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    A Times Editorial

    Americans at risk

    Our people and institutions overseas are targets of terrorism, but the dangers shouldn't deter us from building positive relationships around the world.


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 20, 2002


    Better late than never, the State Department Tuesday warned Americans to defer travel to Pakistan. The kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, followed by the deaths of two Americans in the March 17 grenade attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad, surely made that specific warning unnecessary. Still, life has become more dangerous for Americans in many countries other than Pakistan -- including our own -- and our government has an obligation to be prompt and candid in alerting U.S. citizens to particular risks. The new emphasis on homeland security is essential, but the task of protecting Americans is global in scope.

    Well before last Sept. 11, U.S. officials knew that American people and institutions were inadequately protected against potential terrorist attacks at home and in virtually every other corner of the globe. The deadly 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania spurred a comprehensive review of security at all 256 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The Clinton administration developed plans that called for spending billions of dollars to improve the security of those buildings and American personnel serving overseas. Those fortifications had barely begun on Sept. 11, and the escalating war on terror has made the task even more urgent and complex. The grenade attack in Islamabad was especially alarming because it took place in an area, near the U.S. embassy, that had been considered relatively safe for Americans.

    Providing security for American vacationers, business people and religious missionaries overseas is an even more daunting task. Major U.S.-based corporations doing international business generally have well-established security procedures, but smaller companies may not. Thousands of tourists and other inexperienced international travelers can be particularly dependent on the State Department's warnings and guidance. The war on terror should not create irrational fears of traveling, at home or abroad, but Americans do have a right to expect their government to provide them with timely and accurate assessments of credible threats in a rapidly changing world.

    True security for our government and our people can't come from defensive measures alone. Conventional forces, nuclear weapons and missile shields can't fully protect us from anti-American fanatics eager to die for their cause. We also should not be satisfied to turn our embassies and other overseas facilities into fortresses against hostile native populations. In the long run, we make the world safer for Americans and everyone else by building political, economic, cultural and faith-based relationships that have a positive impact on other people and nations. The terrorists understand that such relationships cannot survive if Americans turn inward out of fear.

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