Long after George W. Bush boards Marine One next Tuesday bound for Texas, the enduring image of his epochal eight years will be the September 20, 2001 evening a relatively new President stood before a nation traumatized and in mourning.
"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," Mr. Bush told a Joint Session of Congress. "I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."
In that moment, he set the standard for the Bush Presidency: To protect Americans from another 9/11 and hit Islamist terrorists and their sponsors abroad. Whatever history's ultimate judgment, Mr. Bush never did yield. Nearly all the significant battles of the Bush years -- the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Guantanamo and wiretapping, upheavals in the Middle East, America's troubles with Europe -- stemmed directly from his response to the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that defined his Presidency.
By his own standard, Mr. Bush achieved the one big thing he and all Americans demanded of his Administration. Not a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of September 11. Al Qaeda was flushed from safe havens in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and its terrorist network put under siege around the world. All subsequent terror attacks hit soft targets and used primitive means. No one seriously predicted such an outcome at the time.
The Administration's achievement goes beyond lives saved to American confidence restored. Memories fade fast. Recall the fear about imminent strikes, the anthrax panic and the 98-1 Senate vote for the Patriot Act in the weeks after 9/11. Americans yearned for leadership that this President provided. He calmed the fears and urged tolerance at home, saying on that memorable evening, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them."
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