What U.S. newspapers are saying

Oct. 20, 2001 at 9:57 AM
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New York Times

The recent era of nearly casualty-free American military operations abroad -- including the air strikes against Afghanistan -- seems to have ended yesterday as combat operations commenced on the ground. That is just one of the grim realities that come with this new and more dangerous phase of the war against terrorism. The nation should brace itself -- emotionally and politically -- for the kind of close combat it has not seen over an extended period since the Vietnam War.

Even though the risks are great, President Bush made the right choice in selecting this limited, clandestine form of warfare rather than attempting a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan by thousands of American ground troops. That would be far a more difficult enterprise, requiring many more weeks to prepare, and would invite the collapse of the unsteady international coalition that the president has assembled to combat terrorism.

The widening of the war -- something that would usually see official Washington humming with business -- came on an evening when many top officials were absent. Mr. Bush was in China, meeting with Asian and Pacific leaders, and the Capitol complex was all but deserted after this week's Anthrax scare. This added to the sense of disjointedness that has gripped the country since Sept. 11.

Much remains unknown about the yesterday's military operation, but initial reports suggest that several hundred elite fighters entered southern Afghanistan aboard helicopters under the cover of darkness. These units are equipped to hunt down enemy troops and commanders as well as to search for terrorist bands hiding in Afghanistan's remote mountains and valleys. They can also conduct sabotage missions.

The goals seem clear. The Pentagon is initially looking to destabilize and topple the Taliban leadership, first by bombing, now by pursuing individual leaders.

The bigger target is Osama bin Laden and his followers. If Washington can get reliable intelligence about the movement of the terrorist leader -- information that is hard to acquire -- special forces may eventually be able to track him down.

While the firepower of American commandos and their helicopter gunships far exceeds most of the weapons possessed by Taliban military forces and the bin Laden terrorists, nighttime raids like these are extremely risky. Even with the element of surprise, attacking forces can be overcome by larger numbers of lightly armed opponents. With the Pentagon predicting weeks, if not months, of lightning strikes, many Americans may be captured, wounded or killed. These losses will be especially painful if bin Laden and his top aides are not quickly found.

In the years since Vietnam, Americans have become accustomed to short, decisive wars with miraculously few casualties. This one is already different -- more than 5,000 men and women were killed in New York and Washington on Sept. 11. Most were civilians.

Now the nation's soldiers are going into battle in a distant and treacherous land, facing a determined and resourceful enemy. As they go, they should know that the nation supports their cause and yearns for their success.

Boston Globe

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America transformed Washington's relations with China and Russia in a turnabout that is on display this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai.

The need for big-power cooperation in the campaign against the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden has created an incentive for the Bush administration to resolve crucial disputes with Beijing and Moscow - and to retreat from unilateral policies rooted more in conservative doctrine than in reality.

There is no need, however, to accept Chinese or Russian actions that remain as intolerable today as they were on Sept. 10. To his credit, President Bush in Shanghai has tried to maintain a balance between new, wartime needs and unchanging principles. After lauding China's President Jiang Zemin for standing ''side by side with the American people'' in the war against terrorism, Bush warned his host that their mutual fight against terrorists ''must never be an excuse to persecute minorities.''

This was a pointed reference to Beijing's ruthless repression of a secessionist movement among Uighurs, the Muslim minority concentrated in the western province of Xinjiang. The allusion could also apply to the nonviolent Buddhists of Tibet, who are not only subjected to waves of official violence but also to a demographic policy that is making them a submerged minority in their own land.

On the positive side, Bush was able to praise Beijing for sharing intelligence about terrorist networks and helping to cut off the terrorists' funding. From China's perspective, there may be considerable reassurance in seeing Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell retrieving the multilateral foreign policy of their predecessors.

If Beijing wants to validate this turning away from unilateralism, it will cease its feckless proliferation of nuclear materials and missile technology to Iran and Pakistan. If they want to belie the fears and suspicions of China among members of Bush's party, China's leaders will also cease their bullying of Taiwan, a counterproductive habit they failed to curb even during the Shanghai forum.

As Bush and Powell aptly revise the administration's approach to Russia and China, they would be wise to continue defending human rights while acting to make cooperation with Washington worthwhile to both former antagonists.

Alleviation of Russia's $165 billion debt and its fears of an expanding NATO should be on the table, as well as reduced arsenals of nuclear missiles and retention of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. But America must not overlook Russian brutality in Chechnya under the rubric of a shared struggle against terrorism.

Dallas Morning News

The introduction of ground troops into Afghanistan certainly ushers in a new phase of the war against terrorism. Several points stand out on this front:

The U.S. and its allies will need many strategies to defeat Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, the first opponent in this long campaign. Visible and forceful air assaults are important to bringing down Taliban air defenses. But the coalition against terrorism also will need to move with stealth against an enemy that practices the art of deceptive moves. Being able to maneuver special operation forces into position to capture Osama bin Laden and his core advisers will require more than sheer power. It will demand swiftness, speed, and slyness. It also means using surrogates, like the Northern Alliance that has long engaged the Taliban.

? Be prepared; the uglier parts of war could ensue. Specifically, body counts could mount. Some Americans may grow anxious if that happens, especially since they have been used to relatively quick, clean battles in places like Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf.

As the ground war develops, the nation will need to remain strong. Experts suggest Osama bin Laden believes Americans will crater over a protracted battle and retreat from the Mideast. May the grim realities of 6,000 deaths on Sept. 11 implore us to persist.

? Diplomacy matters. The U.S. and its allies can introduce ground troops in part because they persuaded Uzbekistan to host troops as a launching pad into neighboring Afghanistan. Although Uzbekistan has its own reasons to thwart the Taliban, its acceptance of troops did not occur without allied diplomatic skill. For one thing, there was the embarrassment to Moscow of seeing U.S. troops deployed in a former republic.

Coalition leaders will need to continue working diplomatic channels, no matter how much some people might assume force will carry the day. Central Intelligence Agency executive director A.B. Krongard told a Washington audience Thursday that overwhelming force, not diplomacy, will win this war. We undoubtedly need might, but he and any others like him are wrong to assume that diplomacy will not matter greatly.

President Bush has correctly been at work on the diplomatic front in Shanghai, meeting with Asian leaders in maintaining and developing their support against terrorism. Support from nations like China will help broaden the coalition's ability to gather intelligence on movements within Afghanistan.

The president next should make a visible overture to African leaders, even if some of their nations supply little firepower. Nations like Nigeria have restive Muslim populations. They can offer insight into dealing with Islamic fundamentalists.

As the next phase begins, the coalition's leaders will need to continue employing multiple strategies. And we at home must remain strong if deaths rise. As with the long march against communism, the battle against terrorism will not end neatly or quickly.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

The gathering of Asian and Pacific leaders in Shanghai will require President Bush to maneuver along a mighty slippery path, portions of which have not before been trod by an American leader. Negotiating a road through Central Asia will demand subtlety and dexterity, and will be reminiscent of the Great Game of the 19th century.

Ostensibly, the president is there to take part in a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Trade, the foundation of APEC, however, will likely get only passing mention. On terror, the president will urge his counterparts to join the United States in the "hot pursuit" of terrorists in Afghanistan and everywhere they threaten civilized life.

In discussions with the other leaders, the president is expected to defend plans for missile defenses, to urge restraint on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to contend that the future of Taiwan, the island claimed by China, should be settled peaceably. Not much new in any of that.

A subtext will see the United States, Russia and China jockeying for position in the unsettled world order that is the consequence of September 11. Before that, Russia and China had been forging an understanding that, if not quite an alliance, was intended as a counterweight to American power. In the aftermath, Russia seems to have shifted position to lean toward the United States.

Given the long history of suspicions along the extended border between Russia and China, maybe this shouldn't be a surprise. With skill, President Bush could turn this to American advantage as President Vladimir Putin of Russia seeks to play the American card against China.

Even further in the background will be an evolving struggle over Central Asia -- the remote regions of western China, the republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that were once ruled by the Soviet Union, plus Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. This was the region traversed by British, Russian and Chinese spies, political agents and soldiers in the 19th century as they sought to control the heartland of Eurasia.

With the United States engaged in hostilities in Afghanistan and forces deployed in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and perhaps covertly elsewhere, America has been drawn into a new Great Game. China's fear of being encircled has once more been aroused. Russia worries about Chinese influence seeping along its southern border. China and Russia will seek U.S. support for their battles with Muslim separatists in Chechnya and Xinjiang, asserting that they, too, are terrorists.

Mr. President, welcome to the mysterious and tangled land of Kipling, Kim and the Khyber Pass.

Los Angeles Times

The Palestinian assassination of an Israeli Cabinet member is unprecedented, even in the sad history of Middle East violence. The killing threatens regional stability. It could also marginalize Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat unless he arrests the murderers and brings them to trial.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for Wednesday's killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel. The group, a part of Arafat's own Palestine Liberation Organization, said the shooting was in retaliation for Israel's assassination in August of the Popular Front's leader, Mustafa Zibri.

It should have been clear to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government that killing Zibri would inflame the Palestinians. It should have been clear to the Palestinians that the killing of Zeevi could push Israel into more violent reprisals. Israel has demanded the extradition of Zeevi's killers; such a step has never been taken by the Palestinian Authority and indeed was rejected by Palestinian leaders Thursday. Many Palestinians hated the right-wing Zeevi, who wanted Arabs moved from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The authority's credibility has been eroded by its many broken vows to stop the fighting, now 13 months old, but if extradition is out of the question the authority must promise to bring the murderers to justice. Then it must do so.

The United Nations' special Mideast envoy, after meeting with Arafat, rightly said the Palestinian leader's denunciation of the Zeevi assassination was not enough, that the statement "has to be followed by deeds." Arafat, who foolishly rejected proposals for Palestinian independence offered by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak two years ago, now has to deal with greatly changed circumstances.

The Bush administration has become energetic in trying to persuade both Israelis and Palestinians to stop the mayhem, lest attacks on Muslims in Gaza and the West Bank increase the perception that the U.S. anti-terror campaign is anti-Muslim. But there are limits to what outsiders can do in the Middle East, especially after a Cabinet minister is slain.

Arafat does have a hard task in corralling Palestinian extremists. That said, leaders do what needs doing if they want to retain power and be credible. Arafat runs the risk of being pushed aside as a figure not worth dealing with. More than a year of renewed Palestinian violence against Israel has produced little but death. Arafat's ability to rein in the killers of Israelis is in doubt. The Palestinian Authority police force did crack down on pro-Osama bin Laden demonstrations in Gaza, and Arafat had a good meeting in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But the assassination of Zeevi threatens that progress and more.

Sharon faces Israeli cries for retaliation, and indeed there was a burst of violence Thursday, with deaths on both sides. Enforcing a cease-fire will be even more difficult now for all parties, but it is even more necessary. Continued retaliatory assassinations when global tensions are at their highest level in decades threaten to escalate into an all-out war that could easily explode beyond the region.

Salt Lake Tribune

Egged on by President Bush, America's nominal friend Yasser Arafat has been hassling anti-U.S. demonstrators, arresting media critics and seizing videotaped footage of Osama bin Laden's many Palestinian admirers. None of this will have much impact on the terrorists who have been attacking Israel, but it might keep folks in United States from getting riled. Some have been wondering how Bush could have overlooked the radical Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah groups in the West Bank and Gaza when he promised to rid the world of the terrorist scourge.

Not all of America's enemies live in Afghanistan.

Arafat's strategy of censorship could backfire. The harder he pushes to suppress the anti-American sentiment he until recently tolerated (some say encouraged), the more the hatred will build. That's bad for Arafat, who is bucking about 90 percent of his people by supporting the U.S. side in the terrorism war, and it is bad for America's long-term prospects in the region as well. What should Palestinians think of a country that preaches freedom of expression while encouraging the suppression of ideas it doesn't like? Wouldn't Bush send a more powerful message by criticizing Arafat's censorship while advising him to round up more of the real trouble-makers?

It could be, however, that the terrorists are beyond Arafat's reach. In the West Bank recently, some of the top lieutenants in his Fatah movement joined Hamas leaders for pro-bin Laden demonstrations. If he can't even control the underlings in his own faction, is there really much chance he can control the others? The assassination Wednesday of an Israeli Cabinet minister by terrorists from Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a strong indication that he can't.

Arafat's biggest challenge might be surviving long enough to preside over a Palestinian state, which Bush and other Western leaders seem determined to push through in hopes of defusing Muslim anger around the world. Arafat's support is running at less than 40 percent these days among Palestinians, and his heavy-handed crackdown on dissent won't win him many friends.

The irony is that even if he can hold on, his real troubles might be just beginning. As the new president of Palestine, he would preside over an undemocratic nest of anti-Americanism in which several terrorist organizations have deep roots -- in short, the kind of country Bush described when he vowed to wipe out terrorists and punish any state that harbors them.

San Francisco Chronicle

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. Justice Department acted properly when it arrested and detained hundreds of people suspected of being a material witness or an actual participant in the terrorist attacks.

Now, however, come disturbing reports that some of these people, already cleared, have not yet been released. In addition, some of the detainees say they were denied access to legal representation or subjected to harsh treatment while being held for questioning.

Attorney General John Ashcroft's response to these accusations has so far been less than reassuring. He says that all actions have been "consistent with the framework of the law." In light of these reports, however, we expect more detailed information. If the government has acted properly, why not just say so?

We understand the need for a high degree of secrecy during these complicated investigations. But information about detention practices poses no threat to the Justice Department's legitimate need for confidentiality.

In war, as in peace, we need to protect our civil liberties. They are, after all, the backbone of our democratic tradition.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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