Outside editorial: Bin Laden makes case for strong U.S. strikes

The following editorial appeared in today's Akron Beacon Journal:

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

The words of George W. Bush and Tony Blair served to rally and explain. Yet nothing the president or the prime minister said clarified the sense of allied purpose as effectively as the chilling image of Osama bin Laden carried into American homes shortly after the United States and Britain launched strikes against Afghanistan. Listen carefully to the terrorist mastermind, and he all but admitted responsibility for the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "America is full of fear," he declared. "Thank God for that."

The past four weeks, Americans and others have attempted to understand what kind of people could hijack airliners and use them like missiles, crashing into buildings, killing thousands. Many have asked whether somehow this country invited such devastation. The thinking is flawed.

Bin Laden and others recite grievances. Then again, Saddam Hussein gassed his own people and invaded his neighbor. Few have worked as tirelessly as American diplomats to bring Palestinians and Israelis to a negotiated settlement. What justification can there be for the atrocities of Sept. 11?

As both the president and the prime minister explained, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan had their choice. They could cooperate in the pursuit of bin Laden, who has been their "guest," or they could face the consequences of not doing so. They chose the latter, and thus, the military campaign -- cruise missiles and bombers deployed to disrupt and destroy the infrastructure of terror, setting the stage for a prolonged fight.

Critics had begun to fret that too much attention had been paid to forging an international coalition. In truth, the president and his team have been appropriately steady and inclusive. Blair reported the evidence against al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization led by bin Laden. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, made the rounds of jittery leaders last week, reiterating the American case and, just as important, their own stake in the mission.

It matters both politically and symbolically that the mission includes a humanitarian component, just as Bush reaching out to Islamic leaders resonated. Airdrops of food and medicine fall far short of what Afghans truly need. Rumsfeld stressed that a single "silver bullet" won't shatter a terrorist network. The task requires many facets. One involves firepower, another, winning the hearts and minds of Afghans and others in the region.

The British prime minister talked about "reason and resolve." Those are indispensable weapons in this very different war. Even the clarifying image of bin Laden shouldn't distract. If he were to disappear tomorrow, the fight wouldn't change. Another killer would step forward.

The president advised that "the battle is broader." Americans can take precautions at home, securing airports, watching borders, improving intelligence. They must also pursue terrorists on their own turf, cleverly, harshly, relentlessly. The fight on that front has now rightly begun.

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