- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

This has been a heartbreaking year of terror and tears that has once again tested America's courage and resolve in a war against a global evil force sworn to destroy us.

Just about everyone, with the exception of Osama bin Laden and his demented followers, is happy to see this year end. And yet even with all its death and destruction, we can look back on the past four months and say, in the words of Winston Churchill, that this has been one of our finest hours.

It is one of America's great blessings that whenever we have been threatened by some foreign enemy or domestic catastrophe, we have had leaders who overcame each challenge and led us to victory. Perhaps this would be a good time, as we begin the New Year, to look at a few of the people who have led us through a trial that none of us will ever forget.

President Bush: Deeply underestimated when he came into office, without a clear mandate and with little if any national security and foreign policy experience, Mr. Bush emerged as a forceful, confident leader who rallied the country and the civilized world against a newly emboldened 21st century tyranny.

He comforted the nation in its shock and grief in some of the most eloquent and moving speeches of the past half-century. He unleashed the power of our anger in a rapid-fire series of national security actions that put us on a course for war. In the first minutes after the attacks, he told his top aides "this means war," and in the ensuing weeks, the untested young president became a wartime commander who has clearly met the test of national and global leadership.

When called upon to lead Great Britain in World War II, Churchill said it was as if he had been preparing all of his life for this hour and this trial. Mr. Bush could not say that, but he had the vision and foresight to prepare for this time when he picked his running mate and his top Cabinet officers. He chose experienced, war-hardened men who had been through this before.

Vice President Richard Cheney: If any president needed to choose a second-in-command by his side in time of war, he could not have chosen anyone who was better prepared than Mr. Cheney, a former White House chief of staff, a former defense secretary, a key figure in the Persian Gulf war victory.

Mr. Cheney had already been working on many of the steps that were to be taken in the days and weeks that followed September 11, including establishment of a homeland security office and other national security and domestic actions to respond to terrorist threats. His imprint was on many of the actions that the president took.

Secretary of State Colin Powell: Another Persian Gulf veteran as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had worked closely in that conflict with Mr. Cheney, Mr. Powell has been the right man in the right place at the right time.

There were those who questioned his immediate actions to reach out to Pakistan in the aftermath of the attacks. Pakistan, after all, had been a supporter of the Taliban. The country and its military were infested with supporters of bin Laden's al Qaeda forces.

But Mr. Powell's gambit paid off, as Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf threw in with the United States, a major strategic victory in Powell's diplomatic mission to pull together the widest global coalition ever assembled. There were days when it looked as if some of the coalition would bolt, including Pakistan, but Powell held it together.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: Like the rest of the Bush national security team, Mr. Rumsfeld's life had been spent preparing for war. A former defense secretary who has spent much of his career steeped in national security issues and strategy, Mr. Rumsfeld has been the military's voice of clarity in the war against terrorism.

His many daily press briefings gave new credibility to the Pentagon's handling of the war. He bluntly stated that the purpose of the bombs that were dropped was to kill the enemy and that he wanted bin Laden killed, too. He gave his commanders in the field more authority than they have had under more flexible rules of engagement.

When others in the Bush team wanted to move ahead faster in the war and send in more ground forces, Mr. Rumsfeld argued for gradually stepping up the air war over a longer period, relying more heavily on the anti-Taliban militia forces and using smaller numbers of U.S. special forces when needed. In the end, patience paid off with a minimal loss of life.

But in the end, it is America's military who deserve more credit than anyone else. Once again we have asked them to risk their lives to defend us. Once again they have answered duty's call. Once again they have been victorious and made us proud.

Because of the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers and pilots and in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, America is going to be a lot safer in the new year.

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