From tax reform to terrorism - second Bush term will be a doozy

This is a moment in history to hold your breath.

At home in America, a newly reelected President Bush will use the political capital he won to initiate some dramatic, society-changing reforms. He wants to change the Social Security system in a way that ultimately would affect every living citizen. He wants to simplify the tax system in a way that would affect every wage-earner. I hope, for good measure, he'll work as energetically for a new energy policy that would sharply diminish US reliance on foreign oil. He wants Democrats and Republicans to work together to these ends.

He knows it will be tough. But he says he's reaching out - to everyone who voted against him, as well as to his own constituency. It will be his last presidential term, and it's going to be a doozy.

Abroad, he will deal with a new world free from the influence of Saddam Hussein, and probably soon of Yasser Arafat. It is an amazing opportunity to tread anew the treacherous path to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. That would be a timely stimulus for the encouragement of freedom, education, and economic development throughout the Islamic Arab world - seedbed of the terrorism that ails the peaceloving world.

If Mr. Bush thinks his domestic challenges will be tough, they are nothing compared with the challenges abroad. In Iraq, die-hard insurgents are rampaging not only against the US presence, but against Iraqi attempts to establish post-Hussein law and order and hold elections in January. More Iraqis are being killed than Americans as the insurgents execute Iraqi policemen, soldiers, and government officials in an incredible campaign not for democracy, but against it.

But Bush is heartened by the fledgling growth of freedom in Afghanistan. He is confident that firm US resolve in Iraq will bring freedom to that beleaguered land. He has a messianic conviction that the world's oppressed respond to the clarion call of freedom.

It is intriguing that the issue that most energized him in his first postelection press conference last week related to freedom. "You cannot lead this world and our country to a better tomorrow," he said impassionedly, "unless you have a vision of a better tomorrow. I've got one based upon a great faith that people do want to be free and live in democracy." He said he could not agree with those who "either say overtly or believe that certain societies cannot be free."

This, he knows, puts him at loggerheads with some doubting, or sometimes sulking, allies, and he says he's "got work to do to explain to people about why that is a central part of our foreign policy."

That work begins this week when British Prime Minister Tony Blair comes to Washington for two days of discussion at the White House. Mr. Blair, far from doubting or sulking, has been a valiant and steadfast supporter of Bush's views on freedom and the Iraq war, courageously expending a lot of his own political capital at home with a sometimes querulous public. Together they will discuss steps to attempt a bridging of the Palestinian-Israeli divide. Blair believes a solution would have a significantly helpful impact in the Arab world.

This whole question of communicating the truth about American values and policies to a questioning world - particularly the Middle East - is one that demands significant attention from a busy president.

In all its recommendations about intelligence, military operations, and other ideas for combating ongoing terrorism, the 9/11 commission warned that the US needs a vastly accelerated information program abroad to stop the "next generation of terrorists." Bush's deputy secretary of State, Richard Armitage, told the commission that Americans have been exporting their fears and their anger, not their vision of opportunity and hope.

Richard Holbrooke, who probably would have been secretary of State in a John Kerry administration, reflected on Osama bin Laden's success in reaching Muslim audiences: "How can a man in a cave outcommunicate the world's leading communications society?"

The 9/11 commission realistically concludes that bin Laden's "small percentage" of committed Muslim followers are "impervious to persuasion." It is among the large majority of Arabs and Muslims that the US must encourage reform, freedom, democracy, and opportunity, even though the message may be questioned because the US carries it. The US can promote moderation. Muslims themselves must make up their minds about jihad, obscene beheadings, and the roles of women and non-Muslim minorities.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, was assistant secretary of State, director of the Voice of America, and associate director of the US Information Agency in the Reagan administration.

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