Standing on the cusp of history, President Bush on Thursday night delivered a speech worthy of the moment to a joint session of Congress and an anxious nation.
His strong and somber, half-hour address simultaneously offered words of sympathy and encouragement to Americans while sending a firm warning to America's terrorist enemies, especially those training in Afghanistan.
Adroitly, Mr. Bush drew a sharp distinction between the terrorists who attacked America last week and the bulk of the world's Muslims.
"We respect your faith," he said. "Its teachings are good and peaceful. Those who commit evil in the name of Allah, blaspheme the name of Allah."
And to cheers from Congress, he named Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head a new Cabinet-level position for homeland defense. Gov. Ridge will bring strong executive and military experience and an aura of integrity to this role.
In its import, Mr. Bush's nearly faultless address paralleled that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then, too, the attack on America had come as a complete surprise.
That speech is remembered most of all for its description of Dec. 7, 1941 as a "date which will live in infamy." President Bush's had several eloquent turns that are candidates to be long remembered.
Said Mr. Roosevelt: "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory."
Said President Bush: "We will direct every resource at our command every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence and every necessary weapon of war to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network."
Americans were given some, but not all, answers to their most critical questions.
Mr. Bush pointedly blamed Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network for the Sept. 11. attack. He said Afghanistan's Taliban government "must deliver to the U.S. authorities all the leaders of al-Qaida who hide in your land," fatefully calling that a demand "that is not open to negotiation or discussion."
But for a nation on the likely brink of war, Mr. Bush had few details understandably on how the military response will be carried out. The battle will be long, he said, sometimes seen on television screens as visible attacks, sometimes carried out covertly.
No single speech could cure America's fear and anguish, and gird it for the coming trials. But President Bush made an admirable beginning.
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