- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

It was the "old" George W. Bush who was speaking at Virginia Military Institute yesterday, the man who gave us a forceful State of the Union address and all-important moral leadership in the war on terrorism. This incarnation of President Bush seemed to have been lost for a while, as violence in the Middle East mounted out of control, threatening Mr. Bush's own agenda and his sense of moral direction. Talking to the George C. Marshall ROTC award seminar on national security at Virginia Military Institute, however, Mr. Bush found his voice again yesterday. Even the axis of evil, which caused such commotion and consternation among Democrats and European allies alike back in February, made an unapologetic reappearance in yesterday's speech.

"Every nation that joins our cause is welcome," Mr. Bush said. "Every nation that needs our help will have it. And no nation can be neutral. Around the world, the nations must choose. They are with us, or they're with the terrorists."

Where Mr. Bush last week had demanded immediate Israeli military withdrawal from Palestinian towns on the West Bank a demand understandably and reasonably ignored by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Mr. Bush yesterday placed the blame squarely back on the terrorists, where it belongs. Gone was the deplorable distinction that had taken hold in the White House between terrorism as directed against the United States, and which justified military action in Afghanistan, and terrorism as directed against Israel, which apparently did not warrant retaliation. Though the wobble in U.S. Middle East policy is very unfortunate, for the moment Mr. Bush is back on solid ground. And he invited Europeans and moderate Arabs to place pressure on the terrorists to cease and desist.

Issuing his axis of evil warning to nations that harbor weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Bush emphasized again that the progress made in Afghanistan against terrorism is only the first step, obviously placing other countries on notice about what may be coming. A departure from previous rhetoric, however, was the level of U.S. commitment he envisioned for Afghanistan. For a president who expressed reluctance to engage in "nation-building," Mr. Bush has come a long way for sure. Whatever reservations one might have about nation-building, it is undoubtedly true that for other potential allies in the war on terrorism the Iraqi resistance specifically comes to mind a demonstrated U.S. commitment in Afghanistan would mean a lot.

The president even invoked the Marshall plan, which reconstructed Europe after World War II. He told his audience that only two U.S. secretaries of state had ever been ROTC members, George C. Marshall and Colin Powell. Marshall may have created the winning U.S. military strategy in World War II, but it was for the peace he was remembered.

Now, as seven months ago, it is an ambitious and important mission Mr. Bush has undertaken. It helps both him and us to be reminded how much is at stake.

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