Steady as We Go

Scripps-Howard News Service 12.12.01
Balint Vazsonyi

Even committed Democrats must have found eight years of Clinton unnerving. The president and his cabinet spent enormous proportions of their terms in office trying to explain why their statement (or action) earlier that day had been taken out of context or misunderstood, why the entire matter had been an administrative snafu, and how they didn't know what anyone was talking about, except for the press reports they had read like everyone else.

By the same token, it didn't require being Republican to find a great deal of comfort and reassurance in the events of last week, as the president and members of his cabinet laid out in no uncertain terms where they stood on sensitive issues, then followed their statements with action entirely congruous with what they had said.

Appropriately, it began with the president himself. After the recent suicide bombings in Israel, he terminated America's policy of "on the other hand...," and "both sides need to refrain...," and drew a sharp line between the campaign of killing women and children on one side, and the endeavor to survive on the other. He shut down Hamas's fund raising in America and declined to condemn Israel's response to the killings.

On CNN's "Larry King Live," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did the same. When asked about the Middle East, he said, "you know, there are many folks out there who just want to shove Israel into the sea. Israel has every right to defend her existence." He also spoke frankly about one of the underlying problems: "Israel has a booming economy, while the others around are quite poor. Peace would bring immense benefits to the poor regions. Everyone would gain."

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, the point here is not that the administration has declared an unequivocal stance on the side of Israel. The point is that they have declared an unequivocal stance. Nothing is as sure a recipe for trouble as a superpower sending mixed signals.

In the long run, it ought to help everyone. Regardless of individual sympathies, it is a fact of life that continued refusal of Israel's right to exist makes all peace efforts moot. Another fact of life is that if a fraction of the money that rich Arab states now send to Palestinians to fund terrorism and Intafada were to be sent to fund economic development, peace could be discussed on an entirely different basis.

In the meantime, the week continued to unveil a mature administration that knows its mind and will not be easily deterred. I am thinking of Attorney General John Ashcroft's session with his former colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The topic, of course, was the president's executive order about the judicial treatment of terrorists.

Gone was the apologetic, trying-to-please John Ashcroft of the confirmation hearings. In his place sat an officer of the president's cabinet, representing the considered views and decisions of the president without flinching, apology, or yielding an inch.

Once again, it is not the issue here whether John Ashcroft, or indeed the president, has got it right. Nor is it suggested that the executive branch ride rough shod over Congress or the Federal Judiciary. I simply welcome the end of a time when America's supposed leaders wet their index fingers and held it into the air to decide which way the wind was blowing. I welcome the end of a time when America's supposed leaders looked to focus groups to decide policy. We now have, it appears, leaders who actually lead once again. And, if we are serious about survival, we must have them - period.

Of particular spiciness is the phenomenon that America had least expected such decisive behavior from this particular president.

So let us be of good cheer and stop worrying about constitutional rights just now. We have countenanced myriad breaches of them by granting special rights to anyone loud enough - yet the Constitution is still with us. It seems the American People themselves stand guard over the Constitution at all times, and it is there to protect us at a moment's notice. For some, this is an unhappy reminder, but it was there last December when the loser of the elections threatened to turn this realm into chaos.

Nothing will deter America's enemies - past, present and future - from mischief more certainly than the spectacle of a leadership that knows what it wants, says what it will do, then follows through just so.

Good luck to us all - it seems we've got some this time.