What U.S. newspapers are saying

March 12, 2002 at 9:45 AM
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New York Times

If another country were planning to develop a new nuclear weapon and contemplating pre-emptive strikes against a list of non-nuclear powers, Washington would rightly label that nation a dangerous rogue state. Yet such is the course recommended to President Bush by a new Pentagon planning paper that became public last weekend. Mr. Bush needs to send that document back to its authors and ask for a new version less menacing to the security of future American generations.

The paper, the Nuclear Posture Review, proposes lowering the overall number of nuclear warheads, but widens the circumstances thought to justify a possible nuclear response and expands the list of countries considered potential nuclear targets. It envisions, for example, an American president threatening nuclear retaliation in case of "an Iraqi attack on Israel or its neighbors, or a North Korean attack on South Korea or a military confrontation over the status of Taiwan."

In a world where numerous countries are developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, it is quite right that America retain a credible nuclear deterrent. Where the Pentagon review goes very wrong is in lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons and in undermining the effectiveness of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. ...

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, American military planners have had to factor these enormously destructive weapons into their calculations. Their behavior has been tempered by the belief, shared by most thoughtful Americans, that the weapons should be used only when the nation's most basic interest or national survival is at risk, and that the unrestrained use of nuclear weapons in war could end life on earth as we know it. Nuclear weapons are not just another part of the military arsenal. They are different, and lowering the threshold for their use is reckless folly.

Boston Herald

For the first time in 22 years, a Taiwanese defense minister is visiting the United States. The presence of Tang Yiau-ming at a semi-official meeting arranged by defense contractors underscores Taiwan's newly upgraded relationship with the United States.

Tang is attending a conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., set up by such defense contractors as Boeing and Raytheon. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will address the meeting. Last April, the Bush administration offered the largest arms package in a decade to Taiwan, an $8 billion deal that included eight diesel submarines, four Kidd-class destroyers and reconnaissance aircraft.

By granting a visa to Tang, the Bush administration is offering further proof of its commitment to stand by the island in the event of any future hostility from Beijing.

Houston Chronicle

It's hard to imagine how the national elections in Zimbabwe could have been handled with less integrity.

President Robert, Mugabe, 78, once seen as a model democrat, has taken the former Rhodesia from civil war to prosperity in the 1980s to economic collapse, and has been trying to use violence, intimidation and outright fraud to hold onto power.

Mugabe, defying a court order that extended the voting period over the weekend because polling stations weren't handling the crush of voters, blocked urban balloting for hours and refused to open polls outside the capital.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who Sunday won the High Court extension of the election because of delays, said Mugabe was trying to steal the election and "multitudes of potential voters are being disenfranchised." The court refused to extend the election for a fourth day, even though the same problems persisted.

The U.S. Embassy in Harare said it would protest in the "strongest possible terms" that four American diplomats, two of them electoral observers, were detained at a police roadblock northwest of Harare Monday in what it described as a clear violation of basic diplomatic conventions.

The European Union pulled its election monitors out of Zimbabwe last month and imposed sanctions, including a travel ban, on Mugabe and his close associates due to mounting political violence. EU leaders will decide what to do next about Zimbabwe when they meet in Barcelona, Spain, on Friday and Saturday.

Getting the ballots cast at all has been a major mess. How can anyone have confidence that the counting of the ballots will be any less so?

At stake is a major economic and political collapse that easily could contaminate and destabilize neighboring countries, including regional giant South Africa. That would be a loss for everyone, including important U.S. interests in Africa.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

President Bush gave a fine speech Monday during solemn ceremonies marking six months since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Flanked by the flags of U.S. partners in the effort to defeat terrorism, Bush expressed "the deepest gratitude of the people of the United States." Although scant information has been made available to the American people about the contributions of those partners, the gratitude is genuine.

Bush made the point that every nation is a potential victim of terrorism, and that many have suffered its effects for decades. "Sept. 11 was not the beginning of global terror, but it was the beginning of the world's concerted response," he said. And he reminded the audience of the Afghan, German, Australian and Danish troops who have died with Americans in Afghanistan. "We mourn each one," he said, "and for their bravery in a noble cause, we honor them."

The world needed to hear Bush say those things, needed to be reassured that the United States is not so self-centered that it is ignorant of others' suffering and sacrifice. The coalition partners needed to know that they are very much valued in the United States -- and not just considered tag-alongs, as some in Europe have felt they were. ...

But there is another challenge that eventually must be confronted. That is the threat "of terror on a catastrophic scale" from weapons of mass destruction wielded by terrorists or rogue states. International consultations are now underway on the best way to tackle that challenge, Bush said, for it leaves "no margin for error and no chance to learn from mistakes." The threat is very real, the entire world is at risk from it, and it cannot be overcome by the United States alone.

The CBS documentary that was broadcast Sunday night -- so powerful and so beautifully constructed -- reminded the world of the high stakes in fighting terrorism and controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Monday, President Bush reminded the United States of its great need for friends and allies in that effort.

New York Newsday

Don't overreact to the disclosure over the weekend that the Pentagon is shifting nuclear-attack planning away from Cold War targets and toward rogue nations developing weapons of mass destruction, such as Iraq and Iran. The change is simply the latest in a series of broad strategic reassessments, not a guide to nuclear targeting, as some alarmist critics saw it.

In truth, the rethinking of U.S. nuclear policy is more than a decade overdue. The geopolitical landscape has changed since the end of the Cold War. The new threats arise from nations that are not as risk-averse as the Soviet Union in their development and possible deployment of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The policy review makes for unsettling reading. It details every possible circumstance in which a president might choose to use nuclear weapons. Yet the issue of deterrence is haunted by an absurdity: Nuclear weapons are too powerful and too frightening for a rational leader ever to consider using them, but to convince an adversary of the certainty of mutually assured destruction -- the basis of deterrence -- that leader has to develop credible weapons and plans for a war he never wants to wage.

That is what the new nuclear review is all about. It tells North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Russia -- even China -- that the United States has contingency plans for attacks or counter-attacks on them if they present a threat to this nation, its allies or its vital interests. The review also calls for the development of new tactical nuclear weapons such as bunker-busting mini-nukes to penetrate reinforced storage areas or caves containing biological weapons. ...

There are some valid concerns about whether the new, more flexible policy would lower the threshold for using nuclear arms. But as Secretary of State Colin Powell - hardly a hawk - said, the policy review is the basis for "prudent military planning," not a plan for imminent attack. That should unruffle a few doves' feathers.

New Orleans Times-Picayune

South African officials have far more important things to worry about than hurt feelings when it comes to the AIDS crisis. The nation has the highest number of HIV-positive citizens in the world, one in nine people or 4.7 million.

But members of the African National Congress seem more worked up about comments from former President Jimmy Carter than they have been about addressing their country's health catastrophe.

Mr. Carter, who visited South Africa last week, urged leaders to take more aggressive steps to stop the spread of AIDS, especially making the drug nevirapine available at public hospitals. That drug has been found to reduce the transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their babies, an acute problem in South Africa.

Mr. Carter offered sound advice, and South Africa's government would be wise to take it. But its ruling party, the African National Congress, blasted him instead, accusing the former U.S. president of trying to turn South Africa's people into guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry.

That charge flies in the face of reality. Nevirapine has been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. Moreover, it has been found to be free of side effects in a study commissioned by the South African government. ...

South Africa wants to be regarded as a regional leader, and it must be galling to its government officials to see countries with fewer resources -- like Senegal and Nigeria -- doing a better job combating AIDS.

But South Africa would hardly be diminished by following their example rather than sacrificing its people for the sake of empty pride.

Honolulu Advertiser

Like ships passing in the night, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had an ambivalent meeting last week with Iraq's foreign minister as Vice President Dick Cheney prepared for his mission to convince Arab leaders of the need to support a U.S.-led war to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

In a form of rope-a-dope eerily reminiscent of that of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Saddam had suddenly agreed to talks in an obvious attempt to vent some of the war fever in Washington.

Even if President Bush has given up any hope of negotiating a peaceful outcome with Saddam, our European allies still cling to the notion that, as the Clintonians tried with North Korea, Iraq can be cajoled, persuaded or bought out of its surreptitious weapons of mass destruction programs.

The word in Washington, however, is that U.S. policy demands the overthrow of Saddam. The only remaining questions are how and when. ...

The mood in Washington is that if the U.S. could conquer Afghanistan without much help, it can single-handedly mold the post-war-on-terrorism world to its liking. Such is the hallmark of hubris.

Washington Times

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's mandate was to transform the military into a force capable of defeating the post-Cold War threats America faces. Since Sept. 11, Mr. Rumsfeld has correctly decided that he can -- no, must -- transform the force at the same time we fight a major war. Part of the transformation that is still in the planning stage is described in the January "Nuclear Posture Review." The issues concerning the production and possible use of nuclear weapons are vastly different from those we faced when NATO stood against the Warsaw Pact. Recognizing this, the NPR moves us out of the Cold War "Mutually Assured Destruction" dogma into the post-September 11 world. Mr. Rumsfeld is rethinking the unthinkable and coming up with some cold, clear ideas. ...

The most frightening part of the NPR raises the need to develop and use nuclear weapons to respond to chemical, biological and other attacks it euphemistically calls "surprising military developments." The threat of a suitcase-sized nuclear weapon being smuggled into the United States must be among them. The Russians have them, the Chinese may have them, and if anything is certain, terrorists are seeking them actively.

All of which leads us to the somewhat puzzling fact that Russia has been downgraded as a nuclear threat, reportedly at the bequest of President Bush himself. Mr. Bush obviously sets great store by his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the fact remains that Russia is the only country in the world with a nuclear arsenal to match that of the United States. Even if Russia at this time may be an unlikely nuclear opponent, its lack of control of its weapons is a huge cause for concern.

Any nation that exports nuclear terrorism, or allows it to operate from within its borders, must know that America will do whatever it takes to prevent such an attack against us. The Soviets understood the "mutual" part of "Mutually Assured Destruction." Our new adversaries must come to understand that whatever horrible damage they may inflict on us, the retaliation will be such that the "destruction" will not be "mutual" at all.

San Francisco Chronicle

Faced with growing evidence that their uncompromising stance toward the Palestinians has failed, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have been forced to do a partial retreat.

It's a welcome move, one that rekindles hope for Mideast peace.

For months, Sharon has responded to every terrorist attack with ever harsher collective punishment of all Palestinians, in an attempt to undermine Yasser Arafat and make him rein in the militants.

Bush, for his part, has given Sharon a green light, ending previous U.S. criticism of Israeli excesses.

Only when the situation threatened to turn into all-out war did the administration reluctantly put heavy behind-the-scenes pressure on Sharon. Yesterday, the Israeli leader partially lifted the travel ban on Arafat and abandoned his demand for one week of effective cease-fire before restarting negotiations.

Bush, for his part, also gave way, sending U.S. negotiator Anthony Zinni back to the Mideast to try to reopen the talks.

It's unclear whether the administration's switch was motivated by a sincere recognition of its policy failure, or merely by a cynical attempt to palliate Arab anger on the eve of Vice President Dick Cheney's 12-nation foreign trip.

No matter. These are steps in the right direction. They should be followed by further U.S. initiatives to bring the Israeli and Palestinian sides together.

For example, the administration should press Sharon to stop the army's reckless invasions of Palestinian refugee camps, which have caused scores of deaths in the past 10 days -- including at least 23 yesterday.

It should also encourage Arafat to continue his recent steps toward arresting terrorist suspects.

Most important, Arafat must be allowed to attend the March 26-28 Arab summit in Beirut, where Saudi Arabia's recent peace proposal is expected to take center stage.

The world is waiting for true American leadership for Mideast peace.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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