Pakistan is refusing to help calm public fury — or help figure out what led to a NATO attack that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. It has rejected American entreaties to participate in a joint investigation. Last week, it boycotted an international conference in Bonn that laid plans for Afghanistan’s future. Both moves are self-defeating.

If there is any chance of salvaging a working relationship, Washington and Islamabad must establish what went wrong along the border and work together to ensure that it does not happen again. The Pentagon has promised a transparent inquiry — it must deliver one — and officials say they can compensate for Pakistan’s lack of cooperation by using phone conversations, email exchanges and surveillance images. But without Islamabad’s participation, the Pakistani public will never find the results credible.

The two sides have radically different versions of what went awry during an Afghan-American operation against a Taliban training camp. The Americans say they were fired on first and cleared the strikes with Pakistani Army officers. The Pakistanis say that NATO gave the wrong coordinates for the strikes and that their forces fired only after the attacks began.

The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging and duplicitous as it is. Islamabad controls supply routes for American troops in Afghanistan (they were closed in retaliation for the attack), and it is essential to negotiations with the Taliban. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta quickly offered condolences. President Obama waited eight days to overrule Pentagon concerns and telephone President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to say the deaths were regrettable and accidental. We share frustrations over Pakistan, but that delay further fueled the crisis.

Pakistan needs American aid and help to hold off the extremists — a fact no Pakistani leader has the courage to admit.

The New York Times (Dec. 6)

A sinister proposal

As Democrats and Republicans fall all over themselves trying to come up with ways not to raise payroll taxes on millions of Americans — all with an eye toward next fall’s elections — there is another, more sinister proposal working its way through Congress.

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., by a vote of 93-7.

That measure would have, if not for an amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., allowed the military to hold, indefinitely, without charge, terror suspects arrested inside or outside the United States, including American citizens. And it would have transferred authority to prosecute those individuals from the Justice Department to the military.

Certainly, if not for the amendment that states: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States,” the president would have been forced to use his veto power. The amendment passed 99 to 1. Who was the lone holdout? Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

We all want to stop terrorism, but the ability of government to hold American citizens in military custody without charge or trial, indefinitely, is not consistent with our Constitution and way of life.

What would make our lawmakers believe such a proposal would not be objectionable? Fear. Fear makes men and women do foolish things. While we have to be ever vigilant, we must not, in our desire to protect ourselves, lose our soul.

The Telegraph, Macon, Ga. (Dec. 8)

Another false theme

Republicans who would rather defeat Barack Obama than fix the national budget woes have latched onto a false campaign theme: The president is not patriotic, they say.

Mitt Romney says Obama considers America “just another nation” in comparison to Ronald Reagan’s description of “a shining city on a hill.”

Rick Perry says the president goes around “making excuses for America.”

Newt Gingrich wondered out loud “what country does President Obama think he is president of.”

One role of the president of the United States is to be its chief cheerleader, but that doesn’t mean he must wear blinders. Give us a man with a clear view of this nation, warts and all, rather than someone who proclaims that everything is always great.

In October, Obama talked about the importance of investing in ways to build the economy and said, “We used to have the best stuff. Anybody been to Beijing Airport lately? Well, we’ve lost our ambition, our imagination and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.”

Republicans pounced on that statement as an insult to America, but they haven’t produced any evidence to show he was wrong.

You can’t fix problems without declaring what the problems are. It’s not unpatriotic to point out our flaws; in fact, it’s more patriotic than pretending that there are no flaws.

The Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer (Dec. 8)