- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

A year ago, when George W. Bush finally emerged victorious from the nation's most disputed presidential contest as commander-in-chief-elect, few could have predicted that the untested southern governor would have evolved so fluidly into such a successful wartime president. And yet, as a result of the extraordinary leadership President Bush has demonstrated both domestically and internationally in the months since fanatical Muslims massacred thousands of innocent Americans on September 11, the president today stands on the global stage as the world's indispensable leader. Indeed, Mr. Bush has so aggressively embraced the challenges posed by September 11 and so successfully seized the initiative that even members of the opposition party have privately conceded that his performance has proved him to be the most qualified candidate for the world's most powerful job.
Mr. Bush and his administration have flawlessly prosecuted the initial military stages of what he has repeatedly warned would be a lengthy war against global terrorism. The critics, who were relentless in making their early complaints about the pace and the conduct of the war, have been silenced by the American military's overwhelmingly successful performance. During the three months following the terrorist attacks on the American homeland, the accomplishments on and off the Central Asian battlefield were truly remarkable.
On the diplomatic front, Mr. Bush quickly formed an international coalition which included unprecedented cooperation from Russia and other former Soviet republics. Moreover, the timely establishment of the coalition required the termination of Pakistan's strong allegiance to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush immediately accomplished that diplomatic achievement, setting the stage for America's military assault. Meanwhile, Arab nations in the Persian Gulf region quickly got the message, too. As American resolve became unquestionable, Saudi Arabia terminated its relations with the Taliban, whose rise to power the Saudis had earlier financed. Not even the president's necessary denunciation of Yasser Arafat in December for his failure to halt terrorist attacks against Israel could damage the coalition Mr. Bush had assembled in September. In the face of Mr. Bush's resolve, the once-feared "Arab street" has barely whimpered.
Less than four weeks after hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center towers and attacked the Pentagon, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force began a coordinated bombing campaign 7,500 miles from the Pentagon. Traversing great distances the Navy's F-14s and F-18s were launched against land-locked Afghanistan from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, while the Air Force's B-2 bombers flew from their base in Missouri American pilots dropped bombs guided with pinpoint precision by laser-wielding Special Forces troops on the ground or by satellites in space. It was a strategic and operational tour de force. The devastating effects of the bombing campaign enabled Afghan opposition forces allied with America, and often assisted by U.S. Special Forces, to rout the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network throughout Afghanistan. Ten weeks after America's bombing began, the dictatorial power wielded by the Taliban was history, and al Qaeda forces were scrambling to safety in Pakistan, having abandoned their once-impenetrable mountain retreats that were so instrumental in defeating Soviet and British forces in the past. To be sure, Taliban and al Qaeda leaders remain at large, but their eventual capture seems beyond doubt.
The ease with which the Bush administration and the Pentagon have coordinated and conducted the war on terrorism to say nothing of foreign policy in general has much to do with the keen foresight Mr. Bush exercised in assembling his national-security team. In a word, the selection of Dick Cheney, a former White House chief of staff and secretary of defense, as vice president in July 2000 was brilliant. Colin Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security adviser, was a natural to head the State Department. Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's principal foreign-policy adviser during the campaign, fit perfectly at the National Security Council. Ditto for Donald Rumsfeld's return engagement at the Pentagon. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, whom Mr. Bush selected as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has had invaluable experience at the U.S. Space Command. That will undoubtedly be crucial in the development of national missile defense (NMD), one of Mr. Bush's major priorities.
NMD took a significant step forward with the president's recent announcement of the United States' intention to withdraw from the anachronistic Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The fact that such a pivotal decision was greeted with such restrained objection by Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed how much the Russian-American relationship has improved under Mr. Bush.
The recent agreement among both developed and developing nations in Qatar to pursue another round of free-trade negotiations represented a major victory for the Bush administration, especially considering the massive failure that had enveloped the Seattle trade meeting two years ago. Mr. Bush also won a major trade victory when the House recently approved trade-promotion authority (TPA), which the president needs to negotiate with our trading partners and which the House had failed to grant since TPA lapsed in 1994.
Mr. Bush's most important economic-policy achievement was the bipartisan adoption of the $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax-reduction plan that formed the centerpiece of his domestic agenda during his campaign. With the onset of recession in March, the timing of the tax cut was perfect.
Equally well-timed was the administration's energy plan, which the House approved months ago. The nation currently imports about 60 percent of its oil, too much of which comes from the unstable Persian Gulf region. Thus, the administration was right to call for development of the billions of barrels of oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, the Democrat-controlled Senate has refused to consider energy legislation in a timely manner.
This month the bipartisan commission Mr. Bush appointed in May to reform Social Security released its report unanimously recommending the allocation of a portion of payroll taxes to fund voluntary private investment accounts. Regrettably, legislation to reform Social Security will not likely be considered by Congress until after next year's election; however, the commission's report puts the president on the right side of the issue.
Congress recently enacted education-reform legislation, which Mr. Bush considered to be his major domestic-policy priority for his first year. This was not a resounding success. Beginning with the early, unilateral abdication of support for vouchers, for which the White House received virtually nothing in return, the president's education-reform initiative gradually evolved into far-less-promising legislation. The bill's idea of "accountability" is to provide public schools 12 years to achieve a minimal level of proficiency. The final legislation emphasized more spending and less flexibility to such an extent that even Sen. Edward Kennedy embraced it. If there is a bright side to this, it is that the president will be able to defuse the issue as a source of Democratic demagoguery in next year's congressional campaigns.
Another election issue already taking shape will be the sorry end of the economic stimulus package, which could have helped millions of Americans looking for jobs some as a consequence of the economic downturn which began at the beginning of the year, others as a consequence of September 11. The Democrats had other plans, however. No matter how far the Republicans bent to accommodate the demands of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, no matter how hard the president pressed his case, Mr. Daschle preferred stonewall-like to save the issue for election time demagoguery. With the Senate split the way it is, there was ultimately nothing the president could do.
However, all things considered, Mr. Bush has had an extraordinarily good year, largely because he has acted resolutely on well-honed conservative instincts that have served him well. Following a year of significant accomplishments, Mr. Bush enjoys robust popular support. A recent USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll gave the president an 86 percent job-approval rating. The same poll shows that 92 percent of the public supports the president's handling of the war against terrorism. Despite the economic slowdown that began more than a year ago and developed into a recession in March, an October poll registered a 71 percent approval rating for Mr. Bush's handling of the economy. Significantly, Mr. Bush's resolute wartime leadership seems to be paying political dividends for the Republican Party, whose congressional candidates are currently favored over Democrats by a 48-to-43 margin.
At a time when America is both in recession and at war, the nation and, yes, the world is fortunate to have George W. Bush at the helm.

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