New York Times
Discovery that a child who visited ABC News has contracted the cutaneous form of anthrax and tests showing that the office of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, has received anthrax-laced mail bearing the same Trenton postmark and date as an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to NBC News in New York are reason for increased concern about biological terrorism. The spate of attacks is still limited and the number of people actually coming down with illness quite small. However, the incidents have revealed weaknesses in the public health system that need to be fixed if the nation is to handle even bigger biological attacks in the future.
The first line of defense -- namely the doctors who first see patients showing up with symptoms of illness -- performed better than expected in Florida and with mixed results in New York. Anthrax is so rare in this country that most doctors have never seen a case, and it was widely assumed that most would be unable to identify the first victims of an anthrax attack should it occur. But in Florida, an alert infectious-disease specialist became suspicious and ordered laboratory tests that confirmed pulmonary anthrax in a tabloid newspaper's photo editor. In New York, by contrast, a case of cutaneous anthrax in an NBC employee was not firmly diagnosed until a week and a half after her symptoms first appeared, and the cutaneous anthrax in the ABC child was initially treated as an infected spider bite until the mother pushed for more testing.
Given the intense attention now being paid to anthrax and terrorism, it is increasingly unlikely that doctors will fail to think of it when making diagnoses. But there are other potential bioterrorism agents besides anthrax, and authorities will need to redouble their efforts to make sure doctors are aware of the symptoms. It has been all too common in recent years for physicians to treat microbial infections with broad-spectrum antibiotics without bothering to identify the particular germ involved. In the case of a bioterrorism agent, that could prove fatal if the wrong antibiotic is used or is prescribed for too short a period.
The first tests of the nation's medical laboratories also had mixed results. In Florida, laboratory confirmation of anthrax spores in humans and in environmental samples came relatively quickly, aided in part by the fact that Florida laboratory chiefs had just returned from special bioterrorism training by the Federal Centers for Disease Control. But in New York, it seemed to take an unduly long time to confirm that anthrax had indeed been mailed to NBC, partly because tests at the Centers for Disease Control were slowed by a power failure, revealing a surprising lack of backup capability at a lab that is supposedly the final word on these matters. Laboratories throughout the country will need to be upgraded to provide prompt results.
The public health system has shown signs of strain in handling even the relatively small-scale incidents in which anthrax was mailed to addresses in Florida, New York, Washington, D.C., and Reno, Nev. There was confusion in Florida as to which authorities were in charge of the investigation. A police officer and two lab technicians in New York inadvertently exposed themselves to anthrax while handling the contaminated letter from NBC, underscoring the need for better training of both health and law enforcement personnel. Health authorities in Florida were able to take nose swabs of employees at the publishing company hit by anthrax, but it was left to the company to arrange the blood antibody tests that suggested five other employees had been exposed to anthrax spores. And experts around the country complain that health authorities are putting out too little information on test results and clinical findings for them to assess how well the incidents are being handled. Meanwhile, panicky citizens have hoarded so much Cipro, the antibiotic typically recommended to treat anthrax, that supplies have run low at many pharmacies and medical institutions, and false reports and hoaxes have taxed the capacity of laboratories to test samples.
The federal government is now moving to increase the national stockpile of antibiotics for treating anthrax and other biological agents so that 12 million Americans could be treated for 60 days each should a much larger incident occur. It has also ordered additional supplies of smallpox vaccine to increase the small stockpile now in hand. Those are sensible responses. But the entire public health system needs to be bolstered to create a safety net strong enough to protect the nation from a threat whose dimensions are difficult to anticipate.
At a point in history when the United Nations is likely to be called upon as never before to fulfill its promise, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Kofi Annan and the United Nations is a welcome affirmation.
Annan, who begins his second five-year term as secretary general in January, is especially deserving. Courtly and eloquent, the 63-year-old Ghanaian is a disarming blend of consummate bureaucrat and spiritual leader, in a world organization in dire need of both. He has worked to pare bureaucracy as he brought sharper focus to the U.N.'s missions.
On his watch, the United Nations not only has raised global awareness of the AIDS crisis in Africa and elsewhere, but has also mobilized resources to combat it. Though ever the diplomat, Annan can also be tough, as he was in granting greater latitude to U.N. peacekeeping missions or in dressing down the United States, however politely, for not paying dues.
Our government's decision in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to pay $582 million in back dues along with its annual appropriation should be seen as another Annan victory. Granted, the U.N.'s usefulness to anti-terrorism was the proximate cause of that decision, but it was possible because Annan had earned some skeptical lawmakers' trust through his able leadership.
The vote to pay up came hours after Annan outlined the role the U.N. should play in fighting terrorism. And to be sure, subsequent events have shown just how vital the U.N. will be. President Bush is looking to the world body to make Afghanistan a veritable protectorate in the event of the Taliban's collapse, until indigenous efforts can craft a new governing structure acceptable to the populace. That's also likely to involve a multinational force under U.N. command.
Annan's characteristic centeredness has proved invaluable since Sept. 11. At one point in the discussion of the U.N.'s response to the terror attacks, the General Assembly's discussions threatened to bog down over the definition of "terrorism." Annan intervened: "I understand and accept the need for legal precision. But let me say frankly that there is also a need for moral clarity. There can be no acceptance of those who would seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent civilian life, regardless of cause or grievance."
Despite being faced daily with scourges from genocide to disease to famine and war, Annan's outlook is one of unflagging hope. He genuinely believes the goals of last year's Millennium Summit of 150 world leaders can be met: to cut in half the number of people living on less than a dollar a day and ensure primary education by 2015.
When this year's annual ringing of the Peace Bell, scheduled for Sept. 11, was disrupted by the events of that day, Annan ignored calls to cancel the event altogether. Instead, he rescheduled it as quickly as possible, for Sept. 14.
"We have lost family, friends and colleagues," Annan said as he rang the bell three days after the terror attacks in the U.N.'s host city. "But let us not lose hope. It is at moments such as this, more than ever, that we need to rededicate ourselves to the cause of peace."
Americans should react to the possibility of terrorism by anthrax spore as they have to such dangers as cancer from the sun and death on the highways -- by proceeding with caution, even extreme caution, but not with panic.
A handful of incidents, including one involving mail contaminated by anthrax spores delivered to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, had by yesterday caused evacuations and precautions across Europe, Asia and North America. A dozen people have been exposed to infection, and Robert Stevens in Boca Raton, Fla., died, presumably murdered by the sender.
Compounding this was an array of hoaxes across the world, letters containing harmless powder. These are unfunny crimes, tying up laboratory and police capacity needed for the real thing.
What's publicly known is little. The suspect envelopes are traced to New Jersey, Florida and Malaysia. The link between them, if any, is undiscovered.
Is this the work of al Qaida terrorists, one person with grudges, copycats? That is not known. The presumption must be that someone sent a biological agent to infect, kill and frighten, so far on a small scale.
Larger chemical and biological terrorism has been attempted by cults in Japan and the United States. Biological warfare was developed during World War II by the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union. It was not used, but research continued for antidotes. It is within the capability of a small country.
Anthrax spores are omnipresent in concentrations harmless to humans. The disease is primarily a menace to livestock.
What has happened so far looks like a few biological letter bombs. The FBI sought a terrorist whose letter bombs to technology workers killed three people and injured 23 from 1978 through 1995, and could not identify him.
The "Unabomber" campaign ended when Theodore J. Kaczynski's brother linked a previous writing of his to a Unabomber essay and turned him in. He was sentenced in 1998 to life in prison without possibility of parole.
The American people endured the Unabomber without panic. They may have to do so again.
One of the leading authorities on bioterrorism is Dr. D. A. Henderson, former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Now heading the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at the school, Dr. Henderson is best known for heading the World Health Organization's eradication of smallpox.
A science adviser to the first President Bush, Dr. Henderson was recently named to chair an advisory council on bioterrorism by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson. It is reassuring that the administration is seeking sound advice.
So far, the challenge to public health has been minimal, and expertly contained. More sustained challenges may lie ahead, and the nation must prepare for them.
Yes, it was sobering news when media colleagues were on the receiving end of letters containing anthrax. Whether it's a supermarket tabloid (admittedly an odd target for a committed terrorist) or a network newscaster, a strike against one of us makes each of us wary and worried.
But while we in the media too often think the world revolves around us, it was yesterday's disclosure that a similar anthrax-contaminated letter was received by the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle that takes this attack on our welfare and our self-confidence to a new level.
NBC anchor Tom Brokaw may be a trusted or even beloved figure to many Americans, but no one elected him to anything. An attack on a representative of our government is a very different matter.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson acknowledged Sunday that yes, this was bio-terrorism -- whatever its source. President Bush in his comments yesterday said "there may be some possible link" between Osama bin Laden and the anthrax-related developments. "I wouldn't put it past him, but we don't have any hard evidence."
And the not knowing only adds to the anguish and the angst.
We are a nation and people who want to know it all, and quickly too. But whoever has begun this dreadful game seems in no hurry to play by our 21st century set of rules. Even the choice of this ancient plague seems destined not to kill many, not even to infect many, but to put our institutions on alert and our citizenry on edge.
So that now any fool with a box of baking powder (or, as in one case over the weekend, instant pudding) can cause havoc -- delay flights, empty office buildings, halt the work of a nation that usually operates at warp speed.
We are rapidly becoming victims not of terrorists, but of our own fears -- some rational, some not.
If this isn't the work of bin Laden and his henchmen, it is certainly something in which he can take enormous satisfaction.
This is indeed a time for caution, but not a time for being paralyzed by our own fear.
Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel, the pacifist who invented dynamite, could hardly have missed the irony in his founding of a global prize to reward humanity's best efforts at fraternity and the promotion of peace.
Surely Nobel understood that dynamite was his most famous yet also most destructive scientific achievement. That helped motivate his providing for the Nobel Peace Prize, along with others for science and literature, in his will. In the century since the first peace prize was awarded, it has often been given more to reward effort than to acknowledge achievement in finding peace in a world routinely wracked by war.
Seen in this light, the awarding of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan, is a worthy selection -- even if it does seem a bit premature. The contradiction of Nobel's twin legacies is mirrored in today's world, where peace is elusive as wars and terrorism continue to rage from Africa, Afghanistan and Asia ... even to America.
Looking at previous recipients of the peace prize, it is reasonable to wonder why some were even awarded, or at least why they were given before a permanent peace was secured.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, along with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo peace accord reached the previous year. But eight years after the famous signing ceremony at the White House, Israelis and Palestinians are locked in their worst fighting in a decade.
Rival leaders David Trimble and John Hume won the 1998 prize for their governing agreement aimed at ending 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Yet Trimble, as leader of the British province's Protestant majority, and Hume, who headed the largest Catholic party, despite inspiring efforts have yet to shepherd their people to a lasting peace.
Even last year's winner, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, who had made great progress toward rapprochement with North Korea, has seen that effort toward peace slowed, if not stalled, in recent months.
Yet in this centenary year of the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chose its recipient in order to send a message. It explicitly picked Annan for his efforts to reform the U.N. budget and peacekeeping efforts, fight AIDS and terrorism and bring new life to the body. It picked the United Nations as a whole, not one of its departments, because the committee wished to proclaim that "the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations."
Why? The most obvious answer seems to be that the United Nations was created after World War II to try to prevent future wars, yet almost from the beginning was stymied by superpower politics during the Cold War. After the East-West conflict cooled, the international body spent the 1990s gearing up for more regional peacekeeping operations than ever before. Some were disasters, notably the failures to stop genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. But the United Nations has had some success in Sierra Leone, East Timor and Kosovo. The key has often been for the United Nations to move in after U.S., British or other forces have brought stability.
United Nations success at peacekeeping has been mixed up to now. The prize is the right call for the United Nations to play a greater role in quelling future conflicts. That is the role for which it was made; if it didn't exist, the world would have to invent it.
Dallas Morning News
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks eventually could cost property and casualty insurers more than $40 billion in claims, an amount that industry executives say they can handle. However, the prospect of more violent attacks and more massive claims clearly necessitates a government safety net for the industry.
The White House is floating a plan for the federal government to pay the lion's share of claims stemming from future terrorist acts.
In the first year, taxpayers would pick up 80 percent of the first $20 billion in claims and 90 percent of claims exceeding $20 billion. In the second year, the industry would be responsible for the first $10 billion in losses, then share with the government the cost of all other losses exceeding $10 billion. The combination of public-private claims for the entire three-year program would cap at $100 billion.
Unlike the package given the airline industry, this program would not tap federal coffers until another attack occurs. This is an important distinction.
The airlines faced an imminent danger of collapse exacerbated by the insurance industry's threats to cancel commercial airline policies. Without insurance, airlines couldn't have flown, and the trickle-down affect on the nation's commerce would have been far more devastating than it has been thus far. A similar danger remains for insurers and their policyholders.
The administration's approach is appropriate, although the extent of government guarantees is slightly disconcerting. It is imperative that the administration be unambiguous about how it defines "terrorist attacks" and how long the safety net will be in place. Although the administration proposal would expire in three years, the program should be subject to an annual review. Otherwise, the government could find itself picking up substantial claim costs for an industry that already would have hiked premiums and adjusted portfolios, but whose financial exposure has diminished. At that point, a prudent safety net becomes an imprudent subsidy.
Other proposals being floated would create a government-backed reinsurance company, or allow insurers to create some sort of terrorism catastrophe pool. While offering a massive safety net, the White House plan at least makes an effort to quickly extricate the government from its intervention in the private sector.
In the best of cases, the safety net may not be needed. In the worst of cases, not having one would be foolhardy.
Now that anthrax and other bioweapons may be oozing into our daily reality, President Bush should rethink his opposition to a treaty that could reduce the threat from bioweapons.
In July, Bush refused to sign a new enforcement plan for the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. The treaty itself actually was signed in 1972 by President Nixon, but during the Cold War there was no way to make sure nations were obeying the rules. However, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein's willingness to use weapons of mass destruction presented a direct threat, many countries scrambled to devise an adequate, acceptable enforcement mechanism for the treaty. The United States, first under President George H.W. Bush and later under President Clinton, played a major role in trying to craft that enforcement pact.
But last summer, even as Osama bin Laden was secretly concocting his plan to murder thousands of Americans in New York and Washington, President Bush turned his back on decades of work to rid the world of bioweapons. He complained that the proposed enforcement protocols might expose American biotech companies to industrial spying -- as if industry concerns, not America's security, should decide U.S. foreign policy.
At the time, many commentators, including this newspaper, berated Bush for making a decision that future generations might lament. Today, Bush faces the painfully ironic task of asking other international leaders to help him curtail biological weapons.
True, the major threats now may come not from other nations but from terrorists who roam among countries and operate from the shadows. Still, having an effective way to ensure that national governments are obeying the rules could help keep such awful weapons out of terrorists' hands. About 60 countries have signed the new enforcement pact, meaning that they are far ahead of the United States in trying to curb the spread of bioweapons.
If the United States suddenly wants to preach about the dangers of bioweapons, Bush needs to reclaim the moral high ground. He should tell the biotech industry that its corporate grousing won't be allowed to compromise the national interest.
Such a global issue once seemed distant to most Americans. Today, they may think about it every time they open their mail.
Only the most reckless would fail to be a little more careful, a little more cautious these days.
But Americans -- in Hawaii and elsewhere -- cannot abandon all the norms of daily life because someone wishes to frighten us. To do so is to give terrorists and their shameless copycat followers the victory they seek.
For instance, there has been a flurry of scares involving the discovery of unknown powders.
It makes sense to approach these unexpected substances with caution. But it is equally important to recognize that these alarms almost always turn out to be false. The threatening mail usually turns out to be nothing more than a cruel hoax that capitalizes on the national mood of nervousness.
There is no minimizing the seriousness of the anthrax incidents so far reported, particularly the death of the photo editor in Florida. But it must also be noted that the other cases, even the confirmed cases of exposure, have not been life-threatening. And those cases represent an almost infinitesimal fraction of the mail that goes out each day.
While it is important to be careful, it is also important to conduct a personal risk assessment. Flu is a far greater threat to the average person's health or life than any possible exposure to anthrax. Crossing the street is far more dangerous than opening the mail.
The big ongoing threat to the nation today is not terrorism or anthrax; it is copycat crimes and our own panic.
The greatest assault on our way of life today is our own fear. We must not succumb.
After five weeks of successful coalition-building, the diplomatic side of the struggle against terrorism may be entering a tougher phase. In phase one, the Bush administration persuaded governments from Pakistan to Indonesia to Nigeria to endorse the assault upon Osama bin Laden. In phase two, those same governments are coming under pressure from anti-American domestic opinion. There have been pro-bin Laden protests in all three countries, and others in Iran, Malaysia and Kenya. As it confronts these outbursts, the challenge for the United States is not only to maintain the coalition but also to maintain self-confidence.
The protests are especially vexing given the circumstances of the conflict. The United States has sustained the most lethal attack on its homeland ever; there could hardly be a clearer justification for a military response. President Bush has emphasized repeatedly that he has no wish to attack Muslims, only the terrorists and their allies. The administration has dropped food aid into Afghanistan and apologized quickly when a bomb mistakenly struck a residential area. It is tough to imagine what more it could do to appear reasonable. Yet Pakistani students are vowing to abandon the classroom in favor of anti-American jihad.
Demonstrations will not distract the United States from its main duty, which is to destroy the bin Laden terrorist network. But in the face of widespread backlash, the country may be tempted to give up wooing Muslim opinion and retreat from the long-term ambition of spreading American ideals abroad. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has spent a decade promoting democratization, human rights and economic development; if it is now thanked with blind hatred, it may doubt whether to go on. For all the complaints of American isolationism, it sometimes appears engagement is what truly provokes hostility.
These doubts about international engagement are natural, but wrong. The United States must keep up the struggle to lead world opinion, and must fortify itself with the knowledge that, angry protests notwithstanding, its ideals are powerfully attractive. In Indonesia, Pakistan and other Muslim countries, anti-Americanism is a worrisome but still minority opinion; for every student who sides with the Taliban, 10 aspire to study on an American campus. Most people, in Cairo or Quetta or Connecticut, want only to live safely and freely. Liberal democracies like the United States are not just better at delivering those conditions than authoritarian systems, they beat them hands down.
What's more, American engagement does help spread democratic values, even though such efforts may also provoke backlash. American victory in the Cold War brought democracy to Eastern Europe, and American encouragement contributed to democratic conversions in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Often, countries where the United States has been most engaged -- Poland, South Korea, Mexico -- are those where democracy has best succeeded. Despite the many places where elections have been rigged or canceled, the trend has been toward, not against, democracy.
Even though Islamic protesters claim to oppose U.S. involvement in the region, a renewed commitment to engagement is actually the best response. Islamic extremism has flourished in the absence of economic opportunities and in reaction to autocratic political cultures that channel dissent toward the external demons of the United States and Israel. When America's freedom and prosperity seem beyond the reach of millions, the nation is more likely to be resented. As the Bush administration proceeds to the next phase of its struggle against terrorism, it needs to remember that economic growth and political liberalization are the best antidotes to stone-throwing anger.
In this new kind of war America and its coalition are waging against global terrorism, diplomacy will surely be just as important as bombs. With this strategy in mind, Secretary of State Colin Powell is on a diplomatic offensive which will take him to Pakistan, India and China -- nations where anti-American sentiment has raged in the streets, if not in the upper echelons of power.
Today, Mr. Powell will meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But perhaps even more importantly, the secretary of state will have a unique opportunity to communicate with the people of that country. Clearly, President Bush has given this type of communication a high priority. And this comes as little surprise, since the war on terrorism will likely be a protracted effort and the public sentiment around the world will be crucial to maintaining its intensity and effectiveness.
"We've got to do a better job of explaining to the people of the Middle East, for example, that we don't fight a war against Islam or Muslims. We don't hold any religion accountable. We're fighting evil," Mr. Bush said in his prime-time address to the nation on Thursday. And when, he added that "these murderers have hijacked a great religion in order to justify their evil deeds. And we cannot let it stand," he seemed to be appealing to more than a strictly American audience.
It is also clear, however, that while the administration is keen to reach out to a global audience, it won't be cowed by minority, anti-American opinions. During a press conference on his way to Pakistan, Mr. Powell said, that although protests against America "get quite a bit of attention, and I regret any loss of life and I regret that there are those who do not understand the tragic nature of what happened the 11th of September and demonstrated against our response to this crime, those demonstrations seen to be fairly modest for a country the size of Pakistan." Mr. Powell added that the Pakistani president believes that he is firmly in control of the situation in this country.
Surely, in light of the government's new focus on public opinion, the Voice of America could be given a more dominant role and increased funding -- particularly the recently closed bureau in Uzbekistan, which is today central to U.S. interests. The U.S.-funded VOA has given many countries their only source of objective news, and helps create more accurate perceptions of America around the world. A reinvigorated VOA could facilitate the administration's objectives.
Mr. Powell will also be traveling to India, where he will discuss America's counter-terrorism campaign, in addition to discussing possible measures to reduce tensions between Pakistan and India. The two nations have long been feuding over Kashmir, a Muslim region controlled by India but claimed by Pakistan. Afterward, Mr. Powell will put international trade at the top of his agenda when he travels to Shanghai for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a multilateral organization in the region which promotes free trade and investment. Surely, Mr. Powell's diplomatic overtures should pay off, since outreach, tension reduction and trade promotion are all integral to U.S. interests -- especially today.
St. Petersburg Times
One special asset in the battle against global terrorism is only blocks away from the ruins in New York. We speak, of course, of the United Nations. Along with its diplomatic, economic and legal frameworks for bringing terrorists and their state-sponsors to justice, the world body also is equipped to address the humanitarian and social needs that push anti-Westernism to the extreme. Friday's announcement that the United Nations and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan, have won the Nobel Peace Prize underscores the organization's role as an important partner in the Bush administration's war against global terror.
The idea of collective security brought the United Nations into being, and there's no greater threat to the people and government of any nation than a crisis precipitated by a terrorist attack. Every member-state has a duty under the U.N. charter to join the fight against global terror, as well as practical incentives for stopping its export to other states. The United Nations can give legitimacy to military crackdowns on terrorist groups and the governments that harbor them, and its involvement can help to defuse the backlash that inevitably comes when Washington acts alone.
In responding to the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration is retaliating along a broad front. Beyond any peacekeeping role the United Nations might eventually play in Afghanistan, the body has the political tools to effect the hand-over of suspects and the institutional ability to conduct legal proceedings. On the economic front, the organization can impose sanctions against terrorist states -- and provide financial aid to nations whose economies and political institutions are weakened by their decision to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. U.N. institutions also could play a pivotal role in the effort to locate, freeze and sever the flow of money moving in and out of terrorists' bank accounts.
One recent idea is to create a U.N. high commissioner for terrorism. This office could share intelligence, coordinate relief and provide a neutral ground for nations to collaborate. The United Nations already has a dozen treaties on terror. In many ways, a high commissioner might be the international equivalent of President Bush's new Cabinet-level secretary of homeland security; he could pull together the antiterror efforts of various jurisdictions and give the issue a higher profile. Citizens from more than 60 countries were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks; in purely symbolic terms, appointing a high commissioner would further the success Annan already has had in making the United Nations a more powerful instrument of international action.
President Bush has yet to give the United Nations such a clear embrace. During last year's campaign, he rejected the concept of "nation-building." In so many words, though, the president acknowledged Thursday night that the United Nations might lead the effort to build a stable coalition government in Afghanistan once the Taliban is gone. It helps greatly that Congress finally agreed to pay our back dues, ending a long and divisive dispute with the United Nations. Our credibility on issues of international cooperation is being repaired at a critical time.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Secretary of State Colin Powell's short visit to South Asia, which began on Monday night, is designed to buck up two critical members of the coalition against terrorism - Pakistan and India - and to urge the same two countries to cool their mutual animosities. As President Bush's chief operating officer in the coalition-building business, Powell has performed masterfully thus far. But his job is growing tougher every day. Fresh reports of fighting across the ceasefire line in Kashmir greeted his arrival as did scattered anti-American demonstrations in several Pakistani cities.
Soon, Powell will need more help from military planners and U.S. communications experts to deal with the potential erosion of support among Muslim countries. Backing for military efforts remains solid among NATO countries and several new allies, including Russia and several former Soviet republics that border Afghanistan.
But many Muslim countries -- Pakistan, Indonesia and others that say they support the campaign against terrorism -- are growing edgy as air strikes continue to pound Afghan targets controlled by the Taliban or Osama bin Laden. Taliban leaders are clumsy when they lie publicly to claim that the United States is waging war on Islam, but the message in bin Laden's voice or from one of his al Qaida henchmen has some purchase in Muslim streets.
That bin Laden may be persuasive in some quarters is no reason to reorder the administration's military plan. At some point, White House and Pentagon officials have made clear, special operations forces that probably include low-flying helicopters will be deployed to bring down the Taliban regime and to track and hunt down bin Laden and his network in Afghanistan. That means it's critical to eliminate any and all potential threats to such units, which is why the bombing of airports, command-and-communication facilities, anti-aircraft batteries and other targets has continued.
Fortunately, that point seems close at hand. Meantime, the U.S. government is doing better at getting its message across. On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. planes are finally dropping more than bombs and one-day rations: They also are dropping leaflets. One of them shows a Western soldier shaking hands with a man in traditional Afghan dress. "The partnership of nations is here to assist the people of Afghanistan," the leaflet says in Pashtun, the language spoken by Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. Another leaflet shows a radio transmitting tower and the times and stations for tuning in "Information Radio."
The leafleting needs to continue, several times a day, for as long as U.S. forces are engaged in Afghanistan. Another imperative, and a reason to finish the heavy bombing as quickly as the war plan permits, is to deliver humanitarian aid piling up in Pakistan; it can only be delivered in quantity by truck, and truckers and aid groups are staying put until the aerial assault ends.
As President Bush and his top hands frequently have stressed, the war on terrorism must be fought on many fronts - and one of them, important to this campaign's ultimate success, is the battle for hearts and minds in the mainstream Muslim world.
(Compiled by United Press International)