Leading article: We don't want a lame duck president

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The Independent Culture
ASIDE FROM the smutty jokes, President Clinton deserves our sympathy as he faces the questioning of Special Counsel Kenneth Starr across a video link today. It's not a question of morality or even of past lies. It is the problem of the leader of the most powerful country of the world being chased like a rat into the corner.

There are those who believe that he is a rat, in his personal morality and his character. There are those too who would argue that truth is the greatest single ingredient in a democracy and the law is its final guardian. Both may be true, although it should be said that the US public is the final arbiter in a democracy of what it does or does not feel is important in the character of their leaders. There is little indication either that voters did not have a fair view of Clinton before his election. The process of investigation has become not so much a process of judgement as a legalistic interpretation of what is truth and what is a lie.

It is the process that matters to the world as much as to America. For the rest of the world is probably reacting much like the average American, bemused that it could come to this. If President Clinton stays on wounded and tarnished, it is not just the prestige of the US that suffers, it is also its ability to act around the world.

Foreign policy remains the one area where the character of the President do matter. So far Clinton's record in the field has not been that strong, but nor has it been bad. Essentially a domestic president, he has seen it as his task to turn America's victory in the Cold War to commercial effect through pushing free trade. But he has resisted most temptations to meddle dangerously in the internal affairs of other countries, he has followed a reasonably ethical policy and has put his weight behind peace where it matters. It was not entirely his fault that a Republican Congress has continued to be so anti the UN or that Israeli politics have prevented a breakthrough in the Middle East.

The danger for the rest of the world of a humiliated President is that it will be precisely at this time that Clinton may decide to move from domestic to international concerns in a way aimed at increasing his prestige rather than pursuing national aims. The bombings in Kenya, the continued troubles with Fidel Castro, the war on drugs in Latin America and Asia, the edgy relationship with Iran: all these could provide him with endless opportunities to act tough to restore his image. His troubles are out concern and it is right for America's allies to help him keep dignity if he is to remain responsible

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