At Saturday’s Tercentennial lecture, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 told an audience of over 8,000 that everything would be all right in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We will not grant them permission to win,” Clinton said in his typically eloquent style.
A day later, Clinton’s successor went beyond oration, replacing words with planes and eloquence with action.
With his decision to launch a joint British-American attack on Afghanistan’s Taliban — the regime that harbors suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden — President George W. Bush ’68 struck a blow for United States diplomatic, strategic and humanitarian interests.
In Sunday’s response to the terrorists, Bush coordinated the attack with the British and solicited logistical and intelligence-based assistance from dozens of countries around the globe, giving a unified, multilateral face to the retaliation.
Despite intense public pressure to retaliate immediately, Bush restrained his response until he had received specific intelligence information , ensuring that he could launch a surgical strike tailored to take out strategic Taliban and terrorist targets and minimize civilian casualties. His decision to eliminate Taliban air power and anti-aircraft capabilities so he could follow the initial strike with humanitarian relief drops convinced a rightfully skeptical world that the United States is committed to promoting recovery, not merely exacting revenge.
But he has not yet done enough.
When judging any American military action, we must answer only one question: Does it make the United States more or less secure?
In order to make American more secure, Bush must add strategic success to symbolism –a necessity his predecessor too often failed to realize. He must not only bend the will of al Qaeda, he must break its back. Only by destroying the members of al Qaeda can America ensure that they will never strike again.
Many argue that American retaliation will induce more terrorist strikes by those who hate the United States. This has little historical footing.
Those who believe they are religiously or morally impelled to destroy America will always hate America, and this attack will do nothing to encourage or discourage their future actions. But it will galvanize support around the world behind a coalition committed to acting responsibly and with the overall good in mind.
The world learned over six decades ago that appeasement leads to disaster. Now, Bush must prove again that the road to peace sometimes has to include the use of measured and decisive force.
He must guide the world’s pursuit of al Qaeda with a steely resolve, but he must continue to do so with the humanitarian and multilateral approaches he employed in Sunday’s strike.
As Bush said yesterday in his address to the nation, “We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it.”