September 21, 2001

Strong Words

LA Times

President Bush Thursday evening gave the speech Americans and the world needed to hear. He balanced between tough talk and restraint, telling America and an international audience that the fight against terrorism will be long and complex-—and ultimately successful. "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done," he declared.

Bush spoke to a nation still shaken by the devastating suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week that left a death toll now estimated at more than 6,000. His remarks also were meant to be heard around the globe, by allies and foes. Citizens of scores of nations died at the World Trade Center, and 80 countries have been asked to assist in the hunt for terror networks. With British Prime Minister Tony Blair nodding agreement in the audience, Bush said other nations "understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens, may be next."

"Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," Bush sternly warned the world, but soon afterward cautioned this nation's citizens to "uphold the values of America," to refrain from unfairness or unkindness to anyone because of their nationality or religion.

The president properly noted that military might will not be enough in fighting terrorists; the campaign will require diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and financial pressure as well. He stressed that the targets are not "our many Muslim friends" or "our many Arab friends" but radical networks of terrorists and the nations that shelter them. That's an accurate acknowledgment that any religion can be twisted by fanatical adherents. It also reflects the important part he hopes Arab and Muslim nations will play in the coalition Washington is trying to build.

Bush made the important distinction between the people of Afghanistan and the Taliban organization that rules that nation. He demanded that the Taliban, which he accused of "aiding and abetting murder," turn over the leaders of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. By focusing on the organization, Bush expanded the hunt beyond its leader, Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding multiple terror attacks on U.S. targets. Looking to home, Bush announced a new Cabinet-level position for domestic defense. Given the deadly gaps in security and intelligence so glaring last week, there is a clear need to coordinate the work of many agencies. If the new office can accomplish this, it will be worth creating. If it becomes just another layer of bureaucracy, it will not.

As he rallied the nation and sought to inspire it, the president also offered his explanation of why groups like Al Qaeda hate the United States: "They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." In the speech's most memorable phrase, he said that terrorists following the path of fascism and totalitarianism are walking a road that ends in "history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

The president said he will ask Congress to help improve air safety, which is long overdue, and to give additional tools to law enforcement. Those tools will need close scrutiny. Bush spoke about the importance of liberties. Now he needs to protect them and the Constitution in a time of rapidly changing policies. Terrorists cannot be allowed to strip away hard-won rights. He also talked of the battering the economy is taking and of his determination to get financial engines back on the tracks.

He set forth-—in broad language that will have to be fleshed out soon—-daunting military, economic and diplomatic burdens. The strength of Bush's speech is that he made shouldering them seem possible.

Copyright 2001 The Los Angeles Times