The grown-ups are in charge again. That’s the clear message of George W. Bush’s first State of the Union address to Congress.
The president made it plain, with the clarity of a church bell on a clear Sunday morning, that the challenge before him and the rest of us is a perilous one, and that he’s deadly serious about rising to the occasion and he’s taking the rest of us with him. He’s not interested in feeling someone else’s pain and if he has to he’s prepared to inflict pain. It doesn’t take a village to understand that.
“Our nation will continue to be steadfast, and patient,” he said, “and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives. First, we will shut down the terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice. Second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States.”
The disclosures of more evil on the way, made yesterday in this newspaper, were elaborated later in the day by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Al Qaeda, far from being destroyed by the war in Afghanistan, is plotting attacks on a nuclear power plant somewhere in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere, with casualties potentially “vastly more deadly than those we suffered on September 11.”
New adversaries with more sophisticated weapons of unforeseen power and range may be employed in unexpected ways. There can be no lapse into apathy. The president went further than any president ever has in explaining the harsh reality that America’s defense, like it or not, is bound together with the defense of allies who may be unpopular in certain quarters. This includes first and foremost the state of Israel. “Our military has put the terror camps of Afghanistan out of business, yet camps still exist in at least a dozen countries. A terrorist underworld including groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Jaish-e-Mohammed operates in remote jungles and deserts, and hides in the center of large cities.
“While the most visible military action is in Afghanistan, America is acting elsewhere. We now have troops in the Philippines helping to train that country’s armed forces to go after terrorist cells that have executed an American and still hold hostages. Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy. Our Navy is patrolling the coast of Africa to block the shipment of weapons and the establishment of terrorist camps in Somalia.”
And that’s not all. To the faint hearts of Europe, who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to stand up to bullies and sneaks who mean them harm, the president had the tough message to give the limberneck to certain of his men in Foggy Bottom and other domestic redoubts of fear and loathing. “My hope is that all nations will heed our call and eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries and our own,” the president said. “Many nations are acting forcefully. But some governments will be timid in the face of terror.”
When Iran felt itself “insulted” and Iraq’s feelings were hurt by the president’s “stupidity,” we heard squeaks from the timid immediately. The mice are upset not by threats posed by outlaw regimes but by the president’s description of the Axis of evil Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “Axis of evil.” In New Delhi, where unvented spleen is reserved for Pakistan, a foreign office spokesman objected: “That is not the way we look at it.” A government spokesman in Beijing, where clumsy insult is an art form, answered the president with prim rebuke: “China is not in favor of using such a term. We advocate that all countries should treat each other as equals.” The Germans are upset because a strenuous effort at fighting terror would reduce sausage-eating time, and the French are upset as the French always are, lest the war on terror interfere with selling cheese.
But the president’s determination, and the clear expression of what he intends to do, paid instant dividends. Jordan’s King Abdullah II surprised Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday with a straightforward statement that he has “no problem” with the Israeli confinement of Yasser Arafat to house arrest. The king’s foreign minister then mildly disputed the U.S. account of the meeting “that’s not what we said” but everyone recognizes the fox trot: one step forward, slide to the side, one step backward and another step forward.
Leading is often brutal and thankless, but it has its rewards. The Axis of evil, and the allies who jump when evil cries “boo,” nevertheless understand the president’s warning: ” make no mistake: if the [allies] do not act, America will.”