Outside editorials: Reviving Afghanistan; Arsenic, Clinton and Bush

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2001

Reviving Afghanistan

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

One day Kabul was silent, lifeless: women gliding in their shroud-like burkas, men in look-alike beards, streets devoid of bustle. The next day, long-banned radios and televisions were dug up and plugged in, shrouds pushed aside, hair and faces of women shyly emerging, men crowding the barbershops.

The speed of the Taliban's fall in Afghanistan thrusts the need to build a civil society to the foreground. Success will require a longer struggle than the military campaign has, with bitter quarrels among ethnic groups unavoidable. But there is a model: Afghanistan before the pro-Moscow coups and subsequent Soviet invasion nearly a quarter-century ago. In the 1970s, before and after a cousin overthrew King Mohammad Zaher Shah, Kabul was a capital city of sturdy buildings, good restaurants and a university that educated doctors, scientists and teachers. Women worked in government offices; some covered their heads and some did not. Other cities were more conservative, and remote villages were more traditional still. It was not a paradise or a democracy on the Western model. Illiteracy was the rule, and heavy-handed security kept dissidents in check. Still, it was a functioning state.

Ten years of war against Soviet invaders united ethnic groups in opposition but ravaged the countryside. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the end of communist rule in 1992, four years of brutal, contested rule by the Northern Alliance turned Kabul to rubble. The fanatical Taliban took over and barred women from working and girls from schools. It destroyed the Bamian statues. It sheltered Osama bin Laden. Fortunately, the Taliban is on the run. Unfortunately, the Northern Alliance is back in Kabul. Their promise to be temporary caretakers must be enforced.

A multilateral peacekeeping force, with United Nations authorization, must ensure that food from foreign donors gets to the hungry, not to merchants or soldiers.

Politically, there is no substitute for a broad-based government that includes ethnic Pushtuns, who make up more than 40 percent of the country, and Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, the main components of the Northern Alliance.

The chief immediate obstacle is the self-proclaimed post-Taliban president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who plans to return to Kabul from exile. He is a strict Islamist who supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. He must be shoved aside before he consolidates power.

The United States and the wealthier nations in the anti-terror coalition will have to foot the bills for rebuilding Afghanistan. If peace takes hold, educated Afghans who fled the Soviets, then the Northern Alliance, then the Taliban, may be coaxed to return from exile.

The United States and most other nations turned away when the Afghans drove the Soviets out 12 years ago. Repression, starvation, terror and Osama bin Laden were the result. This time, a less bitter history of earlier years beckons for revival.

Arsenic, Clinton and Bush

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

George W. Bush arrived in the presidency determined to separate himself from the Clinton years. No stand quite matched the stir that followed his suspension of a Clinton plan to toughen the standard on acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

The pundits pinned arsenic on the Bush presidency in ways that echoed President Clinton and gays in the military. Christie Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator, explained the Bush team merely wanted to analyze a proposal set to take effect in five years. She also jabbed that Clinton had acted in haste.

Well, the Bush analysis has been performed, and the president will stick with the Clinton standard of 10 parts arsenic per 1 billion parts water. Whitman recently declared that "this standard will improve the safety of drinking water for millions of Americans and better protect against the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

Clinton couldn't have made a stronger case. End of argument? Whitman and the president should be applauded for their stand. Their critics are still unhappy. They cite more recent studies suggesting the standard should be as low as three parts per billion.

At 10 parts, according to one estimate, the country will spend $65 million per life saved, as communities invest in improved water systems. Spend more to combat arsenic, and you divert money from other efforts to improve public health. That is the essence of cost-benefit analysis. It can be useful. It helped President Bush make the right choice.

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