Jewish World Review May 12, 2003 / 10 Iyar 5763

Paul Greenberg

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It's the vision thing | Watching George W. Bush land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to embrace sailors and naval aviators, and then go on to lay out his vision for American foreign policy and of an ever freer world . you couldn't help but wonder: Where did this guy come from?

Just a couple of years ago he was the awkward presidential candidate, not quite saying what he meant, a study in rough outline debating the smooth, polished, ever self-aware product who had been groomed for the job since youth.

What happened?

September 11th happened. And it changed everything, including George W. Bush. The country had been attacked and was at war, although not all of us realized the dimensions of the conflict at the time. Elite opinion even now has not fully grasped the character and duration of this war. It still sees each episode -- al-Qaida, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein's republic of fear in Iraq -- as fragments. As separate, unconnected wars that stand alone, and may even interfere with each other.

But almost from the first, the American people intuitively grasped the interlocking nature of the enemy, and its ideological connections. It would be a war in which the enemy would not give an address. Terror's warriors would strike from anonymous bases, using governments that would feign innocence. They would appeal to the most atavistic impulses of a civilization long past its glory and desperate to regain its self-respect. They anticipated that the Great Satan, surprised and confused, would respond much as before -- with only sporadic, uncertain gestures.

Instead, Americans were shocked into recognition. Just as we were after Pearl Harbor. Suddenly it was clear that, whatever the intramural differences between a Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, we were up against a single ideological enemy. Just as the Axis powers had represented a single ideological danger. They had all been in it together -- whether we identified the enemy as Hitler's National Socialism, Mussolini's fascism, or Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

After September 11th, too, Americans realized that we were up against an all-embracing ideology. We just didn't have a single name for it, this virulent form of radical Islam. We still don't. But this much we know: Whether it's called Radical Islam or Islamo-fascism or something else, it is the same ideological impulse, and it means war. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were only a couple of its faces. And Iraq was only the latest front in a struggle that will go on for . the duration.

Public opinion in a democracy is often shaped from the top down by its leaders. But in this case understanding has not trickled down but percolated up. The leaders have articulated what the people felt from the first.

If there is a single sentence in George W. Bush's address last week from the Abraham Lincoln, an address which summarized his message and vision, it was this: The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11th, 2001, and still goes on.

Iraq is not the end or even the beginning of the end, but only another, if vital, victory. That 44-day campaign not only exposed the weakness of the enemy but revealed the resolve, the unity, the power and above all the flexibility of America and her true allies, this shifting coalition of the willing.

It is not the free world that now finds itself demoralized and divided, unsure where the next blow will be dealt or the next change set in motion, but its enemies. It is now we who are the unpredictable ones, and that is a good thing. The world now ponders how best it can accommodate freedom, not undermine it. The balance has shifted; the initiative is ours and must be held.

The terrorists, their hosts and cheering sections have been given a rude shock, and a ruder one awaits as Iraq becomes not just the site of an ancient civilization but the source of new hope in the Arab world. The hope of liberty.

The ranks of freedom grow even in the Arab world, which is sick of being disillusioned by one false prophet after another, and yearns for a better way to restore its self-respect and fulfill its ancient promise. It's a vision thing. This time a shared vision of free men everywhere.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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