The Rev. Jesse Jackson has achieved some success in his occasional and unofficial role as diplomat without portfolio. This time, however, Mr. Jackson made the right decision not to lead a delegation to Afghanistan and to instead let Washington handle the volatile situation.
The state of affairs is much too unpredictable for Mr. Jackson to attempt negotiations with Afghanistan's Taliban rulers. Besides, President Bush has not held out the opportunity for mediation anyway. The message from the White House has been unequivocally clear: The Taliban must hand over Osama bin Laden, the number one suspect in the terrorist attacks in New York City and in Washington on Sept. 11. No negotiations. No compromise. So far, the Taliban have refused to cooperate.
It really didn't matter whether Mr. Jackson volunteered to meet with Taliban rulers or whether he was approached by them. What does matter is that he has decided not to travel to Afghanistan, even though he plans to keep open the lines of communication with the Taliban.
The Bush administration does not need an unofficial spokesman complicating an already messy situation. If this is to be a largely covert fight, and only Washington knows the details, what is Rev. Jackson in a position to know?
Mr. Jackson has been skillful at intervening in previous issues of international concern. Two years ago he and an interfaith delegation of other American religious leaders went to Belgrade. Their successful appeal to since-ousted Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic resulted in the release of three American servicemen who had been held in Yugoslav prison cells for 31 days. Mr. Jackson was rightly celebrated for that outcome.
However, this situation is different. America is at war. Given the gravity of the terrorist attack and the challenges to come, this is one fight best left to the President and his advisers. It's a good thing that Mr. Jackson recognizes that.