What U.S. newspapers are saying

Oct. 4, 2001 at 10:06 AM
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New York Times

Resisting heavy pressure to rubber-stamp Attorney General John Ashcroft's carelessly written antiterrorism package, Congress is working diligently to create a bipartisan compromise that respects both civil liberties and national security needs. The White House could aid this process greatly by telling Mr. Ashcroft to desist from making scurrilous remarks suggesting, without any legitimate basis, that lawmakers engaged in this thoughtful balancing process are somehow making the nation vulnerable to another attack.

On the House side two unlikely allies, the Republican James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and John Conyers, the committee's ranking Democrat, have produced a compromise bill that goes far to correct overreaching in the Ashcroft proposal. Their bill retains sound provisions from the Ashcroft measure, such as reaffirming the authority of federal agents to conduct roving wiretaps that follow terrorism suspects as they move about. But it also tries to reinstate a needed measure of judicial review in the areas of wiretapping and detention of aliens. Further work is still needed, especially to make sure the government does not get expanded powers to detain immigrants indefinitely.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced an agreement in principle last night with the administration on a compromise bill that will need to be reconciled with the House version. Unfortunately the constructive air of bipartisanship that has surrounded these negotiations was upset on Tuesday when Mr. Ashcroft and Senator Trent Lott, the minority leader, expressed fury over the delay in producing a Senate bill and implied that failure to expand police and surveillance powers immediately, as the administration asked, would open the country to another terrorist attack.

Such talk is irresponsible. Congress has hardly been dilatory in responding to the administration's proposal, and no one has shown that the failure to enact legislation is either holding up the current investigation or making the nation vulnerable.

Boston Globe

The antiterrorism bill crafted by House negotiators is a major improvement over the one submitted by the Bush administration just after the Sept. 11 attacks. It remains, however, a complex, sprawling piece of legislation, and the Senate would be wise to take its time in examining all its provisions.

The original administration bill contained much that deserved bipartisan support. If harboring a spy is a crime, then surely giving refuge to a terrorist ought to be one, too, as the bill proposes. And law-enforcement authorities ought to be able to collect DNA samples from suspects, just as they take fingerprints.

House negotiators were wise to remove a provision that would have allowed the government to enter as evidence in US courts information obtained by foreign nations using methods that would be illegal under US law. This proposal would have negated the protections in the Constitution.

The first version of the bill would have allowed the attorney general to order the indefinite detention, without judicial review, of an alien suspected of being a threat to national security. The House compromise is a big improvement. It would allow him to hold an alien seven days only if he has ''reasonable grounds to believe'' the suspect was involved in terrorism, and the suspect could appeal that in court.

House negotiators concurred with the administration that the attorney general should have authority to share information about asylum-seekers with foreign governments if he suspects a terrorist link. The Senate ought to examine whether this would give foreign nations the opportunity to concoct charges against dissidents.

The Bush administration included several provisions that would have expanded the ability of law enforcement agencies to tap telephone and Internet communications. Given the popularity of cellular phones, agents should only need one court order to monitor all phones used by a suspect. The Senate ought to examine whether the House and the administration go too far when they agree that wiretap information obtained in a criminal investigation should be shared with intelligence agents, without a court order.

House negotiators put a two-year deadline on wiretap provisions so they could examine their effectiveness. Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat, insisted that an inspector general in the Justice Department focus on civil liberties issues. These are sound safeguards against abuse.

Finally, the House negotiators added a provision that would increase the number of immigration inspectors at the Canadian border and allot $50 million for border controls there. Many of the immigration and wiretap provisions of the bill can eventually enhance national security. The extra agents and equipment would be an immediate improvement.

Washington Post

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made remarkable progress in his campaign to conflate his brutal military campaign in Chechnya with the new U.S.-led war against terrorism. Last week President Bush publicly agreed with Mr. Putin that terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden are fighting Russian forces in the predominantly Muslim republic, and said they should be "brought to justice." Since then the Bush administration quietly has begun taking concrete action in support of Moscow. Last weekend, it delivered a tough message to the exiled Chechen foreign minister demanding that the rebel leadership break off relations with two Chechen commanders who represent the movement's radical Islamic faction. And this week it is telling the visiting president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze -- who looks to the United States for help in resisting threats to his country's sovereignty from Russia -- that he must serve Moscow's cause by taking action against Chechen militants in Georgia.

Mr. Putin would like the world to believe that the U.S. steps are equivalent to his own support for a U.S. offensive against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But they are not; and before the Bush administration goes further in backing Mr. Putin's policies in Chechnya, it is worth reviewing why that conflict, and the terrorism associated with it, are different. Chechnya is not a terrorist syndicate or an Islamic movement but a nation that was conquered by Russia in the 19th century and that for more than a decade has been seeking to regain self-rule. Its leader, Aslan Maskhadov, is not an Islamic extremist or even a man of arms but a pro-Western politician who was democratically elected in 1997, two years before Mr. Putin chose to reverse a peace accord by sending 80,000 Russian troops to invade the republic.

Most important, the most brutal atrocities of the Chechen conflict -- a fight that could have been avoided had Russia been willing to grant self-rule to this subject nation -- have been perpetrated not by international terrorists or the Chechen rebels but by Mr. Putin's own Russian forces. Russian and Western human rights groups have extensively and meticulously documented hundreds of war crimes by Russian troops, including extrajudicial executions, torture, extortion and the reduction to rubble of Chechen towns with indiscriminate bombing and shelling. A typical Russian "military operation" in Chechnya consists of invading a village or town, rounding up all of its inhabitants and separating out men and older boys for detention in open pits. Most are released to their families in exchange for bribes, but many are tortured and some summarily executed, their bodies left at dumps or sold back to relatives.

It is thanks to such tactics and the chaos they have produced inside Chechnya that a handful of rebel formations have appeared in the past several years that include Arab fighters or commanders and that are supported by funding from Islamic militants, allegedly including Osama bin Laden. These groups have long been at odds with Mr. Maskhadov and the mainstream Chechen commanders, who seek a secular state with close ties to Russia and the West. For that reason the demand that the Chechen leadership dissociate itself from the Islamic militants is largely superfluous -- they are already enemies and rivals for power. The real problem in Chechnya has been that Russia's rejection of Chechen political rights and refusal to negotiate with Mr. Maskhadov, combined with its massive and systematic human rights violations, has led to endless war and anarchy that has provided an opening for the foreign terrorists.

In the past week, as part of what he describes as an initiative to build a new alliance with the West, Mr. Putin and his spokesmen have outlined what could be a major change in this barbarous policy. Just a month ago Mr. Putin angrily rejected the idea of negotiations with Mr. Maskhadov; now his spokesman says he is actively seeking talks with the Chechen president as "a representative of moderate forces." Some contacts by telephone between the two sides already have taken place. In its own way this turnabout by Mr. Putin is as dramatic as the Bush administration's shift on Chechnya, and it offers some justification for recent U.S. actions beyond a simple quid pro quo for Russian support in Central Asia.

But it's not yet clear if Mr. Putin is serious about seeking a political settlement -- and that is the crucial factor. Clearly, the United States must support the destruction of Osama bin Laden's network in Chechnya and everywhere else it exists. But the Bush administration must also remember -- and make clear to Moscow -- that until the Russian government settles with the Maskhadov government, and ends its military campaign against Chechnya's civilian population, there will, in fact, be no possibility of achieving that aim.

Washington Times

When Donald Rumsfeld returned to the job of defense secretary, it fell to him to restore America's national defense after eight years of underfunding and neglect. Mr. Rumsfeld saw this as an opportunity to transform the Cold War Pentagon to deal with the evolving threats of the new century. For many months, teams labored to produce the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which was delivered to Congress on Oct. 1. However, on Sept. 11, transforming the Pentagon was turned into a job of rebuilding in the most literal sense. To his credit, Mr. Rumsfeld changed the report to emphasize the war against terrorism without changing the basic approach to reform.

The QDR begins and ends with the need to infuse defense with money and people. Virtually every part of the armed forces has suffered from wear and a lack of funding. Troops face long, repeated deployments, which deplete morale and readiness. The average age of Air Force fighter jets is 20 years, an all-time high. Everything from runways to soldiers' housing needs repair or replacement. Funds for training, spare parts and many other basics have been lacking.

The QDR rightly rejects the urge to abandon our international commitments to turn all our resources against terrorism. It makes clear that while taking on terrorists, we will not abandon our global commitments, especially to nations such as Taiwan that face threats such as China. To deal with terrorism now, and for the next decade, it promises more special forces, "persistent surveillance" and "rapid engagement" to deny terrorists sanctuary.

The armed forces of the next decade will look like a rearranged version of those we have now. "Jointness" -- the combining of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine forces to fight in a unified command -- is highly emphasized. Standing joint forces will be ready to deploy quickly to major and minor conflicts. To do this, there must be significant growth in the number of active duty troops, sailors and airmen.

Ballistic missile defense, protection of satellites and the ability to fight in space are other areas for investment and growth. Protecting both our allies and ourselves, missile defenses will be "layered" to engage and destroy missiles at close and long-range.

But the QDR is merely one step toward restructuring the Pentagon. Congress and every special interest coveting defense dollars will have their say. One of Mr. Rumsfeld's cost-saving initiatives is to "contract out" to private companies tasks that are not basic to war-fighting. This idea -- sure to save billions of defense dollars -- runs smack into Rep. Neil Abercrombie's current amendment to end all contracting out and bring those dollars to Pentagon civilian employees. This is only one of a thousand fights every defense dollar will have to survive.

Still, Sept. 11 proved it's time for Congress to listen to the Pentagon experts who, for the last decade, have opposed unreasoned defense cuts. It's time to rebuild along the lines of Mr. Rumsfeld's blueprint.

San Francisco Chronicle

Key members of Congress have made significant progress in getting the Bush administration to better focus its anti-terrorism legislation.

The original proposal would have given federal authorities disturbingly broad, unchecked powers to monitor, detain and penalize people it deems suspicious.

In recent days, legislators and administration negotiators have agreed to pare back some of the most controversial provisions. For example, they added safeguards to the administration's requests for authoritty to indefinitely detain foreign nationals suspected of posing terrorist threats, seize financial assets of suspects, conduct property searches without notifying suspects and eliminate many of the legal constraints on electronic surveillance.

The compromise version, while not perfect, comes much closer to striking a balance between legitimate security interests and protecting individual liberties.

One of the most important changes would require many of the provisions -- most significantly, expanded wiretap authority -- to automatically expire in 2003 unless they are renewed by Congress. This "sunset clause" will allow the nation to assess whether this substantial transfer of power to law enforcement, approved in a moment of national trepidation, is being applied with appropriate care for individual rights. These hastily-drawn laws may need to be adjusted. Americans deserve this layer of accountability as they sacrifice freedoms to counter the threat of terrorism.

One of our major lingering concerns with the current bill is its overly vague definition of "terrorism." As now drafted, the definition could be applied to the pie-throwing antics of an animal rights group.

Shame on Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., for trying to put a partisan edge onto what should be very judicious deliberations by warning Democrats that if another attack occurs, "people are going to wonder where you have been in giving the additional tools that are needed . . . to find these terrorists and avoid plots that may be in place."

Chicago Tribune

President Bush made the right decision when he agreed to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and propose a peace initiative that would include U.S. support for a Palestinian state. Such a move is in America's interest, particularly as it seeks support of moderate Arab nations for an anti-terror coalition.

This is an offer Arafat cannot afford waste. He has squandered every other opportunity.

Bush's overture is not a concession to terror. Secretary of State Colin Powell was set to announce the initiative at a United Nations meeting last month, but the session was canceled in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bush reportedly put the initiative on hold as he started to enlist Arab support to get Afghanistan's Taliban regime to turn over the prime suspect in the attacks, Osama bin Laden.

Some moderate Arab states are reluctant to endorse Bush's coalition whole-heartedly as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages. For this reason it is manifestly in the U.S. interest for Bush to push forward with his new initiative and pressure the parties to find common ground.

Make no mistake who has the most at risk here, and the most to lose. It is the Palestinians.

The Palestinian intifida has raged for a little more than one year, and look what Arafat has to show for it. Nearly 700 Palestinians dead. No nation of his own. A hardline government in Israel. And, in the wake of Sept. 11, waning compassion in the U.S. for the plight of the stateless Palestinian people. The U.S. now knows the terrorism Israel has experienced. It will not have patience for the diplomacy by terror practiced by Arafat.

For Israel, it is more important than ever to stay cool. A bloody upsurge of violence in recent days has shattered the latest ceasefire.

It was hardly comforting to see the comments this week by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who accused the Israeli military of wanting to destroy Arafat.

"Let's say we assassinate him," Peres, Israel's dovish elder statesman, told the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "What happens next? With all the criticism of Arafat, he is the Palestinian who recognizes the map on which Jordan and Israel exist. In his place will come Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. They'll want to establish a single country--theirs--between Iraq and the Mediterranean."

Peres couldn't be more right. Those three radical Islamic organizations are waging holy war against Israel. For all his shortcomings--and they are legion--at least Arafat has made a strategic decision to negotiate on a Middle East peace settlement.

"A large part of the world considers the Palestinians' war against us as a war against occupation," Peres said in the interview. "In its view, Arafat is not one of the bad guys."

The remarks understandably infuriated many in the army and the conservative government. Though Peres has distanced himself from the remarks, it's clear there is a sharp divide in the unity government. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calls Arafat "Israel's Osama bin Laden."

This is a time of great tension in the region, but it is also a time of opportunity. The last time Arafat came close to peace, he couldn't complete the deal. He can't make the same mistake now.

Dallas Morning News

On any day, a terrorist somewhere in the Middle East could go to a hawala dealer with instructions to send money to an associate in the United States. The dealer, in coded communication, would contact his counterpart in the United States, who would provide money from his cache to a person here.

Often the transaction is more circuitous. Another series of coded, paperless transactions might take place among hawala dealers in Germany or Canada before the money is paid in New York. No money crosses borders. No questions are asked. No money enters the traditional banking system. Even if an outsider could listen and understand the transactions, which are usually conducted in foreign languages, the complexity of the network frequently hides the illegitimate purposes behind the transfers.

These operations pose serious flaws in the war against terrorism's pocketbook. William Wechsler, a former special treasury adviser on money laundering, recently told Congress that "U.S. law enforcement has done a very poor job over the years of understanding (hawala), of getting inside the system, of figuring out who uses the system."

Commonplace in the Middle East, India, Pakistan and China, this traditional money-lending system moves billions around the world. Remittances in the opposite direction, or transactions with other brokers, or illegal activities eventually settle the debt. Close family or ethnic ties and intimidation keep the system oiled, and the funds secret.

The government has known of these failings since at least 1993, when Congress tried to regulate these sorts of underground banking activities in the United States. The effort languished on the back burner in the Clinton and Bush administrations. Now it's getting renewed attention.

In testimony to a Senate committee looking into terrorism financing, Jonathan Winer, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, recommended that the U.S. register these services and hold them to the same anti-money laundering standards as traditional banks. Unregistered services could be shut down.

This is the right track, and if it had been more aggressively pursued earlier, it could have given the government not only a head start on fighting terrorist financing, but also on fighting drug trafficking and the crimes that are becoming more closely linked to terrorism.

Domestically, money-laundering laws must be updated to cover legitimately obtained money that is used for illicit purposes, such as money siphoned from legitimate charities for terrorist activities. Also, law enforcement officials and financial regulators must improve the on-the-ground intelligence needed to disrupt illicit hawala transactions.

International cooperation is crucial. To his knowledge, no country in the Middle East has ever brought a money-laundering prosecution, Mr. Winer said. Help must come from such nations as India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

As Congress reviews new laws to fight terrorism, the role of hawala as a potential conduit of terrorists' finances must not be underestimated.

Denver Post

The United States and our allies should think twice about trying to unify Afghanistan around the country's last king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who was deposed in 1973.

President Bush has demanded that the Taliban government hand over Osama bin Laden and his associates, who are the chief suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, however, has balked and promised a jihad, or holy war, if Afghanistan is attacked.

Washington has courted the Northern Alliance, which opposes Taliban rule, and other dissident groups to form a coalition against the repressive theocracy in Kabul. A stream of Afghan exiles, rebels and members of the U.S. Congress rushed to Rome to confer with Zahir Shah in hopes of rallying opposition to the Taliban around the octogenarian former monarch.

Although Zahir Shah, who reigned for four decades, tried to institute reforms, including a constitution, a parliament, universal suffrage and the emancipation of women in Afghanistan, the always fractious Afghans already are bristling that the major powers are trying to reimpose the monarchy on their troubled country.

Zahir Shah agreed Monday to join in forming a broad-based government friendly to the West, but the next day, powerful Afghan tribal leaders from the country's majority Pashtun ethnic group expressed anger at Zahir Shah's decision to fall in with the U.S.- and Russian-supported Northern Alliance.

The Northern Alliance, which controls only a small part of Afghanistan, consists mostly of minority Tajik and Uzbek fighters. Even the fact that Zahir Shah is himself a Pashtun doesn't automatically overcome Pashtun antipathy toward the northern ethnic minorities.

Moreover, some of the Afghan leaders who oppose the Taliban's harsh rule view the aging French-educated monarch and the Northern Alliance as agents of foreign powers.

Given the south-central Asian country's fierce independence, that can be fatal. Communist President Mohammad Najibullah, who was toppled after the former Soviet Union's disastrous 10-year occupation of Afghanistan, was dragged from a United Nations compound and shot by the Taliban, who strung up his corpse outside the presidential palace.

Afghanistan survived almost three decades without a monarch - albeit the worst of times. Before acting hastily, the western allies should ask themselves if Zahir Shah was such a great leader, why the Afghans themselves didn't call him home?

Even if one of Zahir Shah's heirs were chosen to rule a constitutional monarchy, that king would be handicapped by the perception of having been "installed" as yet another puppet.

Although the United States is friendly with many monarchies worldwide, we question whether this republic should be in the business of re-establishing royalty ousted decades ago or deciding what form of government should replace the Taliban. That's a decision for the Afghan people.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Although state authorities have a full plate of concerns about Hawaii's economic health, the physical health of residents as well as visitors requires immediate attention as cases of dengue fever continue to multiply. Aggressive action, maybe even a quarantine, may be necessary.

The state Department of Health has been aware since mid-summer of the possibility that dengue fever may have infected Maui residents who had visited islands in the South Pacific. Last month, incidents of dengue began showing up in Hana. Now, there may be more than 100 people infected on Maui and as many as 27 others on Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai.

The state has begun spraying pesticides and limiting access to areas on Maui where people have been exposed. However, the rapid spread of the disease in the last few weeks suggests that the opportunity to nip this problem in the bud may have already passed. With people traveling from one island to another and from the state to the mainland, it is not difficult to imagine outbreaks in a wider area.

Dengue is spread by female mosquitoes who take in the virus with blood when they bite. The virus stays with the mosquito through its life cycle and its eggs, which can survive desiccation, are infected. Dengue is not often fatal, but causes severe headaches and fever, eye and joint pain, nausea and vomiting. Because symptoms may not show up for as many as 14 days and because mosquito infestation is so widespread in Hawaii, there clearly is a danger of the disease running out of control.

Authorities may place more severe restrictions on travel to the infested areas and insist that plants that can harbor larvae and eggs be treated or prohibited from leaving affected localities.

The tourism industry, already hit hard by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, will suffer more if word of the disease gets around. Already, tourist-dependent businesses in Hana are feeling the effects.

It may be the nature of government bureaucracy that slows necessary action when a problem develops. If quick solutions were sought when coqui frogs and miconia plants first established themselves in Hawaii, these matters would have been far easier to correct. Although no less serious, coqui and miconia are longer-term environmental issues. Dengue, however, poses an immediate threat to public health and demands a swift fix.

Los Angeles Times

Simplistic analysis of the war on terror is undermined almost daily by events on the evening news. The suicide bombing that killed 38 people in a legislative building in the Indian state of Kashmir this week was an act of terrorism as surely as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A Pakistan-based group said it was responsible for the slaughter but later backed away from that claim. There's no question, however, that terrorist groups operate against Kashmir from Pakistan. The United States and its allies should make it clear that Islamabad must stop giving even moral support, let alone training and weapons, to these groups.

The United States needs Pakistan in its search for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network. Bin Laden is based in Afghanistan and sheltered there by the Taliban regime, which Pakistan has long supported. The situation is complicated because the Pakistani generals who seized power in a 1999 coup have to contend with Islamic fundamentalists of their own. These militants want the attacks on India to continue until New Delhi gives up control over its part of Kashmir.

India too has militants, who urge that Pakistan be attacked. India is predominantly Hindu, Pakistan is Muslim, and this is fodder for extremists on both sides. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir in the last half-century. The latest outbreak of fighting has lasted a dozen years and killed tens of thousands of soldiers, police and civilians. The stakes are higher now because both countries have nuclear weapons.

Monday's attack on the legislative assembly building in the summer capital of Kashmir came as India's foreign minister was in Washington to remind President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that India was among the first to offer the use of land and air space in the attack on terrorism. In the initial stages, India stayed quiet about the Washington-Islamabad coziness, recognizing that the coalition needs Pakistan's help. But after the Kashmir deaths, India's prime minister warned that "there is a limit" to India's patience. The U.S. too must express its impatience, and Islamabad should rein in the groups using its territory to attack Kashmir.

It is in Pakistan's self-interest not to give India more grounds to chase guerrillas across the border. It is in Washington's interest to keep both nations in the fold. Reiterating a blanket condemnation of terrorism will add clarity to the mission and help keep the coalition intact.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Oman and possibly Egypt are reported to be getting cold feet about participating too actively in the U.S.-led campaign against Osama bin Laden and his protectors in Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is on what senior U.S. officials say is an emergency trip to these countries to warm them up and settle them down.

Given the secrecy, complexity and scope of the anti-terror campaign, Rumsfeld may, in fact, be on a stealthier and more ambitious assignment. But even if he is limiting his activities to morale-boosting, he has embarked on a difficult and essential assignment.

The White House has made clear that, while prepared to wage the war against terrorism alone, it would prefer the support of as many nations as possible. To this end, three loose coalitions of varying size, strength and purpose appear to have been assembled:

Coalition A comprises this country's most faithful allies and includes the old members of NATO, buttressed by the alliance's newer members and Japan. In Coalition B are countries such as Russia, Pakistan and China that have signed on for the duration of this specific campaign. Coalition C members include a wide range of other nations, most notably Saudi Arabia and other Arab and/or Muslim countries that are willing to help - up to a point.

That point, certainly with respect to Saudi Arabia, seems to be a moving target. The Saudis have sent conflicting signals, at least in public, about their willingness to allow the United States to use a major Saudi military base for command-and-control operations in Afghanistan, particularly if those operations involve the removal of the ruling Taliban regime.

For decades, the Saudis have sought to deal with terrorists by buying them off, by trying to avoid the appearance of Western influence and generally by following the path of least resistance. Only when pushed very hard do the Saudis move boldly, as they did after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait or when they expelled bin Laden (the 17th of 52 children born to a wealthy Saudi builder) in 1991 after he had become dangerously subversive.

The task before Rumsfeld in Saudi Arabia, as well as in Uzbekistan and Oman, is to stress that, in dealing with terrorists, appeasement is a form of surrender. Few nations are as scrupulously Islamic as Saudi Arabia; yet Saudi Arabia was bin Laden's original adversary.

Neither does Saudi Arabia's role as protector of two of Islam's holiest places give it cause to shield bin Laden or his Taliban patrons on religious grounds. One of the important truths to emerge from the events of Sept. 11 is that terrorism, notwithstanding bin Laden's rhetoric, is an affront to the tenets of Islam.

It would be futile to demand that Saudi Arabia, Oman, Uzbekistan - or any other country - become a faithful U.S. ally. But in the war against this moral plague called terrorism, it is impossible for any country or anyone to sit on the sidelines or above the fray.

New York Post

The most disturbing aspect of reports that the Bush administration planned - before Sept. 11 - to launch a new Middle East initiative including support for a Palestinian state is not so much their content as their timing.

To be sure, the broad proposal leaked by the State Department - and indirectly confirmed Tuesday by the president - contradicts Bush's longstanding position about the proper U.S. role in Middle East diplomacy.

As a candidate last year, Bush criticized the Clinton administration for trying to "make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables," adding that "this is not the path to peace."

He also insisted that "we can't dictate the terms of peace."

But the proposed outline of a comprehensive settlement suggested by the reports would have done exactly that.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell noted, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon long ago acknowledged that a de facto Palestinian state already exists; just last week, in fact, he noted that successive Israeli governments have tried to give the Palestinians "what they never before had - a state."

But the timing of what clearly was a calculated leak to the press is disturbing.

On the one hand, it sends PLO leader Yasser Arafat the umistakable message that his year-long campaign of violence and terror against Israel can, in fact, yield diplomatic rewards. Indeed, it totally undercuts Sharon's determination not to resume negotiations as long as anti-Israeli violence is raging.

And in the past 48 hours, that violence has continued: Tuesday, Hamas terrorists killed two teenagers and wounded 15 other people in Gaza. In an unsettling similarity to the WTC terrorists, the gunmen left behind a video in which they proclaimed that the attack was "to please God and to champion Islam and Muslims and our dispersed people."

Meanwhile, Arafat has done nothing to halt the killing.

More to the point, the Powell leaks seem principally intended to bolster coalition-building in the Persian Gulf.

Arab states have openly proclaimed their demand that more activist U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - including increased pressure on Israel - is a major condition of their support for the anti-terrorism coalition.

Even now, though, that coalition appears to be faltering: Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld has rushed to the Persian Gulf to seek support from so-called "moderate" Arab states, which fear anti-American domestic protests.

We're worried that that the administration will repeat the mistakes of the first Bush administration, sacrificing important long-term goals for the sake of a short-term "coalition" with Arab states.

In particular, to undermine Israel, which has set the standard in warring against terrorism, to curry favor with such "allies" would be shortsighted - and shameful.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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