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COL Should U.S. boss the world?

Two plans to root out terrorism insult other countries

The Bush administration has advanced two more steps in its program to make the United States Boss of the World.

The most recent step is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's proposal to send undercover combat teams into other countries anywhere in the world to kill terrorists, with or without the knowledge of the host country. According to a New York Times report, Rumsfeld is frustrated by the inability of U.S. forces to capture al-Qaida members in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The newspaper quotes a senior administration official as saying, "If we find a high-value target somewhere, anywhere, in the world, and if we have the forces to get there and get to them, we should get there and get to them." Officials conceded that such action might conflict with a presidential executive order prohibiting assassinations.

The proposal is similar to an earlier plan considered by defense officials to assign U.S. naval forces the task of boarding foreign ships to search for terrorists or weapons. The proposal was to conduct such operations in international waters or even in the coastal waters under control of sovereign countries.

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Both proposals, of course, would violate the sovereignty of the nations affected. Neither proposal carried any suggestion of reciprocity -- such as a U.S. agreement allowing other countries to seek terrorists inside this country or on board U.S. ships.

If China or North Korea or even France or Great Britain adopted such a policy, Americans would be outraged. Such policies are among the reasons millions of people all over the world see this country as arrogant, self-centered and willing to pursue its own goals without regard for the welfare of other countries.

That view of America is cited in a column on today's Commentary Page. It was written by Krisendra Bisetty, a journalist from South Africa, who visited the Post-Bulletin last week under sponsorship of the World Press Institute in St. Paul. Bisetty, who works for newspapers based in Durban, reports that most -- but not all -- people in South Africa rejoiced when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked on Sept. 11. He does not share that view, and he made it clear that he has learned to appreciate the better qualities of the United States during his visit.

Nevertheless, in our own self-interest, the Bush administration needs to abandon its unilateral, domineering approach to international relations. Even though this country is a superpower, it cannot succeed without allies and friends. Even the war against terrorism does not justify trampling on the rights and self-respect of other countries.

In fact, the administration is making the error of believing that terrorism can be conquered with weapons and military might. That is the same mistake Israel is making with regard to the Palestinians. Israel is a superpower relative to the Palestinians, who do not even have a functioning government. Israel, with the aid of U.S.-financed weapons, can bulldoze Palestinian cities with impunity and can assassinate suspected terrorists and exile their wives and children. But experience shows that this does not stop the suicide bombers.

Suicide bombings, inflicted on civilians as well as soldiers, are clearly terrorist acts and cannot be justified. However, unrestrained force has not stopped them. The only way out -- as some on both sides are aware -- lies in reaching a political settlement instead of a long, inter-connected chain of murderous vengeance.

The same is true for the U.S. fight against terrorism. It can only be stopped in two ways: 1. By using U.S. muscle to compel Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement along the lines of major proposals that were almost accepted in the past, and 2. By working with our allies and moderate Arab governments to encourage more democratic policies and more positive economic trends in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Being Boss of the World might satisfy the egos of generals and ex-executives, but it will not end the terrorist attacks. Doing so is beyond the power of bombs and missiles.

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