History provides us lessons as U.S. sets out after bin Laden

September 19, 2001|By Gregory Kane

THAT OLD, defunct, departed Soviet Union is starting to look darned good right about now, isn't it? Come on, admit it. Don't you miss that band of old fuddy-duddy Stalinists running the Kremlin?

As least Americans knew what the Soviets would or wouldn't do at any given moment. Compare them with Osama bin Laden and his band of fanatical cohorts, worshippers, followers and imitators. We don't know what they'll do next. Nor do we know when, where, why or how. That's the most nerve-wracking thing about fighting terrorism.

Bin Laden owes his place of infamy on today's world scene in part to this country -- whose World Trade Center and Pentagon he is the prime suspect in bombing. In the late 1970s and 1980s, bin Laden fought with the mujahadeen in Afghanistan who wore out Soviet occupation troops and sent them packing back to Moscow. The United States funded the mujahadeen in that war. When it ended, bin Laden felt he had destroyed what he termed "the myth of the superpower." Out went the Soviets and, within years, in walked the Taliban.

Boy, we sure backed the right horse in that war, didn't we? In 1946, we supported the French in their attempt to recolonize Indochina. They limped away in defeat eight years later at some place called Dien Bien Phu, but we were ready to pick up where they left off. We came to regret our folly years later.

In the early 1990s, President George Herbert Walker Bush urged us to go to war and fight Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Few remember that the man we considered the villain, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, had taken our money and military equipment for his war against those evil ayatollahs in Iran. We had to defeat an Iraqi war machine we had helped build.

So that we don't make the same mistake, perhaps we should urge our leaders to look before they leap this time. We don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot again, especially since this time it may be literal.

President George W. Bush said that the United States wants bin Laden "dead or alive." I don't object to the sentiment. Bin Laden dead would work perfectly fine for me. But how do we get him? Bomb Afghanistan? We could, but it's already been done.

The Soviets did it in their failed occupation. A civil war has raged between the Taliban and their opponents, which led to more bombing. A commentator on BBC America said there is not much infrastructure left in Afghanistan to bomb and that raining death and destruction from the sky is not a sure way to either harm the Taliban or get to bin Laden.

We would most certainly kill some Afghans who oppose the Taliban and have suffered the most under their four-year rule. They would be better off without the Taliban or bin Laden. So an alternate approach, one we should pray won't come back years later to bite us in the caboose, would be to arm, to the teeth, the anti-Taliban rebels. Provide air cover for them against Taliban forces when necessary. Give them the job of getting rid of the Taliban and tracking down bin Laden. All we ask is that when they get him, he's ours.

That's the word of advice for the government. Now, for some advice to the news media: Let's all resolve to tell the entire story, shall we?

We made much last week of the fact that some Palestinians danced in the streets and celebrated when they heard of the WTC-Pentagon attacks. As usual -- and this is one of the many good things about America -- skeptics among us questioned the pictures. Some said the images were from footage taken in 1991 when the Palestinians celebrated Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

But the Rev. Sandra Olewine, the United Methodist liaison in Jerusalem, expressed dismay about the lack of pictures of those Palestinians who were revolted and horrified by the attack and expressed their sorrow and sympathy for Americans.

"Yes, there were some gatherings of people, particularly in Nablus," Olewine wrote, "who were shown in the very early hours of the horrible attacks in the U.S. on the street, dancing and cheering and passing out chocolate."

Missing, Olewine said, were those images of the 30 Palestinian Muslim schoolgirls who kept a quiet, somber candlelight vigil outside the American consulate. There were no reports of the Palestinians that Olewine says rang her phone off the hook with expressions of remorse and concern.

Olewine may be some smarmy, left-wing Palestinian sympathizer blowing smoke in our eyes. But in the bedlam of the last week, would it have been asking too much for at least one news organization to send reporters to Palestine and give a more balanced view of the reaction to the attacks there?

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