- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Whatever one thinks of President Bush, no one can say he lacks a vision or the ability to think big.

When he decided to oust Saddam Hussein and attempt to build an Iraq neither a threat to its neighbors nor to America as a base for terrorism, he started something that, if not successful, will multiply the number of terrorist demons and leave America and the world in even greater danger.

In his address Monday night to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., the president laid out his five-point plan to reshape Iraq and the entire Middle East. In doing do, he did not acknowledge the panic and fear sweeping Washington like the late spring heat wave. Instead, he listed the steps directed at establishing freedom and some form of representative government in Iraq.

Mr. Bush reminded the country (at least those watching on cable TV; the broadcast networks declined to carry it, preferring to put their own spin on the speech the next day) that this conflict is neither brief nor easy. He warned that “terrorism is likely to become more active and brutal” as the June 30 deadline nears for establishing a sovereign Iraqi government. In fact, he said, terrorism is likely to continue after June 30. If there is to be success — and the president entertains no public doubt he will eventually achieve his goals — there must be security in the country.

American forces have had difficulty properly training and equipping Iraqi military forces. This has resulted in extending the tour of large numbers of American forces, something the president acknowledged in his speech. No one wants to see a repeat of Vietnam where American-trained South Vietnamese soldiers were overwhelmed by their communist enemies.

Ultimately, the president said, Americans will slowly withdraw but be available as part of an anticipated U.N. contingent, to support the new Iraqi government against terrorists.

I wonder if those who have switched from approval to disapproval of President Bush in the polls fully understand what is at stake in Iraq. Failure is not an option. If the United States fails to achieve its objectives, we might as well issue printed invitations for the terrorists to turn up the heat. They will surely gain new recruits and be emboldened to stage more outrageous attacks.

It is important for some of those nations that have carped and lobbed rhetorical missiles from the sidelines at U.S. policy in Iraq to help rebuild that country. Terrorism is a threat to every nation, including the surrender monkeys who think they can buy off the killers through appeasement.

No free nation is safe from them, and if they aren’t coming after certain nations now, they will later unless they are stopped.

Great nations are called to do great and grand things. Freeing Iraq from her imprisonment while striking a mortal blow to terrorists is about as great and grand as it gets.

The public wants to be sure the president knows where he is going and how he intends to get there. The War College speech showed that he does. The question is, will it work? The answer is that it had better work, for the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

My guess is it will work for one important reason. Our terrorist enemies do not have the power to defeat us in open war. Their power comes from promoting fear that leads to withdrawal and surrender. If we don’t panic, they lose.

If we withstand even homicide bombers in our country, they lose. If we fight fear with faith and confidence, they lose. Recall Franklin Roosevelt’s brilliant line: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” They cannot defeat us any other way.

The president’s five-point plan for Iraq depends not only on the Iraqi people. It also depends on the American people. While World War II was the testing moment of the 20th century, this generation’s test is Iraq and the war against terror.

The Greatest Generation is watching to see if we have what they had. We’ll know soon. It’s up to the president to keep our resolve strong. The Monday night speech was a good start.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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