Bush must find a way
to inform the public
The issue: A debate is rumbling inside
the Bush administration over how much
information about the war on terror
should be made public.
Since the days of the Revolution, a tenet of American democracy has been a healthy skepticism and sometimes a roaring distrust of the government. In our time, that has been exacerbated with the lies told by Presidents Johnson and Nixon during the war in Vietnam, the debacle of Watergate, and the attempt to mislead the public during the Iran-Contra scandal.
Against this backdrop, President Bush has a singularly difficult task as he maneuvers on the unmapped battlefields of the war on terror. He must try to balance the fundamental need to lead by telling the American people, our allies and friends what he is doing to prosecute that war against the vital need for secrecy in military operations, diplomatic negotiations or financial manipulation.
A focal point of that balance is evidence intended to persuade the world that the president knows what he is talking about when he accuses Osama bin Laden, his henchmen, and his far-flung network of thugs of executing the Sept. 11 assault. Intelligence officials are arguing that as little as possible should be released so that sources and methods can be protected.
In this case, the president should bend every effort to disclose what the government knows and to explain what he is doing so as to retain the support that the nation urgently needs to win the war -- even at the risk of erring on the side of disclosure. Nearly three weeks after Black Tuesday, the public seems restless as the first flush of patriotic fervor wears off. Surely a way can be found to inform the people without giving away the store.
A deceitful way is the authorized leak, or information that is slipped out by officials without their fingerprints on it. The news report that U.S. Special Forces and British commandos have been operating in Afghanistan has the marks of such a leak --enough hard fact to be plausible, no operational details that would jeopardize the forces in the field, no heated outburst of denial and only tepid "no comment" from Washington. The president even nudged the story along by vaguely asserting that the United States was in "hot pursuit" of bin Laden. Less game playing and more candor would be good leadership.
Finally, the temptation to float disinformation should be stoutly resisted. Misleading the American people, through the press or otherwise, in an attempt to mislead our adversaries is a path to disaster. The chances of being caught sooner or later are high and with that discovery, national unity and backing for the war on terror could be damaged.
Racial backlash stains
response to terrorism
The issue: Americans and law-enforcement
are reacting with anxiety to
Arabs and Arab Americans.
MIDDLE Eastern ties of the 19 hijackers of the planes used in the Sept. 11 attack on America have triggered a wide range of abusive behavior against Arabs and Muslims, ranging from racial hate crimes to what appears to be ethnic profiling by law-enforcement agencies. A terrorist network linked to Osama bin Laden is suspected of launching the attack, but the backlash against Arab Americans and Middle Easterners visiting the United States is not justified.
A long tradition of assimilation in America has been replaced in recent years by the celebration of diversity. In little more than two weeks, though, diversity too often has been rejected in favor of an ugly version of xenophobia. Numerous incidents of harassment and violence against people of Arab descent have been reported. Included in the jingoistic attacks was the murder of an Arizona gas station operator who was a Sikh, a religion that fuses Hinduism and Islam, is practiced mainly by Indians and whose adherents wear turbans and beards.
In Minneapolis, three Middle Eastern-looking men were denied permission to board a Northwest Airlines flight after several passengers complained. The trio later was allowed to take a Delta flight. In San Antonio, a native of Pakistan was ordered off a Delta plane. Many Americans who have regarded racial profiling as abhorrent admit that they now become nervous about sharing airplane flights with Arab-looking men.
While unfortunate, those feelings are understandable, but that does not excuse the government's broad roundup of Middle Eastern men. More than 480 people, mostly Arabs or Arab Americans, have been detained in the investigation, mostly on suspicion of immigration violations or minor traffic offenses. Authorities are looking for hundreds more. Not a single one has been charged with a crime related to the terrorist attack.
Opponents of profiling say it strips people of equal protection and the right to be free of unreasonable searches and arrests. However, profiling is a legitimate method of identifying suspects in a criminal investigation. That includes such things as a person's past record, finances, observable behavior and, yes, physical appearance. That obviously should include race, if relevant.
"Investigating means following hunches," says Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor who was solicitor general in the Reagan administration. "The notion of having rules about that is truly insane."
Putting too much emphasis on a person's race is also unwise. That seems to have occurred in the wide net cast by the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies investigating terrorism.
Jackson should stay home
and tend his flock
The Reverend Jesse Jackson has raised the possibility that he will go to Central Asia to meet with leaders of the Taliban's authoritarian regime in Afghanistan in an effort to mediate between them and the United States.
This is a bad idea and Jackson should drop it forthwith and in public. No matter his good intentions, he would undercut President Bush's forcefully articulated demand that Afghanistan hand over the terrorist mastermind, Osama bin Laden, and his principal subordinates. The president has made clear that this is not a negotiable position and Jackson's journey would only encourage the Taliban to discount the president's resolve.
Jackson has insinuated himself into international issues before, raising the suspicion that he was more interested in promoting himself rather than promoting peace. The contrast with former President Jimmy Carter is instructive; he has gone on missions in Haiti, North Korea and elsewhere but with the blessing of the White House and with no prospect of personal gain.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has politely suggested that Jackson refrain from butting in, saying: "I don't know what purpose would be served right now, since the position of the United States and the international community is quite clear." Perhaps Powell should have also reminded Jackson that he, not the good reverend, is the secretary of state.
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