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Want Safety? Stake Out the Moral High Ground

January 09, 2002|JAY TAYLOR

The suicide pilot in Tampa was just another troubled American, this time an adolescent. Nevertheless, the ease with which he carried out his insane plan, even flying over U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks' Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, underscores that all the Office of Homeland Security and Justice Department measures taken since Sept. 11 have not made Americans safer from terrorists. The United States is an open, free and complex society with a gigantic and modern but vulnerable infrastructure.

There are virtually unlimited possibilities for a person--not to speak of a disciplined terrorist--to create enormous damage. If the person is prepared to commit suicide, the possibilities expand.

Defensive measures can close off some possibilities, like hijacking an airliner, but the remaining options are virtually infinite.

The FBI could have been 10 times larger and Timothy McVeigh still would not have been stopped.

No one can drive a vehicle within one-quarter of a mile of the White House without being searched. But a terrorist could drive his bomb-laden truck to hundreds of other possible targets, including auditoriums, stadiums and office buildings.

President Bush is safer but the rest of us aren't. It is like living in a greenhouse and boarding up a few panes to protect from possible rock throwers.

We can pretty much halt the hijacking of airliners. But what are we to do with the 200,000 small aircraft scattered around airports and pastures? And what about the 2.3 million 18-wheelers or the 200 million handguns?

Of course, security measures are warranted at particularly vulnerable targets. But in our free way of life, security from within depends essentially on the moral prestige of the existing order of society and faith in the rule of law.

Meanwhile, the Al Qaeda network remains a real threat. Military, intelligence and police measures will be required. But international support will be even more essential than in the Afghanistan operation.

As with the danger within, rooting out the Al Qaeda organization overseas will depend in large measure on the maintenance of the U.S. moral position in the fight against terrorist outlaws and a perception that the U.S. also believes in the rule of law in international relations.

As we move into the next stage, including dealing with Iraq, let's remember that in the long run, we need political and moral support abroad as well as at home.


Jay Taylor, the deputy assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration, is working on his second television documentary, "Divided Dragon, China and Taiwan."

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