- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

On Sunday, the bombs finally started flying in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the United States. What a relief. Almost a month had gone by, and some of us had started to wonder whether all this coalition building was going to become an end in itself, a grand edifice constructed by the State Department as a monument to its diplomatic skills. In the event, it was the United States and our trusty ally Great Britain who unleashed the strikes on military and terrorist targets in Afghanistan, to general applause around the world. The Bush administration warns that there may be strikes against other countries as well. After years of watching terrorists elude justice, it is grand to see a president willing to fight back. Since Sept. 11, we have watched Mr. Bush grow in stature day by day, a man who knows his destiny. If he is successful in the war against terrorism, Mr. Bush will actually be leaving a real, historic legacy when he departs the White House.

Now, there seems to be some dissent within the ranks of the administration as to just how far we should go. The State Department persists in its line that "we have not set toppling the Taliban as one of our goals," as spokesman Richard Boucher stated days before the bombing. From the Department of Defense, meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "made clear that the United States was seeking to orchestrate the overthrow of the Taliban." Hmm. Which is it? This disagreement, which comes down to a conflict between Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, has caused a good deal of debate among pundits. Is Mr. Powell going to repeat his old mistakes again and leave the Taliban in power, just as he left Saddam Hussein in power after the Gulf War? His critics are rising again to point an accusing finger before the deed is even done.

Ordinary Americans, however, polled about their president's decision have been overwhelmingly supportive. They may know something the pundits forget that we would have been in an almighty pickle had Bill Clinton or Al Gore been in the White House during this crisis. We were reminded of that dreadful prospect on the Friday after the attacks as Mr. Clinton lingered on the steps outside the National Cathedral, following the televised memorial service. For half an hour the me-president schmoozed and hogged the media's attention. (Typically, only with the limelight on him did the former president come to life. He spent most of the service itself with his mouth open, looking halfway comatose.) According to the New York Times, associates of the former president say Mr. Clinton feels cheated. "He has said there has to be a defining moment in a presidency that really makes a great presidency. He didn't have one."

For one thing, President Clinton did have a defining moment it was called impeachment. For another, it takes both the forces of circumstance and the will of an individual to create such a moment. By rising to the occasion, Mr. Bush is doing his part. Ultimately, history will be the judge of the era we entered on Sept. 11, but considering the support Mr. Bush is receiving nationally and internationally, he is doing quite all right.

How would a Bill Clinton or an Al Gore have reacted? We can attempt to answer this question because Mr. Clinton was faced with several terrorist attacks during his presidency, to which his response was so lame that the terrorists were obviously emboldened. As pointed out by Byron York in National Review, when the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, failing to bring it down, Mr. Clinton warned against "overreacting" and lamented the fact that "somebody did something very stupid" (in an interview with MTV). Following the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, which cost 16 U.S. servicemen their lives, Mr. Clinton did nothing. When U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Nairobi were attacked in 1998, killing 263 persons, Mr. Clinton launched an ineffective missile raid on Afghanistan, hitting empty terrorist camps, a response which his own advisers now publicly acknowledge was totally inadequate. Would a President Gore have been more effectual? Hardly. There was no sign of daylight between him and his boss on any of these issues during Mr. Gore's eight years as Mr. Clinton's trusty right hand.

But there's plenty of daylight between Mr. Bush and his predecessor. Mr. Bush reportedly rejected out of hand the set of initial military plans presented to him by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for more limited cruise missile attacks on half a dozen terrorist camps in Afghanistan. These were plans drawn up by the Clinton administration. Laughably, the code name was "Infinite Resolve." By now, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and their friends will have realized they picked a fight with a very different kind of man. Good for us.

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