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TO EASE TERRORISM, END LONG-TERM HATREDS

A so-called anti-terrorism expert was on TV, advising that, to be safe, we all stay home with our families New Year's Eve.

I already had my reservation at chez Rowan. Home is where the most real fun is. And the price is right.

But don't anybody get the idea that I'm hunkering down under my bed on Dec. 31 just because the State Department has issued a worldwide terrorist advisory and our immigration people have caught an Algerian bringing some bomb-making materials into the United States from Canada and then arrested two other suspicious people.

I made up my mind a long time ago that terrorists are like the poor: They will always be with us. That's because when the people in a fight are desperate, they use whatever weapons they have. Some people think our cruise missiles are instruments of terror; we think it has to be a truck bomb, a vial of nerve gas or something that poisons the water of innocent people to really qualify as a tool of "terrorists."

Whatever the case, our days as free men and women are numbered if we succumb and live in daily fear of men like Osama bin Laden, the Saudi Arabian exile who is accused of pulling off the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and of financing other terrorist acts in recent years.

In an effort to stop what can never be stopped totally, we have accepted Draconian rules that involve personal searches before we board an airliner, visit our courthouse, enter federal office buildings and re-enter our country after even a brief visit to Canada or Mexico. While most Americans see these things as prudent, necessary restrictions on liberty, the question arises as to when we say, "Enough police-state protections!"

In a world full of resentments, jealousies and bitter hatreds, even our most powerful nation cannot fortify itself successfully against acts of terror, especially by crazed "loners" or groups that can demand from their members acts of suicide. We must be aware of how lucky we Americans are to have generally escaped so far what has become a way of life -- and death -- in many other societies: the frequent bomb or gun assault by some group seeking to rule through violence.

We can recognize that the greatest threat at this turn of a new century may not come from abroad, but from an assortment of home-grown nuts and haters. We must use the laws fully to crush their paramilitary uprisings at their beginnings.

As for foreign terrorism, we must figure out how to avoid the years-long estrangements that make other nations believe that they have reason to give aid and comfort to America-haters such as bin Laden.

Our relationship with the new Taliban rulers in Afghanistan ought to be such that they know they have nothing to gain by giving safe harbor to bin Laden. But we start with a woeful conflict with Iran, then Iraq, and over time let those deteriorate into a hostile relationship with most of the Islamic world. Where is our diplomacy?

I have noted that, mostly because of U.S. domestic politics, it takes at least 30 years for Americans to get over a war, or a nasty dustup with another country. We -- or they -- hold grudges so long that a lot of vital interests get lost in the process. Look how long it took to "normalize" relations with China, and how we are still in the anger phase of relations with North Korea, Iran and Iraq. And we are into our fifth decade of regarding Cuba as the untouchable foe, and that is nuts!

We can't stop state-sponsored terrorism, which is the worst kind, unless we engage in somewhat civilized communications with all nations, especially those with whom we have had major disagreements. Barring that, we'll be barricading ourselves in our homes on far more nights than New Year's Eve.

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