- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

In little more than a month, President Bush has gone from a neophyte on foreign policy to a confident leader of the largest military coalition since World War II, earning stratospheric public-approval scores and even admiration from his Democratic adversaries.

Before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Mr. Bush was criticized by Democrats for his handling of foreign and defense policies, presidential leadership skills that they viewed as his biggest weaknesses.

Now, many Democratic leaders and analysts say they are surprised by the eloquence of his speeches and praise his skillful, rapid-fire actions.

"I've always been one who believes that you can't really tell what a president is going to be like until that person is tested in a crisis, and that is true with this president," said Leon Panetta, who was White House chief of staff under President Clinton.

"He's responded to this war, both in terms of what he's said to the country and how he has acted, in a very competent and strong manner," Mr. Panetta said yesterday.

"I'm sure he's been under overwhelming pressures on all sides to do all kinds of things, but he has taken a slow and steady approach, and that is reassuring," he said.

Mr. Panetta's positive view was echoed by many other Democrats who were asked yesterday to assess how Mr. Bush was handling the war against terrorism. Some used glowing superlatives to describe the president's performance and a few admitted to being surprised, saying the president had exceeded their expectations.

"People who were a little more skeptical about him are particularly pleased. I think he's performed brilliantly, not just on the military campaign, but he has worked hard on the diplomatic front and leading the country. I think Democrats and Republicans are of the view that the way he has dealt with this crisis is perfect," said Democratic strategist Tony Podesta.

"We Democrats may have disagreements over other issues, but those disagreements do not take anything away from how extraordinarily well he has done in this crisis," Mr. Podesta said.

Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution presidential analyst, said Mr. Bush's task was more sweeping in scope than many other presidents have had to face, because the war would continue for many years and likely would range over many countries.

"What's necessary in a war like this is a collection of presidential skills. He went from a man who was almost inarticulate, and has been often eloquent in his speech before a joint session of Congress and his address at the memorial service in the National Cathedral and his remarks at ground zero in Manhattan. This did surprise me," Mr. Hess said.

"This struggle has given him a laserlike focus that reflects an important presidential skill. Greatness in a president requires a sense of vision. [President] Reagan had it. Bush most definitely has had it since Sept. 11," he said.

"It's really quite a remarkable job he's doing, because he has always had the ability to gather good people around him and to delegate responsibility, unlike Bill Clinton, who had to be the smartest person in the room. Lyndon Johnson would have been in the war room picking sites to bomb. Bush delegates. I think he gets high marks," he said.

But James M. Lindsay, one of Mr. Hess' colleagues at Brookings, thinks it is far too early to judge how Mr. Bush is doing in a war that could last for years.

"Clearly, you have a tremendous 'rallying around the president' effect, but whether Bush has done this well or for ill won't be known until months or years down the road," he said.

"Just because people are with you on the takeoffs doesn't mean they will be with you on the crash landings," he said.

But former Democratic National Committee Chairman Charles Manatt believes the president "has done a fine job."

"I think he followed through on the actions he needed to take very quickly. The nation needed leadership, and he provided it," he said

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