Today's Papers

Ground Zero Tolerance

The terrorist attacks on the United States dominate the front pages for a fourth consecutive day. The New York Times leads with the president’s remarks at a memorial service in Washington–“Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil”–and his subsequent tour of “ground zero” in New York. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times focus more on the actions of Congress, which passed resolutions endorsing the use of force and approving $40 billion in emergency aid. “New York has two words to America,” Sen. Charles Shumer says in the Post. “Thank you.”

The use-of-force resolution received unanimous support in the Senate and got by the House with only one dissenter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland stuck to her guns, so to speak. “I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States,” she said.

The papers explore this idea on their editorial pages. A NYT editorial titled “War Without Illusions” favors economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure rather than what Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, called “ending states who sponsor terrorism.” These “states” would include Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan, as well as Afghanistan, nations with a combined population of more than 160 million people. The U.S. might consider the use of force against Afghanistan, the NYT goes on to suggest, but such a move would be difficult, given the country’s mountainous terrain and fiercely independent people, “a general’s nightmare and guerrilla commander’s fantasy, as the Soviet Union learned after it invaded in 1979.” The “illusion” referred to in the title, then, is the notion that we can flush out and eliminate our enemies posthaste. Rather, the Times says, we should dig in for what may be a “long and unpredictable war.”

A Post editorial takes a similar tone, identifying Afghanistan as a likely target but also advising caution. The paper points out that the country is more than a place for terrorists to call home. “It is also the site of one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises, with up to 1 million people in danger of starvation.” The U.S. has spent $100 million this year in food subsidies for Afghanistan. 

Across the way, on the NYT op-ed page, columnist Anthony Lewis warns that “hasty, ill-targeted military action could arouse anti-Western sentiments right across the Middle East. That could threaten such important U.S. friends as the governments of Egypt and Jordan – and Saudi Arabia, from which Osama bin Laden is an angry exile and which is at the core of his grievance. He would be delighted at a United States response that destabilized the Saudi regime.”

In its fronter on Pakistan, the Post says that the U.S. in part created Afghanistan’s militant Islamic movements when it armed them in their fight against the invading Soviets during the 1980s. After the Soviets withdrew, U.S. support disappeared as well, leaving Afghanistan in civil unrest and Pakistan coping with the “growing influence” of Islamic extremists. “Out of this volatile situation emerged the Taliban,” the Post asserts. Pakistan’s President Musharraf has said he will cooperate with the U.S. in combating terrorism, which makes economic sense but will no doubt alienate the militant wing. “If America attacks Afghanistan, I myself will kill George Bush,” says an 18-year-old in Islamabad, after praying at his mosque. “The Muslims of the world are united. We are the real superpower. If America attacks, it will be the beginning of World War Three.”

The NYT fronts the hour of indecision that gripped military officials on Tuesday, as they tried to figure out what to do about American Airlines Flight 77. The flight left Dulles just before 8 a.m. and turned off course, back toward Washington, around 9. At 9:25, Barbara Olson called her husband from the plane and told him it had been hijacked. At around the same time, the FAA banned all takeoffs around the country, but fighter jets were not dispatched. Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:45. “The procedures,” the Times reports, “first devised in the 1950’s, cover how to send fighter planes to shadow a hijacked plane on its way, perhaps, to Cuba. They tell how to intercept a plane entering the nation’s airspace through the air defense zone along the Atlantic Coast, but not what to do with kamikazes.” It’s not obvious what those procedures should be. “If you keep it from hitting a government building,” says an FAA official, “it’s going to hit something else.”

Finally, the head of Continental Airlines says, in the NYT, “This patient is dying very quickly.” He’s referring to his airline. The week’s events have taken a devastating toll on the industry, which is losing between $100 million and $275 million a day, according to the Times. The airlines are hoping to get a substantial piece of that $40 million aid package, but even with big help the industry is likely to “emerge much smaller than it was before Tuesday’s attacks.”