What U.S. newspapers are saying

Oct. 24, 2001 at 11:23 AM
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New York Times

The Irish Republican Army yesterday gave the world a welcome respite from violence and fear. Ending years of intransigence, the IRA announced for the first time that it had destroyed some of its weapons. The declaration was soon confirmed by the body set up by Northern Ireland's peace accords to oversee disarmament. Within hours, David Trimble, the Protestant leader who quit his post as chief executive over the issue, agreed to return with his cabinet ministers. All in all, it was a promising day. The IRA's policy shift, which should help dispel the climate of mistrust that has stalled the peace process, deserves to be met with substantial concessions from London.

Gerry Adams, the president of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, anticipated the IRA's reversal on Monday when he publicly urged the group to begin disarming. Mr. Adams, who admitted to IRA membership several decades ago, has carried out a long and patient campaign to convince the group that the goal of a united Ireland is better served by a political than a military fight. This week Mr. Adams seemed to have won his struggle.

Mr. Adams and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, have found themselves in the same precarious position as others around the world who have led armed movements into peace agreements. Their decision to back the peace process has estranged them from many of their hard-line colleagues. Like Mr. Trimble, they need to reach across community lines to make the peace agreements work, including, at times, pushing their own constituencies to satisfy the demands of the other side.

The IRA was long trapped by its own rhetoric. After repeatedly arguing that disarmament was tantamount to surrender, the IRA could not easily shed its weapons. Many in the IRA profit handsomely from the guns, using them to advance smuggling operations and to extort protection money out of drug dealers.

The events of this fall have made disarmament possible. In August three IRA members were arrested in Colombia, apparently giving explosives training to a Marxist guerrilla group. The connection horrified the Irish-American community, which has raised $5 million for Sinn Fein since President Clinton legalized the group's fund-raising in 1995. The terror attacks of Sept. 11 made the IRA's American supporters even more determined to see the group abandon any connection to terrorism. The IRA's stubbornness was also dampening political support for Sinn Fein in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, where a plurality of Sinn Fein supporters now believe the IRA should give up its weapons.

The British government, which has worked hard to meet Sinn Fein demands, should now respond by hastening the demolition of some of its military installations in Northern Ireland and by speeding changes in the police to make the institution fairer to Catholics. Protestant paramilitaries must give up their weapons as well. Some of the groups have descended into common thuggery, and one claimed responsibility for the murder of a reporter last month. Northern Ireland's fitful peace process has undergone innumerable crises. With this critical assist from the IRA, an enduring peace may be possible.

Washington Post

President Bush appears to have made progress in persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept a "new strategic framework" that would allow the United States to move forward with the development of missile defenses. At their meeting in Shanghai last weekend, officials said, Mr. Putin hinted that he might be willing to set the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty aside in exchange for deep cuts in offensive nuclear arsenals and a new set of understandings about defenses. The United States and Russia would also agree to cooperate in countering the spread of nuclear weapons, an accord that U.S. officials say would specifically cover Iran. Though there is still much to negotiate, both sides are sounding cautiously optimistic; "we do have understanding that we can reach agreement," is the way Mr. Putin put it.

Such a strategic agreement would be a major achievement, especially if it were expressed in a written accord that could transcend the personal relationship between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin. It could result in a major reduction in the number of nuclear weapons -- from 13,000 warheads now deployed by the two countries to fewer than 5,000. It could allow the United States to proceed with testing of a range of missile defenses -- including tests of sea systems and other technologies now banned by the ABM treaty -- without a serious rupture in international relations. It would also give a major boost to Mr. Putin's incipient effort to lead Russia into a partnership with the United States and NATO, an initiative that has the potential to greatly increase global stability and U.S. security. Though Russian-American cooperation on terrorism since Sept. 11 has offered a way into that partnership, real change will not come without a firm strategic accord between Moscow and Washington that addresses each side's needs -- Moscow must reduce its offensive arsenal, while the United States needs to keep working on missile defenses.

Officials now say they doubt a final agreement could be completed by the time of the next Bush-Putin summit in three weeks. The United States has yet to spell out how deeply it is willing to cut its offensive arsenal, and the agreement on defenses that would replace the ABM treaty has yet to be formulated, much less worked out in specifics. For that reason, perhaps the most serious threat to the talks may be impatience on the American side. Missile defense hawks in the Bush administration were pressing hard before Sept. 11 for a unilateral withdrawal by the United States from the ABM treaty sometime this fall; last week they tried to have Mr. Bush give Mr. Putin a deadline of January for U.S. action, with or without a new agreement. Mr. Bush didn't set the deadline, but it's clear that some senior officials, who long have been on record opposing arms control agreements, continue to prefer unilateral U.S. action on missile defense to any new accord with Russia.

Such action would have been a mistake before Sept. 11, when it would have risked a development of missile defenses that would make the global strategic situation less rather than more stable. It would be an even greater mistake now, when what is at stake is not just the testing of missile defenses -- defenses that have yet to be proven technologically -- but preservation of U.S.-Russian cooperation in a military campaign in Central Asia, and encouragement of a fragile and uncertain but potentially historic move by Russia toward partnership with the West. The Bush administration has done well to travel so far with Mr. Putin toward the formulation of a new strategic framework. Now it must show the patience and flexibility that could allow a meaningful and durable agreement to be realized.

Boston Globe

The inevitable happened in Northern Ireland yesterday, a few months earlier than planned. The Irish Republican Army agreed to disable, or ''decommission,'' a sizable share of its weapons in the realization that unless it acted the Northern Ireland peace process would collapse. If a significant portion of weaponry is clearly destroyed, the onus will shift to North Ireland unionists, who will finally need to decide whether to embrace the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement.

Ever since the agreement was ratified in May 1998, the unionists have been the chief obstacle to its implementation but have hidden behind the IRA's refusal to disarm. The IRA's political adjunct, Sinn Fein, has benefited from the agreement, becoming the leading nationalist vote-getter in the North and also a growing force in the Irish Republic.

Unionists in Northern Ireland dislike the notion of sitting down in government with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, IRA commanders turned politicians. It is difficult to trust the intentions of a party backed by a private army with an arsenal of several hundred AK-47s and tons of explosives, despite the fact that the IRA has kept the cease-fire since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

The unionists forced the issue in the summer when their leader, David Trimble, quit the government, followed by other members of his Ulster Unionist Party. The IRA was going to hold off decommissioning until next year, to gain maximum influence over the next election in the Irish Republic. It moved now, in its words, ''to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions.''

It also acted now because of intense pressure from the Bush administration and Irish-Americans following the Sept. 11 attacks and the arrest of Sinn Fein's agent in Havana for allegedly consorting with guerrillas in Colombia. The IRA and Sinn Fein opted for democratic legitimacy over the false romance of revolutionary terrorism.

Decommissioning should initiate a series of quid pro quos to help make Northern Ireland a more normal society. The British government will remove several of the fortifications in South Armagh. And the British ought to encourage Sinn Fein to join the commission that will monitor the newly named Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the strongly unionist Royal Ulster Constabulary).

Gen. John de Chastelain, the Canadian who heads the decommissioning panel, has yet to certify that the IRA is destroying a significant amount of weapons. Assuming he does so, the unionists should return to the government, insist that their own paramilitaries disarm, and embrace the institutions of peace wholeheartedly. The alternative is to foment the persistent crisis that makes Northern Ireland, despite the IRA truce, a society at war with itself.

Boston Herald

The breathtaking announcement yesterday that the Irish Republican Army has begun to disarm was one many thought would never come. All parties involved must now move quickly to ensure that Ireland's greatest opportunity for permanent civil peace throughout the island becomes reality.

The British must respond, as Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams urged, with generosity. If that means taking down military observation posts or dropping the crown from the police insignia, so be it -- speedily.

In light of the many false starts and shattered hopes of the past seven years, more is needed. The Protestant paramilitary groups have refused to consider disarmament as long as the IRA had weapons. Every pressure must be focused on these thugs to disarm too.

The unionist leaders must make some gesture of gratitude that cannot be mistaken for anything else. Surely that side has not covered itself in glory or righteousness in recent days, forcing Catholic school girls to endure a hail of stones and insults for weeks on end.

Many a traveler into the country of Irish affairs returns astonished that history matters so much, how the simplest question yields an answer that starts in 1690 or 1603 or 1534. There will be time later to dig up the history of recent weeks, the role of American IRA supporters, the scandal of IRA links with guerrillas in Colombia, the disgust of the world with terrorism and the IRA's need to avoid that label. The need now is for action, not wonder and not analysis.

The IRA said it acted to "save the peace process" because the "political process" was about to collapse. At some point any "process" must become political life itself, in which every participant must take the interests of adversaries into account, and must consider that he may not get his way. The IRA's decision makes that evolution likely, and all parties should support it as firmly as they can to make it inevitable.

Baltimore Sun

Satisfaction in the course of justice is taken from the sentencing of four disciples of Osama bin Laden to life in prison for roles in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Last week, in a lower Manhattan courtroom not far from the former World Trade Center, federal District Judge Leonard Sand also ordered each to pay $33 million in damages to victims' families and the U.S. government, expressing hope of extracting it from al Qaida accounts.

The four were caught in an international dragnet, and convicted of conspiracy with bin Laden to kill Americans. The jury had no doubts of their guilt but was deadlocked on the death penalty for two, resulting in life without parole for all four.

This was the conspiracy for which bin Laden was indicted in the same court. He remains a fugitive. The U.S. demand for his extradition is sound on that alone, without producing evidence relating to Sept. 11 to an Islamic court in Kabul he may control.

On this investigation, international cooperation worked and the FBI achieved notable success. Thanks are due to the governments of Kenya and Tanzania.

Kenya suffered the most from those twin acts of mass terrorism, which killed 224 people, 12 of them Americans, and wounded some 4,600.

The United States has been actively pursuing bin Laden to stand trial for this crime for at least two years. The Sept. 11 terrorism was his defiant response.

Life in U.S. prisons for Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Wadih el-Hage, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed is a threat and promise to surviving conspirators of Sept. 11.

There are people now hiding anywhere from New Jersey to the caves of Afghanistan who may well face justice in that lower Manhattan courtroom.

Chicago Tribune

In the days following the Sept. 11 attack, press reports started making their way through the Arab and Muslim world that 4,000 Jews employed in the World Trade Center had been tipped off not to go to work that day.

Other rumors said that the suicide hijackings had been so meticulously planned that only Israel's Mossad intelligence service could have pulled them off.

Such grotesque and contemptuous allegations of a vast Jewish conspiracy continue to circulate, though they are obviously unfounded. Jews and Israelis died in the twin towers, along with Muslims, Christians and other victims.

The 19 hijackers were identified as Muslims. Osama bin Laden has threatened more attacks and all but admitted responsibility in the Sept. 11 terror.

Even the implication that Israel wanted to provoke a U.S. backlash against its Arab enemies is absurd. Israel has enough Arab violence on its hands without stirring more anti-Israel hatred.

Anti-Semitic diatribes are nothing new in the Middle East, where conspiracy theories abound and Israel is seen as the powerful, U.S.-backed oppressor of Palestinians.

In that context, the press of even moderate Arab allies of the United States like Egypt or Saudi Arabia are filled with them, cast in the veil of Mideast political animosity.

But this rumor has been particularly pernicious.

It continues to spread on the Internet. The Chicago Defender last month printed the rumor as fact. Apparently many Muslims from Algeria to Pakistan to Indonesia continue to believe it. All that illustrates the immense complexity of the challenge facing President Bush in sustaining his anti-terrorism coalition.

Part of the problem in getting true information out to the Muslim world is that it must compete with competing messages in the media in Muslim nations -- including the wildly popular, Qatar-based Arab television network, al-Jazeera -- which have disseminated unchallenged the allegations of Jewish blame in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Normally such Internet conspiracy theories are harmless -- matters of urban legend and variations on "who was really on the grassy knoll" armchair sleuthing. But in this case, the justification for the U.S. assault against terror networks is under considerable debate in Islamic nations, and the debate is being fed by such misinformation.

Mainstream Muslim leaders and media, along with moderate Arab states, would do a service by denouncing it for what it is -- anti-Israeli propaganda and an incitement for anti-Semitism, the longest-running of human hatreds.

Dallas Morning News

The fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell included India on his Asian trip last week highlights the importance of that nation in the war against terrorism. For the moment it largely watches, lending its public support to the United States as well as the Northern Alliance. But everyone in South Asia knows that India and Pakistan hold the potential for a skirmish far more deadly than the one in Afghanistan.

The tension largely stems from their dispute over Kashmir, an area that rests between the two nations. India mostly controls Kashmir, but Islamic militants that Pakistan reportedly funds have made it a launching pad for terrorism. In fact, India sharply attacked Islamic militants in Kashmir last week, drawing verbal responses from Pakistan this week.

The Bush administration soon must apply pressure to the Kashmir problem, which offers the next front line on the war against terror. This subject must be prominent when India Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visits President Bush on Nov. 9.

Despite India and Pakistan's bitter differences, the moment may have arrived for a breakthrough. For one thing, some experts suggest, Pakistan's government may have grown weary of extremists.

What's more, India knows it stands a greater opportunity dealing with the Musharraf government than an extreme successor, should internal revolts collapse Pakistan's government. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Radaha Kumar notes that India certainly does not want Pakistan to grow more unstable.

The $600 million aid package the United States promises Pakistan for its help in Afghanistan actually gives President Bush and Secretary Powell leverage. They should work behind the scenes to press Gen. Pervez Musharraf to cut off his government's aid to militant groups. This will not be easy, but they should impress upon him that Pakistan should prefer a U.S.-brokered diplomatic settlement over Kashmir to a war with India.

They also need to press India to find ways to voice its concerns over Pakistan without adding to the abundant load of tension.

Geoff Nixon of the Nixon Center in Washington rightly describes the issues surrounding India as the sleeper in the war against terrorism. But the coalition against terrorism cannot let them sleep long. With both sides possessing nuclear weapons and surrounded by militants, delays benefit no one.

Los Angeles Times

Last weekend's summit of leaders from nearly two dozen Asian and Pacific Rim nations provided a good test of the strength of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. The outcome was a qualified success for Washington. The most jarring note was President Bush's continued strong support for his costly, contentious missile shield program, a project that should go to the back burner.

The final declaration of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai condemned the "murderous deeds" of Sept. 11 but not suspected mastermind Osama bin Laden or his al Qaida network. That's not a problem. The rest of the world knows the U.S. views on bin Laden and al Qaida; there's no need to exacerbate tensions in nations with large fundamentalist Muslim populations, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Bush's presence at the summit was a deliberate show of business as usual, but it also allowed him some private time with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, both of them crucial to preserving the coalition outside the U.S.-European core. Jiang pledged cooperation in the fight against terrorism but also urged that military planners try to "avoid innocent casualties" in strikes against Afghanistan. Malaysia's prime minister echoed that plea. Bush too said he was concerned about the deaths of innocents but unsurprisingly made no promises. As the bombing enters a third week in a land where U.S. military officials said there were few "high-value" targets to begin with, it will become more important to avoid undercutting U.S. assertions that this is a war against terror, not against Muslims or the Afghan people.

Putin repeated his strong support for the anti-terror campaign. His language also indicated a little softening in Russian support for the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush wants to scrap in order to establish a national missile shield. Bush and his missile shield allies persist in this even though there is no indication that such a scheme would work and every sign it would cost billions even to find out. Putin rightly expressed skepticism that terrorists could capture--and then figure out how to use--intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Ramming through the missile shield program would upset the strategic balance not only with Russia but with China. Washington needs all the help a coalition can provide in freezing terrorist funds and supplying intelligence information. There's no sense in pushing away potential allies to advance an unworkable concept with a prohibitive price tag.

Portland Oregonian

Just as a hint of impatience began to emerge at home and abroad this week over the progress of U.S. military action in Afghanistan, American forces unleashed a new phase in the bombing campaign. Warplanes began pounding the Taliban's front-line positions north of Kabul, the Afghan capital, for the first time since airstrikes commenced Oct. 7.

This shift in targets signals a change in U.S. strategy -- a readiness to begin cooperating in earnest with the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of ethnic minority rebels seeking to regain control from the ruling Taliban militia. By refocusing the brunt of the aerial attacks to Taliban troops in the field, the U.S. military could clear the way for rebel forces to take Kabul.

But here's where things get really tricky: The United States and its allies -- especially Pakistan -- don't want the Northern Alliance taking over. When its leaders were last in power five years ago, bloody infighting among rival warlords killed tens of thousands of people. Brutal lawlessness reigned, much of Kabul was reduced to rubble, and armed men engaged in widespread looting, murder and rape. Ethnic Pashtuns from the south would bitterly fight a return to those days of northern control, and Afghanistan could end up partitioned and ravaged by ethnic violence.

Reportedly, the Northern Alliance has assured the Bush administration that its fighters will advance to the gates of Kabul but stop short of entering the city. But what if they renege, seize the capital before an interim government is set and then refuse to give it up?

That's a risk, but Bush obviously accepts it. These rebels are America's only credible military ally on the ground in Afghanistan. Their help is vital to the U.S. mission: destroying the al Qaida terrorist network and throwing out the Taliban leaders who harbor it.

So the United States faces an enormous challenge: accomplishing the military objective swiftly but not too swiftly. It must be pulled off in exquisite choreography with diplomatic efforts to ensure a stable post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The most promising scenario, favored by the Bush administration, is a United Nations-led drive to create a broad-based government -- possibly a federation of tribes overseen by the 87-year-old deposed king, Zahir Shah. He and the northern rebels have agreed to a traditional Afghan assembly to choose leaders. Pakistan wants to make sure it would include ethnic Pashtuns, including breakaway Taliban moderates, but the Northern Alliance vehemently opposes that.

Whatever plays out, any post-Taliban government must be multiethnic, must not harbor terrorists, must be acceptable to neighboring nations, and must not even have the appearance of being imposed by the United States.

Meanwhile, there's a foe to defeat, and a clock is ticking. The harsh Afghan winter is approaching. So is the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, an impolitic time for Westerners to wage war against Muslims. Each passing week makes it riskier for America to count on support from some of the more jittery regimes among its fragile international coalition.

Secretary of State Colin Powell offered a surprisingly optimistic assessment last weekend. He said "eliminating large-unit opposition inside Afghanistan and helping toss the Taliban militia from all major bases" are possibilities by winter. That would be good news indeed, although Americans should be prepared to remain patient if those words turn out to be mere wishful thinking.

A speedy end to the military mission in Afghanistan is certainly to be desired -- as long as it doesn't get so far ahead of the political mission that a whole new world of woe is created.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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