Last Thursday night, President George W. Bush delivered a remarkable address to the nation regarding the terrorist attacks on the United States.
Bush has not been known for being a great orator or an inspiring leader, but last week he rose up and delivered a powerful and moving speech. It was reassuring, strong, decisive, eloquent, and just. The words were ringing; the message unfaltering.
At its core was this: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."
It was a magnificent moment.
Bush reminded the world that innocent civilians from 60 nations were among those who were slaughtered by the terrorist attacks, and thanked the people from all over the world who prayed and offered tribute to the victims. He reminded everyone that millions of Muslims and Arab-Americans live in peace within our borders and ought not to be singled out for abuse. He pointed out, again correctly, that the terrorists pervert the peaceful teachings of Islam.
The demands he made on the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan were unequivocal, yet appropriate: Deliver all the leaders of al-Qaida who hide in Afghanistan, and close every terrorist training camp.
"These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion," Bush said. "They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate," and later adding, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
The president was calm, resolute, and in charge. It was heartening and uplifting.
No doubt, there will still be some who will oppose a military attack; who believe a response by the U.S. military against isolated and rudimentary terrorist training camps in impoverished lands is like crushing a scorpion with a sledgehammer.
But they ought to remember this: If that scorpion had taken the lives of some of your family members, killing it with a sledgehammer would be most appropriate. Here, the terrorist scorpion has claimed more than 5,000 American lives. It has entered our collective home and killed many of our brothers and sisters, as well as hundreds of others from all across the planet. Now it has to be crushed. This is no time to sit back and wait and hope the insidious intruder leaves of its own accord, or changes its deadly ways.
Unfortunately, some people may also look for reasons to rationalize the terror attacks, as if some mistakes our nation may have made at times in our history means, at some level, that we "had it coming." That is outrageous. Yes, we've made our share of mistakes as a nation, but no grievance could ever excuse the massacre of thousands of innocent, unprotected civilians. Such talk demeans the dead, and further wounds the family members who were left behind.
It would be great if "being nice" would make the threat go away. But these terrorists have shown they have the will and the capability to kill thousands of people in one stroke. If we do nothing, it is virtually certain they will strike again -- next time, with nuclear devices or chemical weapons, perhaps. They have left us with no choice but to take bold action.
Appropriately, Bush closed with an authoritative statement: "I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."
Great words. Now the president must follow through with action.