEAPONS EXPLAINER

World media troubled by Clinton's timing in airstrikes

newspaper headline
A London newspaper headline
 
December 18, 1998
Web posted at: 3:31 p.m. EST (2031 GMT)

In this story:

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Newspapers around the world took sides Friday over U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq, but even supporters of President Bill Clinton had a big problem with his timing for the attacks.

Despite denials by Washington, suspicions were rife that the attacks were launched partly to divert attention from Clinton's threatened impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

"Is Slick Willie risking British lives to save his own neck?" asked Britain's right-wing Daily Mail.

"On the eve of a vote as significant (as the House of Representatives impeachment decision), Clinton should not have gone ahead with the attack," wrote Spain's leading daily, El Pais.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked: "Was it a despairing effort to save his own neck in a way that imitates fiction?"

There was broad support in British, Danish, Dutch and German newspapers for the decision to launch Operation Desert Fox against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But the press in France, Ireland and Arab countries were mostly hostile, saying the missile raids were unwarranted and their victims likely to be innocent civilians.

Following Chinese President Jiang Zemin's message to Clinton urging an end to the airstrikes, the official Chinese media denounced the attack on Iraq, calling it "a dangerous and odious precedent that shocked the entire world."

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, however, took a different view. In an editorial entitled "The Only Option," Hong Kong's leading English-language paper said that "diplomacy clearly has failed" in Iraq and that the attack "deserves more support" from Asia.

'Desert Fox or Monica Fox?'

Critics of the U.S.-British raids were merciless about the perceived "Monica factor" -- accusing Clinton of using military might in the Middle East to counter a sex-and- perjury scandal.

It is the most murderous fellation in history," France's center-left Liberation said in a crude reference to Clinton's affair with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

"Is it the Desert Fox or the Monica Fox?" jeered the official Egyptian daily Al-Gomhouria.

In Lebanon, the pro-Syrian Al-Diyar newspaper said simply: "We cannot ignore the link between the timing of the strikes and the Congress's plans to impeach Clinton."

In Ireland, where support for the raids was slight, a headline in Friday's Examiner said: "Lewinsky affair apparent in phallic missile deluge on Baghdad."

The Irish Independent was incensed with U.S. policy. It said Hussein was a serious threat but described missile attacks on cities as "crude and contemptible.'

"We should condemn the turning on of an instant war as if it were water from a tap. It is no way to run the world," it said.

Hussein 'only understands force'

Clinton and his motives took a battering in many newspaper columns but Hussein was not spared.

"Saddam, the man who once shot a minister who had contradicted him, is a dominator who only understands the language of force," said Bild, Germany's biggest-selling daily.

"Every victim of these air raids is his fault."

In the Netherlands, De Telegraaf backed the airstrikes and praised Britain for its lonely support of the United States.

"The Saddams of this world should not be allowed to think they can get away with it," it said in an editorial.

Leading dailies in Denmark tackled the issue of whether U.N. Security Council resolutions from 1991-92 gave the United States and Britain the right to attack Iraq.

A resounding "yes" was the view of Jyllands-Posten, Politiken and Berlingske Tidende.

The three permanent members of the Council who opposed the use of force this week -- Russia, China and France -- were tartly criticized by Berlingske Tidende.

"They support the demands on the Iraqi regime but don't want to take part in making them stick, and they don't want to let others carry out the task either," it said.

Politiken was one of many newspapers saying the raids should have one objective -- toppling Hussein.

"As long as Saddam Hussein stays in power there are not prospects for a better future for Iraq, and only the fall of Saddam Hussein would make the action a political success for President Clinton and Prime Minister (Tony) Blair," Politiken said.

Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this report.


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