New York Times
Americans are wondering how to respond to Attorney General John Ashcroft's warning that terrorists are planning new attacks against the United States in the near future. Mr. Ashcroft says he simply wants to give citizens "a basis for continuing to live their lives the way they would otherwise live them" but with heightened vigilance. It's hard to imagine how that would work out in practice. In the past, Mr. Ashcroft has suggested that people take note if they see a stranger photographing nuclear facilities. But that sort of encounter isn't exactly common. When people hear general warnings like this, their response is probably less along the lines of civil defense than of assessing the odds of danger in their daily behavior. Should they put off air travel for a week? Stockpile Cipro? Keep their children home from the school field trip?
The nation's intelligence officials get a steady stream of terrorist tips. The overwhelming majority of them are just talk. A few might turn out, in hindsight, to be the critical hint of a disaster in the making. One of the many uncomfortable truths Americans are now learning to accept is that no one in our government can be sure which is which. If Mr. Ashcroft feels that one part of that information stream looks more sinister and reliable than the rest, he is right to share that with the nation, even if people resent being frightened without getting enough specifics on which to act.
When the terrorists struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon we knew that the job of fighting back would be difficult, and we vowed to stick with it for the long haul. Now we are beginning to understand what the long haul will look like. It's a land of paradox, in which we're urged to shop, travel and invest in the stock market as usual while keeping an eye out for trucks that might be carrying explosives or letters with no return address. It's the world in which President Bush attended the World Series game in New York last night while Dick Cheney was spirited away to an undisclosed secure facility for protection.
We are all groping our way through this new, unsteady reality as best we can. We feel anxious because we can't calculate the odds. Is anthrax the real threat, or will it be something else? Some people are rumored to be flying their children abroad to get smallpox vaccinations, but what if the real danger is the plague, or Ebola virus? Even if we had vaccines against a dozen diseases, the danger from all those vaccinations could outweigh the odds of bioterrorism. Walking through life while hopping over the high-risk spots is virtually impossible when there are so many real but extremely remote threats.
The Bush administration must continue to keep the public informed, even when the information is unpleasant and unsatisfactorily vague. But it is critical that the president's aides avoid any temptation to use security precautions as an excuse for political errors. Officials already made one such mistake when they tried to sell the story that the president had avoided returning to Washington on Sept. 11 because there was a credible threat of a terrorist plot against Air Force One.
There is, of course, the danger that too many warnings could become mere background noise, and that somewhere down the road the public would wind up ignoring the one that really matters. The public cannot judge on a day-to-day basis whether those assessments are being made correctly. But the nation is better off frightened and informed than left happily in the dark.
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is calling for a quick windup to bombing in Afghanistan and for a strategy to prevent anarchy and atrocity.
Saudi Arabian leaders call for a quick end to bombing that punishes civilians.
And these are our allies in the effort to fight terrorism by extinguishing the al Qaida network and deposing the Taliban government harboring it.
It's not surprising.
Each country has a complex, layered, ambivalent connection to the enemy. The Sept. 11 terrorists were mostly Saudis, albeit revolutionaries against their rulers. The Wahabi school of Sunni Islam supported by Saudi Arabia is strong in Afghanistan. Private Saudi money has flowed to al Qaida.
The distinction between contributions from sympathy and extortion for protection is not easily made.
Private Saudi money also flows to the madrassas, Islamic schools that inculcate a fierce extremism in the hearts of young Afghans, including those who became the Taliban.
Those schools are in Pakistan. The Pashtun people never much recognized the border.
Pakistan's ISI intelligence service largely created the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, after the warlords it first favored tore the place apart. ISI had contact with al Qaida, which is inextricably intertwined with the Taliban.
In putting Pakistan quickly on the U.S. side, General Musharraf was responding to an ultimatum from President Bush. He rearranged his generals to support his choice.
Saudi Arabia denounced terrorism but ostentatiously forbade U.S. planes to attack Afghanistan from Saudi bases. However, it quietly allows them to be commanded from one.
In short, the struggle with al-Qaida and the Taliban is really for the soul of those two major countries.
Ostensibly, U.S. war aims are simple and modest: Capture Osama bin Laden, dismantle al Qaida and depose the Taliban. The real stakes are greater.
What bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar seek is for other Islamic nations to fall into their orbit. Washington must be preoccupied with preventing that.
For the enemy to win, all they need do is survive.
The longer the war goes on, the more comparisons will be made to the Soviet occupation or the Vietnam War.
The United States must prepare for a long war, seek speedy victory but not create expectations of it that may not be met.
Washington should play to public opinion in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to convince people who do not enjoy democracy that their leaders chose the right side, in their own interest.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Of the 19 hijackers who killed thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, some had entered the United States legally, or illegally overstayed their visas, or illegally sneaked in. A few were on "watch lists" of people to be denied entry. The precise numbers in each category have varied in the weeks since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the imprecise numbers add up to this:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service has not kept proper track of the immigrants it should be tracking because it is under-equipped to do so and hampered by immigration law.
The administration of President George W. Bush is now pushing a Congress long loath to tackle these longstanding problems - at least in ways that help solve rather than worsen them. In 1990, for instance, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy championed legislation making known membership in a known terrorist organization no bar to admittance to the United States.
But last month's attacks have refocused attention -- including Kennedy's -- on immigration rules that need revising, tightening or enforcing. Those rules already require full background checks abroad before visas are issued, and Congress has directed the INS to establish by 2003 a system to track student visa violations. That doesn't mean either job is getting done.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers, for instance, traveled on Saudi passports, and several wealthy Saudis are known contributors to Osama bin Laden's coffers. Yet Saudi Arabia is notoriously uncooperative about background checks and terrorism investigations, and the State Department is notoriously quick to issue visas there.
Of the 800 or so people detained in the terrorist investigation, about half remain in detention because officials have discovered possible violations of criminal law as well as immigration law. Immigrants who have violated U.S. law and face deportation may be freed on bond while awaiting a full hearing -- and may all too easily disappear from INS radar.
Immigration attorneys note that many violations are "minor technicalities, minor overstays" that would have been overlooked prior to Sept. 11. That was a poor reason not to enforce the law before Sept. 11. It's no reason at all since then.
Immigration attorneys, among others, also worry that innocent people who fit the profile of the Sept. 11 terrorists have been and will be detained and denied the rights they are due. That can be a legitimate concern. But it must be measured against the fact that lax immigration control is a tool of terrorists who have "profiled" 300 million Americans as their primary targets.
If ever there was a case for immediate trade liberalization, American barriers to Pakistani textile exports are it. As a direct consequence of the political uncertainty caused by the American bombing of Afghanistan, Pakistan's textile industry is losing orders from American companies, with the result that an estimated 10,000 Pakistani textile workers have lost their jobs. By abolishing tariffs on Pakistani textile imports, the United States could offset the shock and perhaps dampen the popular anti-Americanism that threatens Pakistan's commitment to the coalition against terrorism. The European Union has already announced duty-free access to its markets. Yet the administration and Congress have not so far delivered. The American textile lobby, representing the special interests of a small industry, is being allowed to compromise the national interest.
Pakistan sells just under $2 billion of textiles to the United States annually, a sum that accounts for fully a fifth of the country's merchandise exports. On top of that, it sells textiles to other countries that sew them into clothes for the American market, so that Pakistan's exposure to the United States is enormous. But since Sept. 11, American buyers have had cold feet about sourcing from Pakistan. Usually they would be placing orders for next spring's season now, but the flow of business is said to be down 40 percent.
Even if American trade policy were flawless, there would be a case for making special concessions to Pakistan now. But American trade policy is far from flawless. The United States imposes an average tariff on Pakistani textiles of 15 percent, and all such taxes on desperately poor country producers are shameful. Moreover, the United States imposes a quota on Pakistani yarn even though this has been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization's dispute settlement panel. Abolishing both the tariff and the quota would be the right step even if Pakistan were not suffering from the war in Afghanistan. In the current circumstances, it is especially urgent.
The administration and Congress are gearing up to help Pakistan with debt relief and aid, and both steps are welcome. Now the congressional resistance to trade concessions must be overcome. It makes no sense to give a country aid in the hope of increasing job opportunities for poor workers while simultaneously pursuing trade policies that result in thousands of job cuts.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Some pundits apparently missed the message that the war on terrorism is going to be a long, difficult war, despite President Bush's almost-daily reminders that this struggle requires Americans' patience.
After three weeks of bombing Afghanistan, some analysts suggest the war is going badly, ignoring that it has barely begun. Overseas, particularly in the Muslim world, some say the whole military campaign should be wrapped up by the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, only a few weeks away, as though it's some kind of business deal.
Meanwhile, a few Americans, accustomed to relatively quick victories in Iraq, Grenada or Panama, are wavering in their resolve because the Taliban and al-Qaeda haven't surrendered already. Others are convinced by the civilian casualties in Afghanistan that we should stop bombing, although they haven't considered how we should get Osama bin Laden otherwise.
Let's have some perspective here. Afghanistan may be one of the most difficult places America has ever fought a war. The central terrain is extremely rugged, with mountain ranges far higher than any in the lower United States, and no roads traversing the passes and deep canyons. It's the ideal place for terrorists to hide, and a nightmarish battle zone. Meanwhile, the Taliban, protectors of al Qaida, are tenacious fighters with very little to lose, and they have no qualms about bivouacking troops and war materiel next to civilian areas or even mosques.
The anti-Taliban forces such as the Northern Alliance are not very effective. Sowing rebellion among the querulous Afghan tribes is a dicey game. Even finding the al Qaida terrorists is very difficult.
A bombing campaign is slow attrition to cut fuel, ammunition and military supplies to the Taliban, and to hit its troops when possible. But it's not producing resounding victories, nor is it very newsy, since there's little media access to the battle zone. So, the media, particularly the 24-hour cable networks, instead cover the latest unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties, anti-American marches in Pakistan and the anthrax scare. That adds to public uneasiness about the war.
Bombing alone won't accomplish the military goal of bringing down the Taliban and getting to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We'll need commandos and other ground troops supported by strikes from the sky. We'll need success on the ground by anti-Taliban forces. We'll need tangible victories.
Obviously, we cannot stop for Ramadan; in the past, Muslim nations themselves haven't suspended military hostilities during the holy month. But more important, this isn't a religious war, no matter what the extremist Islamic spin doctors say. It's a war against terrorism, so religious holidays have little relevance.
Our resolve must be stronger than the resolve of the Taliban and al Qaida. We must shift tactics to cope with whatever difficulties we face, and extend and expand our military efforts until Osama bin Laden and his terrorists are squashed. Support from some coalition partners may weaken, especially in the Islamic world, as the war in Afghanistan continues. But the United States is obligated to punish those behind the Sept. 11 attack and stop them from attacking in the future, no matter how long it takes.
The mixed message on the domestic terrorism front is hard to ignore. President Bush throws out the first pitch at last night's World Series game at Yankee Stadium mere hours after Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped before cameras and, grim-faced, warned the nation to be especially on guard against a new wave of terrorist attacks that might come within the next week.
Ashcroft went through the "credible source" routine and referred to intercepted communications, but he could give little further detail about the nature of the threat and how it differed from previous threats.
The president is trying to project a sense of normalcy to the country, said the White House. "It helps to keep the fabric of our country strong," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
To be fair, the president bears an awesome responsibility and must maintain a delicate balance as he leads the nation through the unprecedented challenge of this global war on terrorism.
Consider the consequences of a disaster about which an administration had credible reason for suspicion but remained silent.
The mixed messages are confusing, unnerving to some and highly problematic. We're perhaps so used to this era of political spin that we don't know how to react when leaders don't appear to have all the answers.
We often have heard it said that "everything changed after Sept. 11." Obviously, everyone is still trying to sort out how much.
Winston Churchill traveled more than half a million miles during World War II and made countless appearances on the newsreels of the time to be seen going about Britain's business and encouraging others to do so while supporting the war effort and dodging bombs in the London blitz.
Begrudging Bush a pitch at the World Series, while his administration prosecutes the war on terrorism, lacks a sense of historical perspective in this age of instantaneous information.
New Orleans Times-Picayune
American and allied military planners cannot relish the prospect of keeping up the campaign in Afghanistan during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-November. Doing so could stiffen Taliban resistance and aggravate anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and other key Islamic countries.
Even so, continuing the campaign during the holy month will almost certainly be necessary, and the Bush administration was right to acknowledge as much on Monday. The Taliban and their al Qaida allies are "unlikely to take a holiday," as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted.
Since the military campaign began earlier this month, allied military planners have made an honest effort to avoid hitting mosques and other civilian buildings, and they have kept bombing runs to a minimum on Fridays, the Muslim Sabbath. All signs indicate that the Taliban are doing what they can to take advantage of such restraint. According to some reports, Taliban leaders, soldiers and equipment are being housed in mosques and hospitals.
Given those tactics, there is no reason to think either the Taliban or al Qaida's terrorists in Afghanistan will let Ramadan pass without doing anything to improve their position.
If American and allied planners conclude that there is no way around military operations during Ramadan, intensive diplomatic efforts to keep Pakistan and other Islamic countries in the coalition will become even more important. But the United States cannot let every step of the military campaign be dictated entirely by its most reluctant allies.
And if at all possible, the United States and its allies should not give the Taliban and al Qaida time to regroup and entrench.
(Compiled by United Press International.)