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COL Reflections on Sept. 11

We must remember, seek solutions for the future

It is fitting that after one year, Americans will take time to remember the terrible tragedy that befell their country last Sept. 11. (A special section, "One Year After 9/11" is part of today's edition).

It was the worst injury inflicted on the United States since the Pearl Harbor attack 60 years ago. More than 2,800 people died, including hundreds of police and firefighters, and this nation's peace was shattered, possibly for years to come.

We must also remember one other thing: There is no assurance the terrorist threat has passed. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that we can expect even even greater future calamities, such as nerve gas or chemical attacks or explosion of low-tech radioactive weapons. Such methods could cause mass casualties in numbers far greater than those of Sept. 11, 2001. Michael Osterholm, a Minnesota expert in bio-terrorism, has said repeatedly that there is a high probability of such attacks.

We must be mentally prepared for new attacks, instead of returning to the false sense of security that we enjoyed prior to 9/11.

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The United States and its allies have made considerable progress in dealing with the al-Qaida network, but its top leaders are still at large and the group's chain of command is still believed to be functioning. al-Qaida is not alone, however: There are other similar groups with similar motives. In addition, millions of ordinary people in the Middle East share some of these groups' hostility to the United States.

That hostility has a number of causes -- U.S. support of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, U.S. support of oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere and a general suspicion of this country's power and influence. Those reasons are not cited to justify those attitudes, but it is necessary to seek some understanding of the problem if we are to deal with it successfully.

; We are right in pursuing the war against criminal terrorists, but that alone will not bring peace. Peace will require political changes as well. The most crucial need is to use U.S. influence with Israel and more moderate Arab states to bring about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. A pattern for the settlement has already been worked out in previous deliberations. It is one that could be accepted by reasonable people on both sides who are tired of the endless cycle of murder and revenge.

The next requirement is an effort led by the United States, its European allies and interested Arab states to help the combatants to build functioning economies and to provide some hope for their suffering peoples.

However, that process would fail miserably if the United States persists in its plan to invade Iraq. An invasion would divert all U.S. diplomatic and financial resources to the war with Iraq. It also would create chaos in the Middle East, possibly causing conflict within Saudi Arabia and other countries and disrupting the world's supply of oil.

There is no question that this country could defeat Iraq. However, an invasion would result in significant U.S. casualties and thousands of Iraqi civilians would be killed. In the end, the United States would be left with the enormous cost of re-establishing some kind of government and a functioning economy in Iraq. And the whole episode would give massive support to the growth of Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

We must look backward to Sept. 11 and pay appropriate respect to those who suffered and died. But we must never forget that we are vulnerable to even more cataclysmic attacks of the same type. We must be determined to survive those as well and, eventually, to move toward political solutions that address the true underlying causes of terrorism. ;

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