- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

President Bush is facing a major test of his leadership in the wake of Tuesday's devastating terror attacks, his supporters say.

"The president rightly declared this a war, and the president is responsible for winning or losing it, which is why war is the ultimate election," said Angelo Codevilla, a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Washington. "Call it his final exam. He gets an 'A' or an 'F' and nothing in between."

How quickly the president meets the test by effectively striking back will make or break him with the public and with his political base.

"I don't know that there is a clock on it," Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, told The Washington Times. "But once we know the perpetrators, we will no longer be constrained by the old rules of engagement, the old rules of the criminal justice system."

Public opinion will pressure Mr. Bush to act quickly, his supporters say.

"He has a few weeks at best to act," said Oliver North, who was President Reagan's counterterrorism man on the White House national-security team. "The [conservative voter] base is backing him, but they do not want to wait forever. They want him to strike back. Their patience will wear thin rapidly. And they want Congress to stop pussyfooting around with it."

Republicans and Democrats alike want a response that is not only swift, but also commensurate with the brutality and ferocity of Tuesday's attack on America.

"What I'm hearing from the base is that there has to be a tenfold to a hundredfold retribution," said Robert T. Bennett, Ohio Republican Party chairman.

Those who urge a swift military response of far greater magnitude than any previous U.S. reaction to terrorism acknowledge that such a response risks creating martyrs and more terrorist recruits.

"One can make many theoretical arguments about retaliation encouraging more terrorism," Mr. Gramm said, arguing that "if the wages of sin are death, it tends to thin the ranks" of terrorists and their future recruitment.

The Texas senator noted that Mr. Reagan's 1986 military retaliation against Libya, for example, "was pretty effective."

"[Libyan dictator Col. Moammar] Ghadafi didn't do anything after that," he said.

Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican, thinks the public is ready to give Mr. Bush an "A" for initiating severe retaliatory measures, if the targets are properly identified.

"People are aware over the last several years that our biggest threat is terrorism," Mr. Thomas said. "If the Bush administration succeeds in identifying the terrorists, the public will agree to almost any means of going after them."

But Mr. Thomas offers this proviso: "There may have to be some differentiation in going after the terrorist organization and going after a country, unless that country protects them instead of surrendering them."

A likely target would be Afghanistan, which has harbored suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"So if it's bin Laden and you can get him without huge damage to Afghanistan, fine, but if the government in [the Aghan capital of] Kabul is to going to protect him, then we have to go after Kabul," said Mr. Thomas.

For Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, there are no "ifs" when it comes to the Taliban government in Kabul. "This diabolical plot was probably hatched there," he said yesterday. "I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there's collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable."

One benchmark for retaliation: Col. Gadhafi ordered the April 5, 1986, bombing of the Berlin disco that led to the deaths of two U.S. servicemen. Four days later, on April 9, Mr. Reagan approved a plan to retaliate against Libya, and five days later, on April 14, the United States launched air strikes against targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 41 Libyans.

Mr. Bush may choose a similar course. The vast majority of the American public appears in the mood to back him if he were to initiate military attacks on the anti-American Islamic leaders in Kabul. Yet they seem to understand that vengeance may require patience.

"From the calls I'm getting from around the country, I'm not hearing a lot from people about [Mr. Bush] not retaliating immediately," said American Conservative Union Executive Director Christian Josi. "They understand the magnitude of our response will destroy cities and take a lot of lives, and so they understand the need to be precise and certain that we are hitting the right people or government that sponsored the terrorism."


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