- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

The next administration’s most important job is continuing to fight and win the War on Terror.

I’m talking about the presidential administration that will be elected in 2008 and inaugurated in 2009. For that matter, I’ll include the administrations elected in 2012 and 2016. As for the 2020 campaign — we should have a good feel for the War on Terror in that campaign by 2015 or so.

The re-election of George W. Bush bodes well for peace in 2020. A John Kerry victory would have cost us an additional two years of blood, toil, sweat and tears — the two years it would take the Kerry administration to discover that the Bush administration’s strategy in the War on Terror is right.

However, the linked threat from theo-fascist terrorism, petty despots and proliferation of weapons capable of killing millions of innocents remains the 21st century’s Hell Formula.

Like it or not, the bitter task of breaking our planet’s Hell Formula falls on the American people, led by American presidents a decade after Mr. Bush leaves office.

Is it a complex task? Of course — we’re fighting history’s most intricate war. Is it a hateful and odious task? I’ve thought so from the get-go. I didn’t like the burden of the Cold War falling on America, either, though Poles and Hungarians I served with in Iraq last summer thank Americans in the most reverential terms for standing up to the terror of the Soviet empire.

Is the task shirkable, deflectable, rejectable, add-any-word-you-want-that-suggests-letting-it-slide?

The answer: an unequivocal no.

It is also a task that requires 10 to 15 years of effort, through Democratic and Republican administrations.

Any wannabe leader who suggests otherwise at best exploits what President Franklin Roosevelt called the fear of fear itself, at worst lies about our world’s afflictions and America’s capacity to address them.

The War on Terror is as much a war of political liberation, reconstruction aid and economic development as it is a war of combat troops, spies and policemen.

In the first column I wrote after returning from Iraq, I said: “If there is one mistake I think we’ve made in fighting this war, it’s been the way we’ve soft-pedaled the ideological dimensions. This really is a fight for the future, between our free, open political system and the unholy alliance of despots and Islamo-fascists whose very existence depends on denying liberty.”

The Afghan people made the case this is a war that pits liberty against tyranny, as they dodged mortar rounds while waiting in line to vote in last month’s Afghan presidential election. Unfortunately, the U.S. and European media largely ignored that demonstration of mass courage.

Bombs always have more media sizzle than bricks — while a big bang is hot footage on television, a new building is a static bore. In the long haul, however, bricks trump bombs. If we intend to win the War on Terror, our presidents of 2009, 2013 and 2017 will direct a large-scale nation-building effort — because it is in our own direct security interest.

Poverty does not create terrorists — that’s a falsehood and a smear. However, corruption and stolen opportunity stalk the streets and hard corners where terrorists recruit. Theft of wealth and denial of development inevitably sow resentment — the slow fire that the masters of terror know how to stoke. Political liberalization and the rule of law, combined with free trade and free economies, are an antipoverty program that is also sound counterterror policy.

Liberty (the right to responsibly pursue happiness) is the creative source of American wealth and power. For all but a handful of our citizens, the “futures” presented by the planet’s Osama bin Ladens pale utterly compared with the opportunity to pursue “the American Dream.”

Certainly, American excess and silliness abound, but American success and largess are even more abundant. Extending political and economic opportunity into the world’s hard corners, by curbing the power of corrupt autocracies, are the strategic goals of America’s War on Terror.

That takes patience, commitment and persevering leadership, both Democratic and Republican.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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