Bush Finds His Gravitas

Not only has the world changed in the two weeks since the Sept. 11 attacks, so, too, has George W. Bush.

He has grown quickly from a cautious president with a shaky election mandate into a confident world leader who is leading a campaign on behalf of all civilized people.

He's transformed himself from a governor with little knowledge of or interest in the world into a steely-eyed commander-in-chief marshalling a coalition of nations in common cause against a common enemy.

He's a man who barely made it into the presidency, and now the presidency is making him into a strong leader.

Like many Americans, after witnessing a devastating attack on US soil he was at first bewildered, like a deer in headlights, at the magnitude of the disaster - and what was expected of him. He moved on to grieve with the survivors. Then he began to find strength in the valor of the rescuers and the outpouring of compassion. He then welled up with anger, sometimes going overboard, saying he was on a "crusade" to capture terrorists "dead or alive," or that he was out to rid the world of all "evil-doers."

Finally, he rose above that rapid evolution of emotions to a pinnacle moment of his presidency. His speech last Thursday moved the nation to the stage of specific action, defining for Americans the struggle they face in weeding out terrorists and dealing with those foreign governments that harbor them.

"The course of this conflict is not known," the president said, "yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them."

Mr. Bush's triumph is not so much in inspiring Americans toward effective action, but in reflecting the growth of Americans, after this tragedy, toward their own inspiration.

Like those Americans who suddenly felt unified as a nation, Bush found a new unity with his fellow politicians in Washington, and with many world leaders who had been wary of him. That unity will be as essential in the rough days ahead as it is for Marines fresh out of boot camp heading to war. Making sacrifices in lifestyle, liberty, and perhaps lives requires the glue of unity.

First on the president's list of action items will be the need to minimize or dissolve differences within his well-experienced national-security team, with members of Congress, and with broad segments of the American population. This is the foundation for the task of ending the Al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

Bush came to Washington to set a new tone of civility. But events have done that for him. His task is to maintain it, and the best way to do that is to rise above partisanship, even through next year's congressional election, so as to better lead the nation. He will need that air of neutrality and fairness to see the country through possible military reversals or outbreaks of prejudice against Muslim or Arab citizens at home.

This campaign to end terrorism and its causes will require endurance. So far, this president has shown he can rally the people - as well as himself - to endure many things, with patient certainty and courageous unity.

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