Hail to the Chief
September 21, 2001

Last night, George W. Bush became President of the United States. The final recount is in, and the mantle was not mistakenly placed. As he faced the nation, Mr. Bush faced a test. Congressmen had called his leadership "bland" and declared the threat on Air Force One, "Just PR. Just spin." Columnists had heckled that "the President didn't seem sure of where to go" in the hours after the attack, and "looked more apprehensive than resolute." Last night he proved them wrong. The state of our union is indeed strong, and so too is the spirit of our leader.

In a speech as elegantly constructed and it was well delivered, Mr. Bush proved that he is a man for this season. His predecessor would have set his rhetoric to the pulse of the polls and written in lip-bites between applause lines. Obsessed with political gain and self-preservation, Clinton would have announced another aspirin factory crusade to symbolize action and minimize risk. Conversely, President Bush is a man who finds wisdom in the council of many but confidence in his own conviction. When his composure cracked last week during an Oval Office press conference, we met a man unafraid of emotion. But last night, we listened to a commander-in-chief who won't be carried away by it. In his words, we heard ferocity of purpose, but in his eyes saw steadiness.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has been ranting, "We're going to keep after these people and the people who support them until this stops . . . it's not simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable but of removing the sanctuaries, ending states who support terrorism" Likewise, old Pentagon stalwart Richard Perle claims, "We need to take this fight to the countries that harbor terrorists. Chasing individual terrorists is not the way to solve this problem." But President Bush took no part in their saber-rattling. Rightly, he called for "patient justice" and soothed regional tensions by repeating that "The enemy of America is not…our many Arab friends." Wisely he urged shady states to "from this day forward" abandon their support of terror - an escape hatch for both sides.

The speech was not perfect. Mr. Bush's simplistic suggestion that America is hated for her goodness, her Bill of Rights, and her democratic freedoms diminishes the capacity of the men who master-minded a sophisticated plot. The taproot of their animus runs much deeper. Additionally, bellicose demands of the Taliban "not open to negotiation or discussion" seem better suited to closed-door sessions than public airings. But on balance, Mr. Bush hit his mark.

Thursday's address could not answer its own question, "How will we fight and win this war?" Only the coming days will tell. As Mr. Bush said, "This is the world's fight," but it need not be a world war. As we overlook the abyss, this is a time for action, but not haste, retaliation, but not rage. If he can negotiate that perilous course, securing a nation while satisfying its desire to see justice done, George W. Bush will win himself a place among history's heroes. Last night, he took the first step by earning the support of a united nation.

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