What U.S. newspapers are saying

Oct. 6, 2001 at 9:13 AM
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What U.S. newspapers are saying

New York Times

The American case against Osama bin Laden has now been put before the world, thanks to Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair. Mr. Blair said Thursday that his review of the evidence left "absolutely no doubt" that Mr. bin Laden and his terrorist network were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Some Americans may be wondering whether the world will find those assurances from our closest European ally particularly convincing. But the report released by Britain, in a move coordinated with the White House, demonstrates that the Bush administration has enough information about the links between Mr. bin Laden, the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan and the terrorist assaults to make a strong case.

The report does not contain a smoking gun -- there are no transcripts of telephone conversations in which Mr. bin Laden orders the hijacking of American airplanes. But it does say that Mr. bin Laden indicated he was "about to launch a major attack on America" shortly before Sept. 11, and that the detailed planning was carried out by one of his close associates. Mr. Blair did not disclose the raw intelligence data that supported those conclusions, and the American people should not expect to be shown information harvested from sensitive collection systems like satellites. Officials need to conceal data that might endanger informants or compromise reporting channels. Mr. Blair was inviting the world to accept his word that the intelligence information was credible.

There are other reasons the world should find Mr. Blair's statements reliable. The government of an important Muslim country, Pakistan, has come to similar conclusions about Mr. bin Laden's responsibility. America's NATO allies have also been briefed on the evidence, and some of them would presumably communicate their doubts if Mr. Blair were overstating the case.

Britain's report contains some new details about the case against Mr. bin Laden, and reveals that leading members of his terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, were warned in advance of an imminent assault on American targets and were urged to return to the shelter of Afghanistan by Sept. 10.

The document also portrays Al Qaeda and the Taliban as closely linked in their military and financial operations and dependent on each other for their continued survival. Without protection and support from the Taliban, the report concludes, Mr. bin Laden would not have been able to coordinate complex terrorist operations like the one on Sept. 11.

Britain's report was compiled from evidence provided by American and British intelligence agencies, public declarations by Mr. bin Laden and past court proceedings against Al Qaeda members. It was not intended to meet legal standards for prosecution. But it should go far to reassure people around the world that Washington has identified the right targets for retaliation.

That issue is particularly sensitive in the Muslim world, which makes Pakistan's emphatic public endorsement of the case against Mr. bin Laden especially important. Pakistan is the world's second most populous Muslim country, shares a 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan and has long had close ties with the Taliban. But on Thursday its government went even further than Britain's, declaring that the evidence it had been shown by Washington would be sufficient to justify charges against Mr. bin Laden in a court of law.

Boston Globe

The most important and immediate goal for US foreign policy is to prevent Osama bin Laden and his terrorist supporters from striking again at US targets. The second-most-important goal should be to prevent a foreign policy disaster for the United States in the Muslim world.

In a 1998 statement, bin Laden savaged the United States for stationing troops in Saudi Arabia, for maintaining the sanctions against Iraq, and for supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. That resonated deeply with the 600 million Muslims who live across the Middle East, from Morocco to Pakistan. His claim that these actions justified the killing of Americans and their allies failed to resonate except among a relatively small number of Islamic fundamentalists. The danger now is that when the United States visits ruthless punishment on bin Laden and his Afghan hosts, the Taliban, the nation will fuel more sympathy for him and create new generations of terrorists.

That's what happened in India when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attacked Sikh fundamentalists. Some 19 million Sikhs lived in India in the early 1980s with many concentrated in Punjab. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale headed the Sikh nationalist party, Akali Dal, and began to demand greater autonomy for Punjab. In 1982 a Sikh was elected president of India, but that largely ceremonial position did not placate the Sikh nationalists.

As they increased their threats, Gandhi sent more and more troops. When the Akali Dal announced they would stop paying taxes to the central government and would block the shipment of grain from Punjab to the rest of the country, Gandhi ordered troops into Bhindranwale's headquarters in the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

For three bloody days in June 1984, Indian troops attacked. In the end, Bhindranwhale was killed. So were most of his armed supporters. One temple was destroyed, and the entire complex was badly damaged. But in the process, Gandhi made even moderate Sikhs more sympathetic with the radicals. In October 1984 she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, who sought to avenge the insult to their people.

Just as Gandhi's use of force against Bhindranwale radicalized the Sikhs and resulted in her assassination, so could US use of military force against bin Laden result in the radicalization of moderate Muslims, with dire consequences for the United States. The United States must seize the initiative now to prevent that radicalization in the future. Here's how:

The United States must present clear and convincing evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the violence against the United States so US actions are not interpreted as a vendetta against Islam or Muslims. That evidence must be disseminated widely in the Middle East.

Middle Eastern rulers must be induced - by pressure and by the promise of future gain - to join the US-led coalition. That means getting Arab rulers to speak out publicly against the terrorists while supporting the international coalition to eliminate terrorism. It means getting Arab rulers to pressure Islamic clerics who work within the system to speak from the pulpit reminding Muslims that the killing of innocents violates Islam. Arab rulers must also work to eliminate the terrorist cells that operate in their countries, end fund-raising for the terrorists, and stop tolerating or even encouraging the climate in which terrorists are nurtured. Many Arab rulers have encouraged Islamic radicalism in the past to divert attention from their own dictatorships and their own failure to generate economic growth.

Some Middle Eastern rulers must also be induced to join the military coalition to be sure that Muslims participate in the killing of other Muslims and not just Christians and Jews. (For that reason, Israel must be kept out of this coalition, at least publicly, as it was kept out of the Gulf War coalition.)

The United States must bring an immediate and lasting end to the violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis and restart the peace process. Yasser Arafat, perhaps unencumbered by political pressures from the Palestinians, has declared a cease-fire. US interests demand that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon be induced to the table and that both sides in new talks generate meaningful concessions.

The coming military action is bound to increase sympathies for the radicals throughout the region. The failure of American efforts to separate moderate Muslims from radical Islamic fundamentalists will come to haunt the United States long after it disposes of this immediate threat.

A hostile Muslim world is bound to bring new torments to the United States and the West.

Chicago Tribune

If politics makes strange bedfellows, diplomacy can prompt some indecent proposals. After getting great powers--Britain, Russia and Europe--on board in the fight against terrorism, President Bush is courting some highly unusual nations for help, including a rogues' gallery of often-hostile states such as Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Dealing with Afghanistan has always been tricky for imperial powers, as Britain and Russia found out the hard way in past wars. Now, Bush's new coalition will be trying its hand at what Rudyard Kipling once called the Great Game--diplomatic machinations of empires past trying to bend Afghanistan to their wills.

In Bush's zeal to sign up new allies as he prepares a war against terrorist Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and the extremist Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Bush can't wear blinders. He's dealing with some unsavory states accused in the past of human rights abuse, weapons proliferation and religious persecution.

At the same time, this is an extraordinary opportunity to revise the world's balance of power politics and have some positive influence on those states. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are changing diplomatic relations faster than Bush, or anyone else, could have imagined. The post-Cold War era seems to be evolving into a new realignment of powers. Russia has agreed to allow U.S. troops into its sphere of influence in Central Asian republics such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. China signaled it will provide modest assistance. Europe, though somewhat reluctantly, is falling in step with a NATO defense of America under the determined and eloquent leadership of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Bush has eased sanctions against India and Pakistan, despite lingering U.S. disapproval of their 1998 nuclear arms tests. He's upping aid to Pakistan and Oman. And from North Africa to the Middle East, Bush is wooing states that once were considered state sponsors of terrorism.

Iran, one nation on the U.S. list of such states, presents a remarkable opportunity. Conservative mullahs who control Iran's security forces and legal system continue to arm and fund Islamic extremist groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and the Palestinians' Hamas, sworn enemies of Israel. Iran's mullahs have no intention of aiding President Mohammad Khatami's efforts, backed by a majority of Iranians, to improve relations with the West.

Still, this is the best opening for the West with the Islamic republic since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Iran despises the Taliban regime and signaled support for an international effort to uproot terrorism. Khatami is determined to play a role, but the mullahs refused to provide support for an attack on Afghanistan. Nevertheless, that's a start. Iran will have an interest in shaping a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The Bush administration also supported lifting of United Nations sanctions against Sudan because the Muslim-led country, not so long ago the target of U.S. cruise missiles, gave intelligence assistance in tracking bin Laden. Sudan is also on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, but a new relationship could give the U.S. leverage to coax an end to Sudan's bitter, bloody civil war.

Libya, Syria, new relations are possible if they are willing to change their stripes. Bush has an opportunity to explore new relationships with such nations to reinforce U.S. national interests.

Dallas Morning News

Who could have imagined before Sept. 11 that one thing damaged in an attack on America by terrorists would be the relationship between the United States and Mexico?

The rough patch began when President Bush told the countries of the world to choose whether they were with the United States or with the terrorists. One would have expected that Mexico would have been among the first to answer the call. Just days before the attack, in a White House ceremony honoring Mexican President Vicente Fox, President Bush termed the U.S. relationship with Mexico as its more "important" in the world.

So imagine the surprise and disappointment -- both within and outside the White House -- when some Mexican officials seemed to react with a mixture of ambivalence, arrogance and ambiguity. Consider the remarks of Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel, who felt compelled to stress Mexico was not a "subordinate of the United States."

Mr. Creel is quite correct. Mexico is not a "subordinate" of the United States. What it is, however, is a friend, a neighbor, a trading partner and -- yes, we expect, at moments like this -- an ally.

Whether it likes it or not, Mexico also is a country whose fate is inextricably tied to that of the United States. That should have become clear when it was learned that buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center were an undetermined number of Mexican immigrants. It should have become clear when new security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border resulted in slowdowns for Mexicans seeking to enter the U.S. and lost revenue for Mexican businesses on the border. And it should be still clearer now that a weakened U.S. economy has prompted American companies to lay off thousands of Mexican workers -- something that will reverberate in dozens of Mexican villages and towns that depend on money wired home from the United States.

President Fox seems to understand that, and he understands as well that Mexico has done itself no favors in recent days. Trying to mend fences, the Fox administration this week placed full-page ads in U.S. newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News, to pledge Mexican solidarity with the United States. Mr. Fox himself returned to the White House Thursday where he sought to reassure Americans of Mexico's commitment to stand "side by side in your efforts to defeat terrorism in the world."

White House officials accept that, and they are eager to put the whole episode behind us. We should do that. The events of Sept. 11 remind us that the United States still has real enemies in the world, and Mexico is not one of them. With American soldiers massing in places like Uzbekistan, the important thing now is for the United States and Mexico, along with the other freedom-loving countries, to stand as one and do everything they can to thwart evil.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

The American people were advised at the outset that this would be an unconventional war, but we were caught off guard by the truly unorthodox manner that people are being informed about it. The best information about America's case against Osam bin Laden can be found at a British government Web site, courtesy of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair told the House of Commons about the 15-page report in a speech yesterday morning, describing it as "a document detailing the basis for our conclusions" that bin Laden and his al-Qaida network were responsible for the Sept. 11 attack on America. Posting of the document on the Internet is welcome, but Americans should not have to rely on the British government for explanations of U.S. policy.

The report contains background information tying bin Laden's organization to attacks on U.S. military personnel in Somalia in 1993, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the USS Cole at a Yemen port last year. It states that at least three of the 19 hijackers in New York and Washington had been "positively identified" as al-Qaida associates, one of whom had played key roles in the embassy and the USS Cole attacks.

The report states that "bin Laden himself asserted shortly before Sept. 11 that he was preparing an attack on America," and that close associates were warned to return to Afghanistan from other countries by Sept. 10. Prior to the attack, it says, "some known associates of bin Laden were naming the date for action as on or around Sept. 11."

Investigators "have learned that one of bin Laden's closest and most senior associates was responsible for the detailed planning of the attacks," according to the document. "There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release." Names of some bin Laden associates are omitted "for intelligence reasons."

Blair said British political party leaders "have seen the full basis for the document" on a confidential basis and "have absolutely no doubt that bin Laden and his network are responsible for the attacks" on Sept. 11.

American officials have been less forthright than the British in explaining, even in these summary terms, the basis for the allegation that bin Laden was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In an interview with The New York Times earlier this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell said "the information is coming out in the press and other ways." Unfortunately, those "other ways" are foreign governments.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, wary of U.S. attempts to make Arab allies in the war against terrorism, bluntly told Washington: "Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense." The remarks were insulting and ungrateful, but they did highlight an authentic danger. In their eagerness to assemble the largest possible coalition against Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, U.S. officials might be tempted to give away too much.

The United States isn't about to sell Israel down the river. America's commitment to Israel remains absolute, and Sharon was wrong to suggest otherwise. But it is hardly out of line to suspect that foreign leaders - and not just of Arab states - will want something from America in return for whatever efforts they may make in the campaign against terrorism. The U.S. should be ready to make sacrifices to get what it wants, but not at all costs.

The Arabs want the U.S. to be more active in Middle East diplomacy and to be more sympathetic to the Palestinians. This is understandable enough, although it's hard to see what the U.S. can accomplish with the current Israeli and Palestinian leadership. Beyond this, what the Arabs want - if anything - is not clear.

What Russia wants, though, is apparent: It seeks Western help in developing its economic, political and legal institutions and muted criticism of a war in Chechnya that is fueled in part by Muslim radicals. A modern, lawful Russia is in America's interest, and in the short run, the U.S. might ease its criticism regarding Chechnya. But the U.S. should not go completely silent on this issue, given Russia's record of atrocities in that breakaway republic.

China, too, has joined the U.S. alliance against terrorism partly because it wants international support for its own campaign against Muslim separatists based in the western region of Xinjiang. China's effort has intensified since Sept. 11, with the execution of at least seven people and the arrest of dozens more. A failure by the U.S. to warn China about such measures may encourage even more ferocious repression.

On the theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the U.S. may make tactical alliances with many people, groups and countries that, in ordinary times, it would have avoided. This is inevitable and probably necessary. But averted eyes should be a short-term condition, not a permanent affliction. Bin Laden and his ilk should remind Americans of the differences between right and wrong, not cause them to forget.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

In the post-Sept. 11 world of endless incongruities, few are as stark as this: The country that has given more money than any other to ease the physical suffering in Afghanistan is now poised to attack it.

And, quite likely, worsen the suffering of average Afghans.

Such is the dilemma facing the United States as it moves forward, quite rightly, to cleanse the world of terrorism, beginning with Example A -- Osama bin Laden, the millionaire terrorist who is believed to be sheltered by the Taliban, Afghanistan's ruling militia.

Two wholly different but still compatible missions lie ahead for the United States. First, our country must do as little harm as possible to the people of Afghanistan during the military campaign, whatever shape it takes. Second, we must increase dramatically the amount of humanitarian aid we have been supplying to Afghan citizens through the United Nations and non-government organizations (NGOs) like the Red Cross.

True, the United States hasn't been the truest friend imaginable to this hapless country defined by 23 years of civil war and drought. We lost interest in this far corner of the world after our old archenemy, the former Soviet Union, pulled out of the barren, mountainous region after a wasted decade of war.

But U.S. dollars, funneled through the NGOs, have been crucial to helping sustain millions of Afghans. Before the attack on America, according to the federal Agency for International Development, the United States had committed to spend $177 million there this year on agriculture, de-mining efforts, health care, tents and water.

Afghanistan is also the second-largest recipient, after North Korea, of U.S. wheat. So dire is the plight of Afghans that the common person's basic means of existence is flatbread and weak tea. A fifth of the country depends on international aid, including that from America, to just survive.

It is currently estimated that as many as 1.5 million Afghans, fearful of a U.S. attack, are preparing to flee their homeland. But the closest countries, Pakistan and Iran, are already home to some 4 million Afghan refugees and have closed their borders, as best they can. That in turn has spawned worries that masses of destitute Afghans will be stranded halfway between their war-torn home and a safe harbor.

It is this hellish scenario that argues for the United States to also dispatch additional aid to Pakistan and Iran, in order that these countries can be persuaded to shelter displaced Afghans, it is hoped, on a temporary basis.

As evidence that the United States is aiming its military might against bin Laden and the Taliban -- not the Afghan populace -- the Bush administration announced this week that another $320 million in humanitarian aid will be allocated to help Afghans inside and outside their country. Most of this money will help them survive what is expected to be a brutal winter.

Putting what is extraordinarily complex into basic, moral terms, the United States must take care to attend to the subsistence needs of the Afghans bound to be caught in the crossfire of the campaign against terrorism.

And when the fight the United States did not start has ended, our country must lead the international community in rebuilding Afghanistan, much the same way it restored normality to post-World War II Europe through the Marshall Plan.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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