What U.S. newspapers are saying

Sept. 26, 2001 at 10:50 AM
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New York Times

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have ratcheted up fears that an even more terrible assault could lie ahead - this time with biological or chemical agents. Nothing that happened on Sept. 11 has changed the underlying reality that biological and chemical weapons are extremely difficult to make and disperse. But the attacks have changed our perception of the malevolence and determination of today's terrorists. The suicidal zealotry of the men who flew airliners into buildings, their willingness to prepare for years, their desire for mass casualties and their deep-seated hatred of Americans leave little doubt that they would escalate to even more dreadful weapons if they could.

That said, it is important to be realistic about the threat and how best to combat it. Despite loose talk that a college chemistry major could whip up a lethal weapon in his garage, the historical record suggests that it is nowhere near that easy. Selecting and growing a potent biological agent, maintaining its virulence, making the germs hardy enough and stable enough for widespread dissemination and finding an efficient means of spreading them around all pose obstacles that have frustrated even well-financed state weapons programs. ...

Although opinions differ widely on whether biological or chemical attacks are likely in the foreseeable future, virtually all experts agree that the United States needs to strengthen its defenses. The Bush administration is already trying to root out the terrorist cells before they strike. Efforts must also be intensified to ensure that impoverished Russian scientists do not sell their secrets or their weaponry to the highest bidder. ...

The first line of defense against a biological attack would not be heroic fire and emergency workers like those who raced to the World Trade Center but rather the public health system that detects and monitors disease trends and would be likely to encounter the dying victims first. ...

The nation has shortsightedly allowed its public health agencies and facilities to weaken in recent years. Gearing them up to cope with a malevolent biological attack would have the added advantage of enhancing our ability to deal with infectious diseases whose causes are wholly natural. The investment would pay health dividends even if no biological or chemical attack ever materializes.

Boston Herald

In a move that bodes well for the future of U.S.-Russian relations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced broad support for the war on terrorism. The strategic alliance many hoped for at the end of the Cold War may yet become a reality.

Putin has offered to share intelligence and open Russian airspace to search and rescue operations.

More importantly, Moscow is prepared to supply weapons and military equipment to anti-Taliban forces. Given Russia's proximity to Afghanistan, that could be crucial in building a credible opposition to the Kabul regime.

In the past, Putin has been less than helpful. At times, Russia's leader seemed intent in forging an anti-American coalition with rogue states like Iran.

But the Russian people have identified with the tragedy of the World Trade Center attack. In 1999, hundreds died in terrorist bombings in Moscow and southern Russia. The explosives were traced to Osama bin Laden's Afghan bases.

Moscow also had to contend with bin Laden's cells in its wars in Chechnya. The terrorist is believed to have been the mastermind behind the second Chechen insurrection and guerrilla incursions into the Russian republic of Dagestan in 1999. Bin Laden's capture would ease Moscow's problems with Islamic revolution on its borders and within the federation.

Russian support for the war on terrorism could mark the beginning of a new era of cooperation between Moscow and Washington. International stability will be the ultimate beneficiary.

Chicago Tribune

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest places, cast its lot with America, the West and the moderate Arab world Tuesday by severing relations with the extremist Muslim rulers of Afghanistan.

The move could hardly be more significant for President Bush and the U.S. campaign to build an international coalition of nations to fight a war against terrorist networks.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential Muslim states in the world, has further isolated the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now the only nation that officially recognizes Afghanistan's Islamic leadership, and Pakistan is assisting the U.S. coalition. The United Arab Emirates, the third nation to recognize the Taliban, broke relations with Kabul three days ago.

The Saudis have refuted the Taliban's claim to leadership in Islamic society. The Saudi government, though it didn't name Osama bin Laden, accused the Taliban of using its land to harbor, arm and encourage terrorists who slaughter the innocent and "spread terror and destruction in the world." Such attacks are "defaming Islam and defaming Muslims," the Saudis said.

This is a critical development as the U.S. and its allies step up diplomatic and military pressure against the Taliban for harboring bin Laden, whom Bush has named as the prime suspect in attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network seek to turn this battle into a holy war between Islam and the West, which he claims dominates and defiles the holy places of Islam.

The great, great majority of Muslims, of course, have no cause with terrorists; Islamic leaders have stated that loudly and clearly. ...

This is not a war between the U.S. and Islam. It is telling that even the Islamic Republic of Iran, no friend of America, believes the Taliban has damaged the reputation of Islam. That may provide the opportunity for what would be a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough: cooperation between Iran and the U.S.

The U.S. and its allies are exploring that opportunity. It may come to nothing; hardliners in Iran still resent and distrust the U.S. And any reconciliation would have to deal with Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah terrorists, who have targeted the U.S. and Israel.

This is, though, an unprecedented opportunity to shift alliances and promote peace. The Middle East and Central Asia may well be transformed by the shocking tragedy of Sept. 11.

Denver Post

A quarter-century ago, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order forbidding assassinations abroad. Now, the Bush administration is reconsidering the long-standing ban.

Ford acted at a time when Washington was gripped by a now-unimaginable paranoia that was rendered even more toxic by Byzantine power plays. The Central Intelligence Agency was out of control, the Vietnam War had divided the country and public confidence in the institutions of government was almost drowned in the sleaze of the Watergate scandal.

Hearings led by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho cast the CIA as a shadowy cabal that had become a law unto itself, deeply embroiled in misadventures that were often atithetical to long-term American interests. In short, our "spooks" appeared to owe their first loyalty to "The Company."

Yet now, with Osama bin Laden the chief suspect in the devastating terror attacks on the East Coast, U.S. leaders are revisiting the issue of assassination as an instrument of policy.

Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization and its worldwide affiliates already were wanted in connection with the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and in the attack on the USS Cole in Aden. The Saudi exile is a radical Islamist whose stated goal is to topple the Saudi royal government and even non-Muslim democracies. He is an implacable foe of the United States because American troops used Saudi Arabia as a staging area during the Persian Gulf War. That his movement has established cells in Western democracies by exploiting the openness of free societies also underscores glaring deficiencies in U.S. intelligence capabilities, which apparently were exacerbated by a Clinton-era order that banned gathering intelligence from unsavory characters.

Current CIA Director George Tenet has been justly criticized for acquiescing in a ridiculous restriction on the character of contacts. (Undercover cops will tell you that few confidential informants qualify for sainthood.)

Assassination is another matter. If Bush rescinds the ban, he should implement proper oversight to preclude abuse. Other Western countries haven't banned assassination, but don't treat it as a photo op when it's carried out.

Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado opposes rescission of the Ford executive order. But in situations where the only alternative is a full-scale war with horrendous casualties, assassination - carried out with stealth and finesse - may be a useful weapon the U.S. should consider. Osama bin Laden and a few cohorts dead would be preferable to another black granite wall full of names on the Washington Mall.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Outrage over the terrorist attack on America has prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft to impose new powers to detain aliens and to propose that Congress widen that authority. Lawmakers should recall the abusive treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II before rashly authorizing the government to launch a legal backlash against Arab visitors to the United States.

Ashcroft already has imposed new rules that expand the government's authority to jail foreigners residing legally in the United States, such as students, tourists, businessmen and "green card" holders who have jobs in America. Under the rules, aliens can be held up to 48 hours, instead of 24, without being formally charged with a violation of immigration law, and indefinitely under "emergency or other extraordinary circumstances." More than 100 people wanted for questioning in the terrorist attack have been arrested on immigration charges.

Congress is being asked to allow U.S. authorities to jail and deport -- without hearing -- any noncitizen that the attorney general has "reason to believe" is a threat to national security. That could mean support for lawful activities of an organization that had ever used or threatened to use weapons against people or property. Foreigners could be denied admittance if they had ever aided a group that U.S. authorities say endorses terrorism.

Courts have ruled that the Constitution protects all people -- not just citizens -- from being "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that authorities could not hold immigrants indefinitely pending deportation decisions. Eerily, however, the high court suggested that the law could be more flexible in situations involving "terrorism or other special circumstances."

Part of the reason drastic measures are thought to be needed is that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been lax in enforcing visa requirements. It has only started to create a computerized database of the half-million foreigners with student visas that is aimed at catching students who remain illegally after finishing their studies. A plan for a computerized catalog of each entry and exit by a foreigner into the United States was reduced last year after it was deemed too cumbersome and harmful to commerce.

Those failures by the government to keep track of foreign visitors should not result in a crackdown influenced by ethnic suppositions. Increased monitoring of aliens' movements in the country is warranted, but Congress should give utmost scrutiny to proposals that would broaden government power to detain and deport non-citizens based on their political associations.

Los Angeles Times

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's announcement that Moscow will provide help in a U.S. campaign in Afghanistan cannot have come easily. Surely the reasons for Russia to stand back were nearly as compelling as the justifications for assistance, but in the end Moscow saw that a united front against terrorism is a necessity.

Russia can prove to be a valuable ally, supplying assistance to a military effort and intelligence on Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden and guerrilla networks in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Allowing U.S. access to bases in the republics that were part of the Soviet Union and where Russia still has great influence, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, can give the United States a prime military staging area. Russia also has strong ties with the Northern Alliance of guerrillas fighting the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which shelters Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization.

There will be a price for Russian assistance, one that Washington should try to minimize. The Russian army has been savage in battling rebels in the province of Chechnya since fighting broke out in 1994. The United States and human rights groups properly have condemned butchery on both sides. The Russians say it's a give-no-quarter war not against separatist guerrillas but against terrorist gangs, some of which get assistance from Bin Laden. They claim the Chechens are responsible for bombings in Moscow that have killed hundreds.

Washington will not be able to trumpet its concerns about the brutality as loudly as it would wish, but it must make clear to the Russians that it does object and that Russia's agreement to aid the anti-terror alliance is not a green light for savagery. ...

Russia's offer of help does continue a stunning turnabout from the Cold War standoff, with Moscow's halfhearted cooperation in the former Yugoslavia a stop on the way. Given Russia's tragic experience in Afghanistan, where thousands of troops died and the army was defeated after a 10-year war against a ragtag but determined guerrilla force supported by the U.S., Russia deserves praise for opening its airspace for deliveries of humanitarian aid and letting its allies provide air bases.

Russia has valid concerns that if Washington conducts a military operation and leaves too soon, or fails to dismantle terror networks, Islamic extremists will blame Moscow and make it a target for terror. The Russians also do not want to see a permanent U.S. presence in the area, which would be a visible symbol of Russia's status as a junior partner dependent on Washington's direction.

Putin faced hard choices and crossed a significant line, making Russia an important member of the anti-terror coalition.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The terror attacks that struck New York City and Washington on Sept. 11 shocked millions of Americans from a sleep of ignorance and denial about international terrorism - terrorism that, in the wake of the Cold War, is clearly the nation's main external threat.

It's not surprising, then, that the campaign against this new threat involves some significantly altered relationships. Pakistan, which was the object of U.S. sanctions imposed in 1998, is now a critical partner in the effort to find and seize Osama bin Laden; the sanctions are history.

Another of the new alliances is the one between Washington and Moscow: Russia, for reasons of history and geography, has become a linchpin - alongside NATO, Saudi Arabia and the Pakistanis - of the broad coalition the Bush White House has been building. Russia, in fact, delivers enormous assets to any campaign against bin Laden and his Taliban protectors in Afghanistan, but the administration needs to be careful about what it promises the struggling Russian government in return.

What Russia brings to the table is a combination of strengths the United States can find nowhere else. Russia has good intelligence sources in Afghanistan. It knows from bitter experience about the difficulties of combat there. It has air bases in former Soviet states that border Afghanistan. And it has a record of support for the Northern Alliance, which is the Afghan resistance to the Taliban regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear that he wants to provide some of those resources. In a Kremlin speech on Monday, for example, he said Russia will supply additional weapons and equipment to the Northern Alliance. Gordon Smith, a Russia expert at the University of South Carolina, notes that the aid actually began before Sept. 11 and that Russian aircraft have transported military equipment to the Northern Alliance from Iran, which may emerge as another surprising U.S. ally against the Taliban.

Putin is acting out of self-interest. He wants to develop what he has often called a "dictatorship of law" in Russia so it can become prosperous and stable. President Bush should do what he can to help Putin achieve this objective so that Russia eventually may be in a position to join the World Trade Organization, a key Putin goal.

But Putin also wants something else - a softening of criticism of Russian atrocities in Chechnya. When Putin told the German parliament on Tuesday that years of armed rebellion in Chechnya should serve as warning of the threat of Islamic terrorism, he made it plain that he wants his critics to cut him some slack. A bit less public criticism in the short run might be acceptable. But turning down the volume to a barely heard whisper would embolden Russians to even greater furies against the Chechens and run the risk of making the U.S. a silent accomplice to war crimes.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

No one seems to know what to call the horrors of Sept. 11. The working title appears to be the "Attack on America," but that tidy label leaves out a lot. As the response of so many nations makes plain, the ghastly assault didn't hurt the United States alone. It shook the whole world. And if in fact this atrocity must lead to war, the whole world must join in waging it.

It's a critical point, for the way this war is fought matters immensely. A fierce U.S. act of mere vengeance could heap calamity atop catastrophe -- invigorating an elusive enemy and inflaming moderate Muslims. That's why the military response to terrorism must be precise and multilateral.

President Bush, who took a markedly unilateralist approach during his first few months in office, now clearly sees the sense in such joint action. His speech to Congress last Thursday included a backhanded invitation for it -- a "for-us-or-against-us" offer that, along with quieter entreaties, most nations have found hard to refuse. Many countries in NATO and beyond have leaped quickly to the fore, and the president is nudging others to join the effort.

So far he's done well. The deals that have been struck serve both common global interests and state-specific sensitivities: Russia, for instance, will offer intelligence, arm the Northern Alliance and provide humanitarian assistance, but won't provide troops. Saudi Arabia has severed relations with the Taliban but won't allow the United States to use its Riyadh air base for attacks. Pakistan will swap fly rights for debt relief and an end to trade sanctions.

All this cooperation underscores a crucial point: Fighting terrorism isn't an American preoccupation, but a global one. Yet if that's really true, the United States shouldn't build its coalition just one country at a time. It should also beat a path straight to the door of the United Nations, where a ready-made antiterrorism coalition exists. After all, no other group on Earth has what the United Nations has: legitimacy, neutrality and the leverage of international law.

If ever the United States needed the United Nations -- and too often this country pretends it doesn't -- it needs it now. Certainly that's why Congress this week finally paid its long-owed U.N. dues. Reliant as it now is on global goodwill, the United States must welcome the United Nations to join -- indeed, to help lead -- its quest for justice and security. The worldwide war against terrorism can't be won without U.N. assent, support and sponsorship.

Salt Lake Tribune

Assassination as a foreign policy tool has been debated in every conflict in which America has taken part. Officially, assassination is not allowed. According to an Executive Order issued by President Ford in 1975, "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States shall engage in, or conspire to engage in assassination." No mention is made of whether the intended victim is a head of state or a head of a terrorist organization. The policy is a sound one, when tempered with the understanding that any nation may use lethal force to defend itself against lethal force. The current policy prevents the government or the public from focusing too narrowly in its response to threats and reflects this country's belief in human rights.

Assassination sounds good to many Americans right now. It seems quick, less costly than massive troop movements, and rids the world of a terrible foe. But historically, assassination has rarely been successful and it has sometimes resulted in unintended consequences. ...

The United States should not actively promote the use of assassination by repealing Ford's executive order. The current policy allows the United States to take action against threats to its security. If an identified person or group engages in lethal actions against U.S. citizens, the U.S. government can use equal force to repel the threat. This basic principle applies equally to the government and to individuals.

Further, the policy against assassinations forces the U.S. government and the public to focus on the greater threat of terrorism in general rather than the fantasy that eliminating one man will solve the problems. Take out bin Laden, and Americans may feel revenge, but the country still will be threatened by terrorism.

The executive order, with the caveat of self-defense, does not prevent President Bush from doing whatever is necessary to respond to the threat of bin Laden and his cohorts. It does, however, promote the important ideal that a civilized country does not assassinate those it merely disagrees with, but it may eliminate those who pose a credible, lethal threat to its security. It may sound like semantics, but this ideal is embodied in the criminal laws of this country and should be equally applied to foreign policy.

Washington Times

Most Americans have clear in their minds the face of the enemy. Osama bin Laden, with his turban, long beard and empty eyes, has crystallized in our imagination as the main perpetrator of America's suffering. Secretary of State Colin Powell said over the weekend that the United States is currently preparing a document that will demonstrate bin Laden's clear connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

But given terrorism's shadowy network, the hijackers may have also had a state sponsor. And on this point, attention turns to Iraq. Many experts believe that evidence linking Saddam Hussein and the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon hasn't been established, but that Saddam would certainly have motives for striking against the United States. Within the Bush administration, one school of thinking holds that if we got rid of Saddam, we would get rid of a major sponsor of terrorist groups big and small. ...

Now, eliminating Saddam would be a great favor to the world, no doubt about that. As has often been stated on this page, it ought to be a long-term goal of the United States. Dealing with the odious Taliban, as the base of support for bin Laden, should be a top priority for now, but a regime change in Iraq should also be pursued. It ought not be a reflexive response to the Sept. 11 attack, but the administration's longer-term and well-strategized effort to counter terrorism and a foreign policy goal that is in many wider respects in America's interests.

This moment presents an opportunity for the United States to draw on the sympathy that the recent terrorist attacks have elicited for America in the Middle East in order to mount an effort to aid the Iraqi opposition in unseating Saddam. A real plan to unseat Saddam would have wide support, particularly if we have shown our seriousness elsewhere, such as in our dealings with the Taliban. Toppling Saddam from power in Iraq will eliminate a source of financing and strategic support for international terrorists. Finally, unseating Saddam will allow the United States to drop its sanctions on Iraq, which has long been a source of contention with countries in the region.

Ousting Saddam Hussein is in America's strategic, geopolitical and humanitarian interests. Although it is bin Laden who looms large in America's search for justice right now, we should not forget our longer-term interests in Iraq.

Washington Post

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are scheduled to meet today in an effort to move toward a lasting truce. The Peres-Arafat meeting has been canceled before; it is not a sure thing until it happens. And with Israelis and Palestinians in regular communication at many levels of government, it is largely a symbolic step anyway. It is, however, an important symbol, one that the Bush administration has rightly pushed for strenuously since Sept. 11. The attacks have created an opportunity for a de-escalation of the violence that has raged for the past year and a return to a political process. Mr. Arafat may understand that he cannot afford to be on the wrong side of an American war, as he was during the Gulf crisis. And in the wake of his cease-fire order, the violence has, in fact, dropped notably.

There are, however, troubling signs. Some of Mr. Arafat's lieutenants have suggested that the cease-fire orders apply only to Palestinian-controlled areas, not to settlements or military targets. This is unacceptable. The Palestinian Authority must stop the violence -- all of it -- to the extent that it is possible to do so. Among people as angry and as armed as those of the West Bank and Gaza, some violent incidents will still take place. But it is senseless to describe as a cease-fire anything less than a complete effort by Mr. Arafat and his forces to prevent attacks and to punish those who conduct them. Cease-fire is not a relative term.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence on periods of absolute calm before political discussions can be renewed gives a veto over progress to any Palestinian with a gun. This is very dangerous. A working cease-fire would be a major strategic gain for Israel, as well as for the Bush administration; it is certainly not something to jettison out of fear of a meeting that would give Mr. Arafat legitimacy. In recent days Mr. Sharon has talked about Mr. Arafat as though he were Osama bin Laden, and he has used the current crisis to try to isolate the Palestinian Authority. But for all Mr. Arafat's vile willingness to use violence as a tactic, he is not a bin Laden. He is, rather, the leader of a people without whose consent Israel can have no peace -- a leader who may want now to show that he is not a terrorist. Mr. Sharon risks nothing by putting him to the test and seeing whether this time, at last, a truce can be obtained.

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