What U.S. newspapers are saying

Oct. 12, 2001 at 9:52 AM
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New York Times

The George W. Bush who addressed the nation at a prime-time news conference yesterday appeared to be a different man from the one who was just barely elected president last year, or even the man who led the country a month ago. He seemed more confident, determined, and sure of his purpose and was in full command of the complex array of political and military challenges that he faces in the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. It was for the most part a reassuring performance that gave comfort to an uneasy nation. In the weeks ahead, Mr. Bush should return to this and similar venues to talk to the American people. He's better at it than he and his aides think.

The themes of last evening's encounter with reporters in the East Room of the White House were strikingly different from those voiced by Mr. Bush during the presidential campaign and his first months in office. Here was a Republican president repeatedly extolling the crucial role of the federal government in providing for the safety of the American people, whether in improving aviation security, hunting down suspected terrorists or simply giving succor to a shaken land.

Using a mixture of straight talk, statesmanship and a touch of humor here and there, Mr. Bush clarified and sharpened his positions on several important issues. It was heartening to hear him say the United States and its allies will not walk away from Afghanistan once Osama bin Laden and his followers are captured or killed. His inclination to seek the assistance of the United Nations in establishing a new government in Kabul if the Taliban is ousted was wise. And his reaffirmation of the need for humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan -- including donations from American children -- seemed heartfelt. Mr. Bush may have scrambled his stern message slightly when he offered to reconsider the military assault on Afghanistan if the Taliban leadership surrenders Mr. bin Laden, but the gesture is likely to reassure other Muslim nations that Washington is not bloody minded.

As he did in his address to Congress last month, Mr. Bush tried to prepare the country for a long and potentially costly war. There will be no easy victories, despite the early success of American air strikes in Afghanistan. Given the opportunity to say he was ready to widen the war to attack Iraq -- a step that the nation is not yet prepared to take -- Mr. Bush simply warned Saddam Hussein that he was being closely watched.

Mr. Bush was effective in talking to the American people about their fears. He spoke candidly about new warnings that additional terrorist attacks could come at anytime, but described the many precautions that the government is taking to defend the home front. He was at once firm in his resolve to protect the nation and calm in advising Americans to get on with the life of the country as best they can.

In all, it was an assured appearance that should give citizens a sense that their president has done much to master the complexities of this new global crisis. Toward the end of the session, he spoke movingly about the men and women who were killed at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As he reflected on the sorrow, compassion and determination that have swept the country since those horrifying hours on the morning of Sept. 11, he seemed to be a leader whom the nation could follow in these difficult times.

Boston Globe

The struggle against Osama bin Laden involves ideas and words as well as military actions. The Bush administration, with the acquiescence of American television networks, is acting defensively when it ought to use the tools of modern communications to take the battle to the enemy.

At the request of Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, the networks agreed to prescreen videotapes of bin Laden and his associates to check for inflammatory rhetoric. The administration says the tapes are lying propaganda and may contain coded messages to terrorists. Yesterday the White House suggested that newspapers as well should not print the statements in their entirety. And last night President Bush expressed apparent dismay that Americans were shown bin Laden's anti-American tirade ''on our TV screens.''

No evidence has surfaced that any of the tapes thus far included a code, and as for propaganda, that could apply to speeches by legitimate political leaders. Bin Laden's statement, in which he praised the hijackers and called for war on the United States, ought to remove any doubt that he was behind the terrorist attacks. The Globe, like other newspapers, published his words as evidence of his beliefs, demonic though they are.

Rice is also worried about U.S. broadcasts carrying bin Laden's message to an international Muslim audience, but in the main theater of the struggle -- from Morocco through Pakistan -- his words are disseminated in the original Arabic over the Internet and the al-Jazeera satellite news channel.

Secretary of State Colin Powell complained about al-Jazeera's reporting to the emir of Qatar, which subsidizes the station. That was both shortsighted and ineffective. Al-Jazeera vowed this week to keep broadcasting bin Laden's videotapes.

The administration faces a formidable challenge in getting its message out to the Muslim world. It does itself no good by trying to suppress information. Unlike most of the Arab media, al-Jazeera does legitimate news gathering, flavored with provocative opinions on its talk shows. To demonstrate the values of a free society, the administration should facilitate the news gathering about the United States of al-Jazeera and other legitimate Muslim news organizations and encourage the Voice of America to keep beaming honest, thorough newscasts to Muslim nations.

U.S. news organizations were correct not to disclose information that the air campaign was about to start. And bin Laden's words should not be broadcast or printed if the administration can establish that they contain coded instructions. Otherwise the administration should not intervene.

President Bush says this conflict is all about freedom, and bin Laden considers it a holy war. Most people around the world will judge Bush's the better cause if they get news of the struggle quickly, accurately, and comprehensively.

Chicago Tribune

The Russian submarine Kursk finally returned to its home base of Murmansk on Wednesday -- 14 months after setting out for naval exercises in the Barents Sea. The sub was greeted not by eager families but solemn remembrance and graves already prepared.

All 118 people on board were lost when the submarine sank Aug. 12, 2000, after two explosions ripped its hull during a torpedo firing exercise.

That Russia and its Dutch and other European partners persevered in the task to salvage this craft is testament to overcoming obstacles and the power of a president's promise.

At the time of the accident, Russian President Vladimir Putin was stung by the crew's angry relatives who accused him of being insensitive and rebuffing international offers to help in the rescue attempt. Putin vowed then that Russia would do what was necessary to raise the submarine and bury the victims. He kept his word.

Technically, this was a Herculean feat and the Russians weren't alone in their initial conventional wisdom that it couldn't be done.

Raising the Kursk was the largest salvage operation from the ocean floor ever attempted. This was not just an inert object. The Kursk was powered by twin nuclear reactors, believed to have been safely shut down. The sub carried a payload of unexploded torpedoes and 22 supersonic cruise missiles. No one knew what might happen in the jostling of the salvage attempt.

The $65 million effort took three months and was initially hampered by bad weather and assorted technical problems. In the end, though, it all went surprisingly smoothly.

Divers first separated the body of the sub from the mangled front compartment, then punched holes so that 26 cables could be attached. Finally, the Dutch heavy lifting company Mammoet pulled the sub upward from the ocean floor until it nestled neatly underneath a giant barge, which was then towed to shore.

While the sailors of the Kursk lay entombed in the ocean deep, the world above them changed irrevocably. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Putin firmly cast his nation's lot with the West--and against international terrorism.

It is a risky position for him, one cynics see as mere strategic justification for Russia's brutality in Chechnya. But the world is different today. Russia and America, former bitter Cold War foes, are now standing shoulder to shoulder to fight terrorism. Once unthinkable, U.S. troops are using former Soviet bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as staging areas in the war against Afghanistan's Taliban.

Russia's journey to modern European state is far from complete, but an historical barrier has been breached. Laid to rest at last--the crew of the Kursk and perhaps, too, the Cold War.

Columbus Dispatch

How many people noticed that Tuesday was Leif Ericson Day?

Thanks to a resolution passed by Congress in 1964, the president is authorized to proclaim every Oct. 9 Leif Ericson Day. President Bush dutifully carried out Congress' wish this year, although he's been busy lately, and the proclamation shows signs of having been sent out on autopilot.

Putting a modern spin on the accomplishments of Ericson and his men, the proclamation notes that "achieving difficult goals requires people who are courageous and willing to sacrifice, who take action and take risks.''

Ericson, as many will remember from Chapter 1 of their American history textbooks, is the goal-setting Viking chieftain who, in about the year 1000, sailed far enough west that he bumped into what is now Canada and became the first European to set foot on North America (if you don't count Greenland). Like Columbus, he didn't know where he was. But unlike Columbus, Ericson doesn't get much attention. Several reasons are behind this:

-- He didn't stay long.

-- He didn't write anything down or make a map to tell anyone how to get here.

-- Hollywood has not brought Ericson to the big screen because no one knows whether he resembled Mel Gibson.

The Vikings weren't much at writing or portraiture, but they were extremely good at sailing. While other Europeans had not yet figured out how to rig a sail to go anywhere except where the wind happened to be blowing, the Vikings were hopscotching all over the northern Atlantic in their sleek longboats.

The Vikings' mastery of the cutting-edge transportation technology of their day allowed them to exercise their natural talents for marauding, raping and pillaging. They harassed most of England for several centuries, burning monasteries and sometimes putting entire surrendering villages to the sword for the sheer glee of it. No question, Vikings were the terrorists of their day.

But Ericson has escaped being lumped in with the rest of them; he's usually given the more neutral label of "Norse explorer.'' He was also a convert to Christianity -- although being a nominal Christian was no guarantee of good behavior in a Viking.

Somehow, over the years, the Vikings have been transformed into today's progressive, peace-loving Scandinavians.

The main point of Leif Ericson Day is to honor Americans whose forebears came from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Many of these hardy, self-reliant immigrants helped build America into the strong nation that it is today.

Dallas Morning News

In an unusual and -- according to some military historians -- unprecedented move, the first shot in the United States' formal retaliation against Osama bin Laden, and his protectors in the Islamic Taliban government of Afghanistan, came as a peculiar mixture of butter and bombs.

It is nothing new for civilized nations to dedicate humanitarian aid to rebuild areas devastated by war. In the best known example, the Allies helped rebuild Europe after World War II with the Marshall Plan.

What is new, and significant, about the $320 million in humanitarian aid that President Bush has directed toward Afghanistan is that the first installment arrived at virtually the same time as the missiles. Participating in the initial air assault were two U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes that, within two hours of the first airstrikes, dropped 37,500 daily ration packets to help feed undernourished Afghans. And more followed.

Each of the pouches contains medicine and enough food to provide over 2,000 calories a day. It also bears an imprint of the American flag and a message identifying the contents as "a gift from the United States of America."

The rations are more than good works; they are good policy. They clearly illustrate what President Bush has said about how our quarrel is with Osama bin Laden and his accomplices in the Taliban, not with those innocent bystanders, the Afghan people.

Besides, giving people food and comfort may generate sufficient good will among Afghans that the butter ultimately could prove to be even more effective than the bombs at wreaking havoc with the Taliban's rule.

Besides their humanitarian and strategic benefit, the rations are a diplomatic tool. While the international coalition is being strained under the weight of competing interests, such a brilliant and dramatic gesture should help convince moderate Arab states and other wavering parties to stand by the United States.

Feeding the starving people of Afghanistan, while taking steps to rid their country of those who prey upon them, should go a long way toward showing the world that we are a just, honorable, and compassionate nation -- and that, even in this difficult hour, it is those ideals we want to share.

The Taliban response to all this has been to threaten to burn the aid shipments. Let them. The good these relief efforts already have done will not be so easily destroyed.

Detroit Free Press

Location, location, location is what they say drives value in real estate. It also has made tumultuous Pakistan a suddenly crucial ally of the United States -- which will have to shore up the Pakistani government to keep it that way in the war on terrorism.

For practical purposes, Pakistan is the gateway to mountainous, landlocked Afghanistan, lair of the terrorist organization that launched the Sept. 11 attacks on America. The Khyber Pass links the two Muslim nations. Pakistan is also home to an estimated 1.2 million Afghan refugees from Afghanistan's decade-long war with the Soviet Union, and thousands more who have fled in recent weeks in anticipation of American attacks.

While maintaining diplomatic ties with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, Pakistan has shared intelligence with the United States and granted the use of several air bases for the campaign against the terrorists. This has outraged a militant Islamic minority that wants Pakistan to join the Taliban's holy war against America.

Given Pakistan's turbulent history, the United States has to be cognizant of the stability of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government, which came to power as a result of a coup. Heightening concern is the fact that Pakistan recently joined the world's doomsday club, detonating two atomic bombs in 1998 in response to similar tests conducted by rival India.

The United States will have to demonstrate to the Pakistani people that Musharraf has picked the right side in this fight by making economic and military aid available. As if Secretary of State Colin Powell didn't have enough other irons in the fire, he'll also have to reassure the Pakistanis of U.S. assistance in peaceful resolution of the long dispute with India over control of Kashmir.

Washington Times

In a city where information is firepower, the presidential order that came down last Friday to limit sensitive congressional war briefings to the four congressional leaders and the intelligence committee chairmen and vice chairmen was for Congress (particularly those members who are neither leaders nor intelligence committee chairmen and vice chairmen) a call to arms -- or, rather, to phones and cameras and wherever else outrage might be vented and aired, preferably during prime time.

Of course, it's not just sweeping presidential orders that send some of these same members to phones and cameras and wherever else outrage might be vented and aired, preferably during prime time. As Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, told this newspaper's Dave Boyer, "We stand to get injured if we somehow get between the TV cameras and certain members of Congress."

No names, please. But the fact is that many of our honorable members talk too much. While that is a boon for a peacetime press (and do feel free to resume chatter after victory), the stakes are quite different just now. Mr. Bush, having become quickly accustomed to shouldering the unique burden of ordering young Americans into battle, understands this. In an effort to stop classified information from leaking its way into the press from the rushing founts of Capitol Hill, the president decided to dry up the flow of information at the source. "I intend to protect our troops," the president said. "It is unacceptable behavior to leak classified information when we have troops at risk." Sounds not only good, but also responsible to us. As House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas put it, "If I don't need to know, don't tell me."

Still, there was much Sturm und Drang on the Hill about "advise and consent," "right to know" and "the people." Consequently -- or maybe it was all part of a plan -- Mr. Bush softened his edict to provide for briefing all members of the armed services and foreign relations committees. He also promised to distinguish between closely held operational security matters and, as Ari Fleischer put it, "oversight, overview information that Congress needs to do its job."

That job -- as well as the media's -- has changed for the duration. Information is still firepower, of course, but it is now incumbent on those who hold it to make sure it isn't used against us. "The president has made his point," Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said. "We all are going to be more careful." Enough said.

Seattle Times

Never underestimate the power of words.

It's a lesson the United States must understand as it wages a military war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and a psychological war for the hearts and minds of Afghans. To win both, America should rev up its public-relations machine, much as it revved up its military and diplomatic arsenals in recent weeks.

Much is already being done. Food drops feed starving Afghans and show them a more benevolent side of America. Leaflets with an American message float into the hands of Afghans desperate for news. And radio broadcast "crime alerts" from circling planes spread the word of the price on the heads of terrorists.

But more is needed to reach the millions who support Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

Propaganda is a useful tool in countering the Taliban's message of revenge with one of hope.

Positive news about America is in short supply in many Arab countries. For example, while America's firepower has gotten extensive coverage in the Arab world, little has been said about the tons of U.S. humanitarian aid to Afghanistan that started, not this week, but years ago.

America must find a way to engage Muslims much as we did with Eastern Europeans during the Cold War.

But Afghans are too poor and too terrorized to seek out dissenting voices on their own. They need to hear a message other than the rhetoric of al Qaida. There is a role here for American propaganda.

Voice of America, the government-funded broadcast, cannot completely fill this role. While it has increased its hours of programming in Afghanistan's major languages -- Pashto and Dari -- the station walks a thin line between flexing its journalistic independence and acting as an arm of the State Department.

America must instead make its own case to the world. Now is the time for Radio Free Afghanistan.

As in the past with Radio Free Europe and Radio Marti, broadcasts can be powerful, non-lethal weapons. It is acceptable in wartime to use every tool, including propaganda. Leave editorial integrity and journalistic independence to the press. America must use more than its might to win this war. That includes the art of persuasion.

New York Post

It was one year ago today that Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers blew a hole in an American warship tied up to a Yemeni fueling pier - an attack America then did nothing about.

And this morning marks a month and a day since Sept. 11 -- when Islamic fundamentalist suicide pilots killed thousands in New York City and Washington.

One event led directly to the next.

Islamic fundamentalism had declared war on America - and it took that long, and longer, for America to get it.

Now America is fighting back.

U.S. warplanes have been pounding Afghanistan for days, and President Bush last night again promised an unending "war against those who seek to export terror (and) those governments that support or shelter them."

About time.

Seventeen U.S. sailors lost their lives aboard USS Cole a year ago.

American military pride also took a hit.

And the terrorists grew stronger.

Certainly the connection between the Cole attack and Sept. 11 has become clear.

Osama bin Laden's gang probably carried out both.

And, the FBI warned yesterday, further acts of terror, against U.S. targets, can be expected "over the next several days."

Curious thing about that warning, though: It came without any specifics - and Bush last night offered none, either.

So now America is thoroughly terrorized -- but to no apparent purpose.

Was it a warning simply for the sake of a warning?

Warnings are important, that's for sure.

Had the Clinton administration taken the hint after bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 (which claimed 224 lives), maybe the Navy might have avoided the Cole disaster.

After the embassy hits, President Clinton lobbed several cruise missiles; after Cole, Washington promised a criminal probe -- which went nowhere.

Neither response came close to making a dent in terror.

Let's face it: Despite two decades of attacks, America's response to terrorism amounted to "Hear no evil, see no evil."

That has changed.

"We learned a good lesson on Sept. 11," Bush said last night. "There is evil in this world ... (and) there are evil people."


But what about that FBI warning?

The feds say, in effect, "Run for your lives!" -- and the president has no specifics? Indeed, he urges Americans to go shopping, get on an airplane -- in effect, to live normal lives.

We're happy that America has undertaken meaningful military action, aggressive intelligence-gathering, covert operations -- and, above all, a foreign policy that makes terrorism a top priority.

And we fully appreciate that life never will be "normal" again. Not for awhile.

Americans understand this. They're tough enough to take it.

They don't need bromides from Washington. But they do they need constancy.

They didn't get it yesterday.

And that's got to stop.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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