Terrorists vs. the White House Closing Pa. Ave.: Move to reopen popular street could expose president to security risk.

July 15, 1996

THE MARINE BARRACKS in Beirut, Lebanon. The World Trade Center in New York. The federal office building in Oklahoma City. And the U.S. housing towers in Saudi Arabia. All deadly terrorist targets. Will the White House be next?

That's the fear of top security officials seeking to make the temporary closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House permanent. After running simulations, the director of the Secret Service said, "If you open Pennsylvania Avenue, it's not a matter of if [a bombing] will occur, it's a matter of when this will occur. You can't protect the White House from a car bomb" if the roadway is reopened.

Had a blast as potent as the one in Saudi Arabia gone off along that road, it would have devastated the 196-year-old building. Returning traffic to this route would be imprudent.

Sadly, the threat from terrorists and anti-government groups is real. The White House is an inviting target. Previous bombings underline the need for tough protective measures.

Yet members of Congress want to force a reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue. Their rationale is specious. Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., says we should "stand up to terrorists and their cowardly practices." How? By making it easier for them to target the White House?

You don't deter terrorists with an "in-your-face" attitude. Rather, you implement tighter security that hinders their efforts. Pennsylvania Avenue will remain closed because the administration sees it as a prudent precaution.

What added protective measures should be taken? How can nearby roads be re-designed to lessen traffic gridlock? How do you beautify the barricaded roadway? The ugly concrete barriers must be replaced. An enlarged park might be best, but one that meets congressional approval -- after election-year babble has ended.

Creating a park-like setting in front of the White House is not a capitulation. Visitors on foot remain free to gaze through the fence and tour the public rooms. Re-routing traffic for a variety of reasons happens in cities all the time.

Streets around the U.S. Capitol at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue are closed to vehicles. Why are members of Congress sanctimoniously demanding the president reduce his security blanket? Politics and inconvenience are the reasons. That's just not good enough.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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