Bush steps up to role of strong leader

At a time the nation most needs leadership, President George W. Bush has struck nearly every chord in his public appearances and, it appears, made the tough decisions behind the scenes.

He has been reassuring in his compassion for the dead and injured, and he has been stern in his condemnation of the terrorists.

His comment on Monday, likening Osama bin Laden to a "Dead or Alive" wanted poster from the Old West may have been off-the-cuff and seemed reckless on its face. But the fact is bin Laden has been on this nation's wanted list for years, and can be considered a criminal no matter how strong or weak his links to the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

As quick as he was to condemn bin Laden, Bush's thoughtful comments during a visit to the Washington Islamic Center were equally strong in a very different way.

Noting millions of Americans follow the Muslim faith, Bush added: "Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace." It is a message that cuts across religions.

Although Bush and his national security team have passed the initial test, there are far more tests to come. Among the tough decisions we know about was the order, almost immediately after word of the attacks, giving permission for fighter jets to shoot down any commercial airliner threatening to destroy more public buildings. We do not yet know what actions the United States will ultimately take to respond to the terrorism.

Those actions will reverberate far longer - at home and abroad - than any of the rhetoric being spoken in the halls of Washington.

"This is probably the most complex multilevel challenge that a president has faced since the Civil War," said historian Stephen Hess. "It's almost like a giant onion: there are layers upon layers of challenges that Bush faces."

Some would argue many presidents since Abraham Lincoln have faced challenges of a similar magnitude. Perhaps we best remember the presidents who took bold strokes, and perhaps we least remember the presidents who turned crisis into consensus.

But we believe the best leaders - the presidents whose ultimate mission was to act in the interests of the American people - were able to do both.


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