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Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2001 / 25 Elul, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Bush's war -- LUCKY THOUGH he was, Bill Clinton never had his shot at greatness. He could lower the jobless rate, balance the budget, console us after the Oklahoma City bombing.

But he never got the opportunity George W. Bush was given this Tuesday: the historic chance to lead. Our American spirit, power and enterprise now stand ready for orders. Only the president can give them.

Only the man in the White House can tell us whom to strike and with what weapon.

Bush's first challenge is to size up the enemy for us. Americans need to know what we're up against.

Most important, we need to know that we face an adversary who is ruthless in exploiting our distinctive strengths and character and using both against us.

Think of the hijackers. They volunteered for a mission that required them to kill American women flight attendants by their own hand and to fly planes loaded with screaming, pleading passengers to their certain deaths.

They set out cold-bloodedly to kill Americans face to face, then to plunge into the face of death themselves.

At each step, they exploited Americans and American assets to destroy American assets and Americans.

-- Freedom: Anyone can cross the border from Canada into the United States. Anybody can get on an American airplane. All you need is some phony driver's license.

-- Courage: The hijackers were said to have lured our pilots from their cockpits by killing one female flight attendant after another.

They exploited a pilot's gutsy concern for his crew to gain control of his plane.

-- Technology: The plotters knew how to fly our big commercial jets, even when loaded down with fuel. They knew the flight maps to Manhattan and the Pentagon. From a previous bombing, they knew the structural weaknesses of the World Trade Center towers. They combined this knowledge with the cold ease of a chemist.

If Bush is smart, he will tell the American people exactly what we're dealing with here: a smart, state-of-the-art, ruthless enemy whose route to eternal glory is over our dead bodies.

If Bush is smart, he knows that the hijackers have anticipated -- and discounted -- his own next steps as well. He will share that fact as well with the American people.

After all, we have all been this way before.

-- 1986: A bomb detonates in a West Berlin nightclub killing two American servicemen. Ten days later, U.S. planes attack the camp of Libya's Moammar Khadafy. Fifteen years later, three Germans, a Palestinian and a Libyan are on trial in Berlin for staging the nightclub bombing.

-- 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland. One man gets life imprisonment in a Dutch court. His co-defendant is acquitted.

-- 1993: When the World Trade Center is bombed, an FBI probe leads to the arrest and conviction of six Islamic extremists loyal to Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.

-- 1998: After Bin Laden bombs U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Clinton bombs a factory in Sudan, a camp in Afghanistan. Later, four men are found guilty of the embassy bombings. Today, 13 others remain at large.

-- 2000: When a suicide bomber strikes the U.S. destroyer Cole, Clinton makes defiant remarks. Eight people are arrested in Yemen but the investigation continues.

Which route does President Bush take this time?

He vowed in his TV address to bring the hijackers "to justice." Does that mean a long, painstaking probe that takes the matter to some distant courtroom?

Bush also said he will target those who "harbor" the hijackers as well as the plotters themselves. Does that mean a wider attack on a country such as Afghanistan, the current home of Bin Laden?

One danger is that, like the pilots on those doomed airliners, President Bush will do what the hijackers expect him to. He will launch a retaliatory raid against some defenseless people thereby creating blood enemies of the United States. This is a step that even Israel, despite every provocation, has been wise to avoid.

Another danger is that President Bush will appear to be doing nothing at all, that he will lack the fire for this task.

The goal here is not to get mad but to get even. That said, getting mad is not a bad place to start.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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