Posted: Jul 12, 2004 12:00 AM

 There are two approaches to terrorists. One is to fight them with every weapon you can -- the military, intelligence services, interdiction of money flows, diplomacy. That is what George W. Bush is doing against the Islamist terrorists who struck Sept. 11. The other way is appeasement. Give the terrorists some of what they want, and hope that they will stop being terrorists any more. That was the approach Bill Clinton took in the 1990s to terrorists in Colombia, Israel and Northern Ireland.

 We are often told these days that Bush's fight against terrorism is not going well. So perhaps it's worth looking at how well the other approach to terrorism worked.

 Colombia: Clinton supported former Colombian President Andres Pastrana's policy of officially ceding control of a large swathe of territory to the FARC, the 17,000-member guerrilla group that claims to fight for Marxism and is guilty of kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking on a wide scale. But recognition of the FARC did not reduce its criminal activities.

 Before the end of his term in 2002, Pastrana reversed his policy. To succeed him, voters chose Alvaro Uribe, who pledged to hunt the terrorists down.

 "So far the results are impressive," writes scholar Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute. "Killings and kidnappings are down, some highways have reopened and a few high-ranking guerrilla leaders have been captured." Uribe's job approval is sky high. The bottom line: Appeasement failed.

 Israel. In 1993, Israel accepted the Oslo Accords and entered into negotiations to give up land to Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the most generous offer ever: more than 97 percent of the occupied territories. Despite Bill Clinton's negotiating skills and flattery (he was invited to the White House more often than any other foreign leader), Arafat turned down the offer and began the Intifada, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Israelis by suicide bombs. Barak was swept from office.

 George W. Bush has backed Ariel Sharon's refusal to deal with Arafat and his fence separating Israelis and Palestinians. Most Israelis support the fence, and suicide bombings are way down. The bottom line: Appeasement failed.

 Northern Ireland: Here, the indispensable guide is Dean Godson, chief editorial writer of the Daily Telegraph of London, and his recently published "Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism." Trimble is the leader of the moderate unionist party (unionists want to keep Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom), who negotiated the 1998 Easter Sunday agreement with republican John Hume and with Bill Clinton and the British and Irish prime ministers. Trimble and Hume were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

 The basic bargain was simple: The unionists would let the republicans have places in the Northern Ireland government, and the republican paramilitaries would give up their arms. The unionists kept their side of the bargain, but the paramilitaries have not, and have been setting further concessions. Tony Blair has suspended the Northern Ireland Assembly and Trimble's party lost seats to the anti-agreement unionists led by Ian Paisley. The bottom line: Appeasement is failing.

 All of which is relevant to this year's presidential election. John Kerry has said that the war against terrorism is primarily a matter for law enforcement and intelligence. He recently ran an ad based on a book he wrote in 1997. But that book never mentioned Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden -- it was primarily about the danger of international organized crime.

 And terrorists do turn to crime: The FARC finances its activities by drug trafficking, and one reason the paramilitaries won't give up their arms is that they make money by smuggling and drug trafficking, too.

 It's impossible to know exactly what Kerry would do as president or what Bush would do in a second term. But Kerry seems far more inclined toward appeasement, as Clinton was.

 Richard Holbrooke, who would like to be Kerry's secretary of state, notes that Clinton was cheered in Ireland for his "peace process," while Bush was greeted with angry demonstrations there. But the British cheered Neville Chamberlain when he returned from Munich with "peace in our time" in 1938. A year later, they thought very differently.

 In the short run, appeasement seems the more conciliatory, thoughtful, nuanced way to deal with terrorists. But in the long run, it tends not to work.