President Bush is acquiring the ability to inspire. He exudes strength, confidence and, to use a biblical term, righteousness. These are essential qualities for a leader who wants to strengthen the nation's resolve and convince us the war against terrorism will not be over soon, if ever.
In a speech to the nation from Atlanta Thursday night interrupted 36 times by genuine and heartfelt applause (compared to the theatrics that often characterize a presidential address before Congress), the president used an old rhetorical device to contrast American values (good, right and moral) with the values of terrorists (bad, evil and uncivil).
"We wage a war to save civilization itself," said Bush. Who among us believes he is exaggerating given the stated, and demonstrated, nature of the threat? Mixing down-home language ("When the terrorists and their supporters are gone, the people of Afghanistan will say with the rest of the world, 'Good riddance'") with steely resolve ("Where terrorist groups exist of global reach, the United States and our friends and allies will seek it out and we will destroy it,"), Bush projected credibility. It was a nice touch to deliver the speech outside of Washington because it conveyed a sense that Bush was coming to the people to ask them to do something for the country, which is what he did.
Bush noted that the tragedy in New York "has caused Americans to focus on the things that have not changed, the things that matter most in life -- our faith, our love for family and friends, our commitment to our country and to our freedoms and to our principles." Outsiders are wrong, he said, who think we are a nation of "shallow, materialistic consumers who care only about getting rich or getting ahead."
Again and again, Bush invoked the memory of the dead New York City police and firefighters and the civilian heroes who gave their lives for their country by taking back Flight 93 from hijackers over Pennsylvania, preventing even more deaths.
"One way to defeat terrorism is to show the world the true values of America through the gathering momentum of a million acts of responsibility and decency and service," Bush challenged Americans. "Ours is a great story and we must tell it through our words and through our deeds."
We are now entering phase two of the war.
In an interview Wednesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft underscored the resolve that law enforcement has to arrest, prosecute and deport anyone associated with the murderous acts of Sept. 11, along with anyone associated with any terrorist organization.
Ashcroft said that in addition to known and suspected terrorists, U.S. law enforcement is now able to pursue "aliens who contribute to listed terrorist-aiding organizations." He added that it is possible to aid such organizations in non-monetary ways and persons who do so are now subject to arrest.
There are a number of Islamic groups under scrutiny, suspected of having ties to, or otherwise being fronts for, terrorist organizations overseas. Ashcroft said aliens whose immigration status is current could be arrested, deported or prosecuted if they are linked in any way to terror groups.
Asked about suggestions that suspects might be tortured to pry information loose which might save lives, Ashcroft said that while officials intend to be "aggressive," in their interrogations, they won't torture anyone, because "not only is it against our values and the Constitution, but it is unlikely to produce the kind of information that would be reliable."
Ashcroft said he does not know the number of terrorists still in the United States, but "it is my intention to disrupt terrorists, to inhibit them, to find them, to prosecute them -- if they can be prosecuted -- and to deport them. Alien terrorists should not be harbored here or be given an opportunity to abuse this environment as a part of their plan to destroy it."
The attorney general said an important part of the war has already been won, which is "the reinforcement of the values that are at the heart of the nation. That, in itself, is a substantial victory. We'll truly win when we destroy al-Qaida and its threat to civilization and freedom, but we've won the war in terms of our unity and commitment."
In any war, visible success and maintaining resolve is key. The raids last week on money transfer and money laundering operations with alleged connections to al-Qaida are a good start. According to the president and the attorney general, we have just begun to fight. That's inspiring.
Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services.
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