- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

It was a speech that will remain fixed in the nation's collective consciousness. For good reason, Americans received President Bush's address to Congress and the nation on Thursday night with almost unanimous approval. Whether they voted for Mr. Bush or not, ordinary American citizens gave their president enthusiastic support, reflected in approval ratings of over 90 percent. Even granting that Americans instinctively and patriotically rush to their leaders in times of trouble, this show of support is remarkable given the acrimony that attended Mr. Bush's election. On Thursday night, no one groused that they had not voted for the man who stood before them. Members of Congress of both parties gave the president standing ovations, one after the other. It is certainly not every day that you see House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Minority Whip David Bonior warmly applaud the words of Mr. Bush.

After more than a week of dealing with a national crisis and national grief of hitherto unimaginable proportions, Mr. Bush had grown into leadership. You could see it in his eyes; the president meant every single word of that speech. He promised Americans that, "I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for the freedom and security of the American people." Undoubtedly, Mr. Bush's sincerity and passion were part of the reason for the overwhelmingly positive response from Americans across the nation. But equally, it was the message itself. Americans needed to hear that their government has a course of action, and the Bush team pulled together a very credible plan in record time.

"Americans have been asking, 'Who attacked our country?'," Mr. Bush said, and he proceeded to present the case against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network and networks in more than 60 countries around the globe. The first order of business will be to get the Taliban government of Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden, a criminal mastermind and prophet of doom, as Mr. Bush demanded. Wisely, he broadened this demand to include all terrorists hiding in Afghanistan and further insisted upon the release of American citizens held captive by the Taliban.

But the ultimatum laid down by Mr. Bush was not directed solely at the Taliban, for they are far from alone in aiding and abetting forces of terror. Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria and North Korea the rogue states have specialized in nurturing this low and cowardly type of warfare against the West. If they continue to do so, they will find themselves in the U.S. administration's sights. Other nations must stop and think as well those, for instance, who trade with rogue nations in the name of "engagement." They will all have to stand and be counted, with us or against us. As Mr. Bush said, "This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom." So far, the world has responded to Mr. Bush's display of leadership, to his promise to devote all the resources of the United States to this endeavor. This week saw world leaders traveling by the droves to Washington for consultations.

Equally importantly, Mr. Bush announced the creation of a Cabinet-level position for homeland defense by executive order and the appointment of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to fill the job. This is clearly an overdue and most welcome decision by the president. A massive investment in and overhaul of existing agencies like the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard and the alphabet soup of U.S. intelligence services has to be a top priority.

Mr. Bush, however, did more than outline a case for culpability and action. In a time of political correctness and moral equivalence, when murderous religious fanaticism sometimes reaps the benefits of being mistaken for true religious sentiment, Mr. Bush told us why the likes of bin Laden, the Taliban and their supporters are so profoundly hostile to civilized values, particularly those held dear by Americans. In drawing this distinction, Mr. Bush did the nation a great service, for the "why" of the terrorist action on Sept. 11 has been nagging at Americans just as much as the "how." This is not the case of one man's religion being as good as another's.

"In Afghanistan, we see the al-Qaeda vision of the world. Afghanistan's people have been brutalized, many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough," the president said.

"The United States respects the people of Afghanistan, after all we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid, but we condemn the Taliban regime. It is not only repressing its own people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder."

The case Mr. Bush laid out against radical Islam was very much cast in the mold of the fight against the totalitarian enemies faced by the United States in the 20th century. It is a rightful parallel and a fitting call to battle.


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