Accessibility links

Western Press Review: The Aftermath Of Attacks On New York, Washington

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to be dominated by the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. As the United States continues the search for victims, analysis in the media has shifted to what actions -- both by the U.S. and internationally -- should follow.


An editorial in "The Times" of Britain says that in the aftermath of the attacks, governments worldwide are now united against the types of terrorist acts that pose a threat to all nations. The editorial says, "Across the globe, old rivalries have been buried, resentments of the sole superpower set aside and snide commentary abandoned. [Every] Western leader has pronounced the appalling assaults on Washington and New York to be an attack upon all. This is not mere rhetoric. Under NATO's Article 5, invoked yesterday, America's European allies have an obligation, not merely a moral duty, to stand with it. They must now show that they mean business."

"The Times" continues: "They have not always meant what they have said in the years since the [Berlin] Wall came down. There must be no melting into the shadows when Washington makes political demands or takes military action -- and it now must do both -- that will make Europeans unpopular with foul regimes. There must be clarity on both sides of the Atlantic."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Christoph Albrecht considers the logistical difficulties facing the United States and its allies in responding to the 11 September attacks. A response is made difficult not only because the perpetrators are still unknown, but because those responsible may turn out to be a surprisingly small group, out of all proportion to the devastation they have caused.

Albrecht suggests perhaps "no more than a few dozen" terrorists may be responsible. He writes: "President George Bush's first reaction to Tuesday's attack that came out of nowhere was to territorialize it, saying that whoever shelters and protects the terrorists will be considered an enemy. [German] Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke of a declaration of war on the civilized world. These statements testify to uncertainty in dealing with terrorism," says Albrecht. "On the one hand, it is considered uncivilized, carried out by non-governmental organizations using irregular warfare that make no distinction between combatants and civilians. On the other hand, one wants to declare war on it. But war can only be declared on nations."

Albrecht says the temptation is to believe that given the scale of the attack, surely a larger, more powerful group is involved -- and to want to react accordingly. But it would be dangerous to treat those responsible as more than they are. He writes: "Organizations of bandits and guerrillas do not constitute a state. But they do seek recognition as political organizations, and the more warlike any act of retaliation on the part of the United States is, the greater this recognition would be."


An editorial in today's "New York Times" says that the United States must build a broad "coalition of nations" prepared to act against the threat of terrorism. It writes: "America's allies and even its rivals must agree to bring their governmental resources to bear against terrorist groups. Members of these organizations must be tracked down in their travels, and any government or organization that gives them aid or sanctuary must be punished by a united international community."

In addition, the U.S. should seek the cooperation of various Arab and Islamic governments. The editorial continues: "A different kind of problem is posed by the handful of governments that sponsor or aid international terrorist groups. These include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and North Korea. Several of those nations now seek to rebuild ties with the international community. The price for their acceptance must include a complete severing of all links with terrorist organizations. Terrorism operates internationally. The war against it must be organized internationally as well."


A "Washington Post" editorial supports a coordinated and determined response to the 11 September attacks. The paper says that U.S. President Bush and his administration "have begun to articulate clear principles in response to the unprecedented assault [on] the United States."

Bush has said that he considers the events not just acts of terrorism but "acts of war." Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested an engaged response on many levels -- including diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement -- in coordination with nations worldwide.

The Post writes: "These are the right foundations for what should be the national security policy of an America at war. The policy must have the aim of decisive victory over an aggressor that has attacked the country, not one-time retaliation or criminal prosecution for an act of terrorism. It must seek to enlist allies around the world in a concerted assault ... [And] it must hold countries around the world accountable: Cooperation in the war effort must be an absolute requirement for friendly relations with the United States. A rejection of such cooperation, or support for the terrorists, should define an adversary of this country and bring about serious political, economic or military consequences," the paper writes.

The editorial adds that, "Following through on this policy will require a major realignment of priorities and resources. [It] cannot be merely one of the administration's priorities; it must, at least for a good while, be its overriding purpose."


Nancy deWolf Smith of "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board writes in the paper's Asian edition that "if there are retaliatory attacks by the United States in the coming days, Afghanistan is most likely to feel the brunt of them."

As suspicion grows regarding the involvement of Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden, who lives in exile in Afghanistan, Smith considers the effect U.S. actions might have on the Central Asian nation. She writes: "[Whatever] happens next, no good can come of efforts to remove Osama bin Laden or the Taliban unless such efforts include a plan to let the people of Afghanistan choose a government free of the people who have ruined their country since before the Taliban took over."

Smith says that one possibility is that the U.S. "will strike at targets in Afghanistan in an effort to at least disrupt one large part of the world terrorist network. It is terrible to contemplate, because most of the people killed would be ordinary citizens." Smith writes: "If any of this does come to pass [the] U.S. should not act without a plan for Afghanistan in the future. The thought that we may somehow get rid of the Taliban and then see them replaced by the Russian-based 'Northern Alliance' or other remnants of the former Kabul regime is not only horrifying, but counterproductive if the goal is to close off Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists. [Focusing] in on Afghanistan now," she says, "with U.S. military might or even simple, automatic blame for Tuesday's terror acts is no solution to the problem of worldwide terrorism."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. ambassador and arms-control director Kenneth Adelman says that 11 September "marks the dividing line between the old and new approaches to defense." He suggests implementing what he calls a "bold, radical plan" to address this century's new threat -- that of terrorism.

He lists four main points of the new defense. First, increasing the funding and focus of human intelligence activities; increasing protection against acts of cyberterrorism that could affect communications systems; protecting the satellites that guide ships and planes and detect threats; and instituting missile defense technology.

Adelman writes: "The critics of missile defense were wrong in one sense and quite right in another. They were wrong that today's foes couldn't match the degree of evil of Hitler, Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung. [Nonetheless,] these critics were right to say that our foes can use terrorist methods -- in this case, turning American airliners into guided missiles. But, next time, it could be actual missiles falling on American or European cities. [Why] make it easy for America's enemies?" he asks. "Why not shield America and its allies from one of the easiest means of inflicting the greatest horror?"


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" by Heribert Prantl concentrates on the consequences of terrorism in Germany and liberalism in the Western world. "Terror," he says, "changes society. Terror generates fear. And fear is the driving force of wars."

Prantl recalls past moments in German history that generated fear. For example, the RAF attacks during World War II. At the time, the term was that it was a "leaden time," which meant comfortlessness, helplessness, a climate of fear, and hysteria. Now in spite of everything Prantl says, we must "maintain level-headedness without anger."

He expresses apprehensions: "The attack in the United States could be the final stroke for liberalism in the Western world. [A] world in which terror and fear and dread prevail prevents one from feeling sure of oneself. This can lead to consequences which are, at present, unfathomable."

All kinds of measures will have to be taken to ensure security, he says, for "terror kindles a fire that leads toward the establishment of a strong state. Already demands are being made to use the Bundeswher [Army] as a military police force." The new fear of the unknown can destroy the fragile plant of political integration, which is just beginning to grow in Germany, says Prantl.

He concludes that it is obvious that the "dangers of new terrorism are far greater than we believed at first."


In an analysis in the "International Herald Tribune," correspondent Joseph Fitchett examines suggestions by Western experts and analysts that the U.S. may have to implement what he calls "harsh new tactics" to respond to the attacks. He says they suggest that "to restore U.S. credibility, [the] Bush administration may well need to commit American armed forces to ground attacks to capture or kill terrorist leaders and overthrow regimes that help or harbor them."

The new tactics will represent a completely different approach from the "zero loss" approach favored until now. Fitchett's unnamed sources suggest several options that the U.S. administration could follow, among them the re-authorization of political assassinations as a legal policy; open U.S. support for surrogate forces against regimes supportive of terrorism; and a new coalition of Western governments and Russia to deal with what Fitchett calls "the terrorist offensive."

As Fitchett writes: "U.S. readiness to engage in all-out military actions -- including punitive expeditions involving heavy loss of life and destruction in target cities, the near-certainty of at least minimal American casualties and with a new U.S. readiness to disregard inhibitions on using U.S. military strength -- is in the cards now for Washington, according to these sources, who include European officials."


In France's Le Monde, Nadia Khouri-Dagher agrees with other commentators that the 11 September attack on the United States was less an act of terrorism than an act of war. But it can be considered a war of a different type, she writes.

"[A war] that does not set two states, or two coalitions of states, against one another, but [a war] that sets a state against...small groups, associations, localized or joining forces on an international scale." Furthermore, this new type of attack shows that from now on, it is no longer military might that is the guarantor of supremacy over other nations, or the preservation of peace and security on its own territory, but "information, organization, human resources," she says.

She writes: "The United States were the rulers of the world, during the second half of the 20th century, by virtue of their industrial and military power, and their capacity to export their model of civilization to the rest of the world. The attack of September 11 may signal the end of this hegemony over the rest of the world, the belated end of the 20th century."


Today's Wall Street Journal Europe carries a commentary by its editor, Frederick Kempe. He encourages Western nations to use the attacks as an opportunity to come together in renewed solidarity. He writes: "When the Berlin Wall fell, my Polish, Czech, Russian and Hungarian friends expected so much more from their victory over Soviet oppression. They had imagined that the American-led West was more of a white horse than the tarnished mule that has failed to provide their populations with sufficient demonstration that their fight for democracy was worthwhile."

The West, he writes, "has a chance to come together now, to use its remarkable intelligence and energy to find the criminals and to dramatically act against them. Yet first Europe must realize that this terrorist attack was once upon a shared trans-Atlantic community of values and not on America."

Western nations share values and standards that unite them, Kempe says. And they must use this solidarity to implement a new agenda, including: "The creation of a trans-Atlantic free-trade zone to bind this values community together, the quick expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty and European Union to complete unfinished historic business, coordinated engagement with Russia and China to make clear the standards accepted global players must meet and leadership of international institutions..."


Martin Winter in the Frankfurter Rundschau appeals to the West to react to the terror in the United Sates. Western governments should consider the attacks as an assault on Western civilization, he says. But that also means that deeds must follow.

He writes: "The attacks on New York and Washington also alter the European world. Anyone who still thinks that declarations of solidarity are sufficient in fighting international terrorism -- but otherwise presume they can leave the matter to the United States -- are extremely mistaken. Even though the United States was hit the hardest, this is not an American, but a world, problem."

In this respect, errors have been made in the past, he says, which were not necessarily prompted by ill will but the result of a mixture of underestimating the danger, making light of American fears and strong personal interests in crisis regions.

Winter outlines a role for Europe. It need not blindly follow U.S. theories about rogue states, but at the same time Europe needs a strategy in fighting terrorism without initiating a spiral of uncontrolled violence in the world, he says. There are voices of reason whereby the European governments are pressuring the U.S. to desist from blind revenge. But the Europeans will achieve little by mere appeals, says Winter.

European assurances to the United States only make sense when Europe realizes that it must act. Only this can impress. Winter suggests a concerted European effort in secret service operations. Moreover, the European Union must review its treatment of various countries that are sympathetic to terrorists, and it must increase its efforts to negotiate peace in the Middle East.

Winter concludes by saying: "The European Union is on the way to becoming a great power. It wants to set an example for the world. Alright. But then it must take convincing responsibility to fight the world's more sinister aspects."

(NCA's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)