I live in the Bronx and grew up in the Bronx.
When I was a wee boy, my neighborhood starting burning up. It got to the point that when I was seven years old, our family moved from where we were in the West Bronx to a nicer, not-burning-down neighborhood in the East Bronx. That neighborhood in the West Bronx was where my mother had grown up, but the switch was definitely a good move because the quality of life in the old 'hood was only getting worse, not better.The decline of our neighborhood co-incided with the decline of many neighborhoods throughout the Bronx and New York City. And the decline of whole sections of New York City co-incided with similar declines in many other cities across the U.S.
The decline was a multi-faceted thing. Crime rose, arson rose, schools sprouted many problems, families on welfare increased, city services such as the subway system started to get worse and worse.
All this made a great impression on me. It made me very curious as to how things worked, and how things didn't work. It made me skeptical of authority, and skeptical of complacency.
I learned that individual persons could easily contribute to creating problems larger than themselves.
Eventually I also learned that individual persons could also contribute to solving problems larger than themselves. And I also learned that governments and businesses alike could be part of the problems or part of the solutions.
With the power to either participate in the solutions to our problems or to participate in the causes of our problems comes a definite amount of responsibility. We each have the power to choose to use our influence and our resources for good or for bad, and we are responsible for our choices.
That's why I follow and care about politics. We all get to choose our elected officials, and influence the votes of others. It's such a corrupt and dishonest business, though, especially in New York, that it's easy to walk away in disgust and try not to pay too much attention to it.
When I first heard that George W. Bush was going to run for president, I didn't know a lot about him. I voted for his dad in 1988, but I was so disappointed by Bush senior that I voted for Ross Perot in 1992. I didn't hold Bush senior's record against W, but I didn't have any particular reason to be positive about him either, except that he wasn't Bill Clinton or Al Gore.
I think I ended up liking him because he came out for tax cuts and for a humble yet strong foreign policy, and because he wanted to fix public education and was open to the idea of using school vouchers. But even if I hadn't ended up liking him, I would have desperately wanted just about anyone to win against Al Gore.
By the time election day came in November, I still thought that Bush had a good agenda. But more importantly, he seemed to understand the need we had for a president that would be a moral, decent person. This would be the best thing by far about Bush if it were true, and I was greatly relieved when he finally became president-elect.
By the time September 11, 2001, came around, I already was falling in love with President Bush. I didn't know how he would respond to the attacks. But I did know that in the past he had found himself in very stressful circumstances with long odds and come out on top. So I was anxiously optimistic that if there were anything we could do, then President Bush might be able to figure it out.
I was 200 yards away from the World Trade Center when the jihadi hijackers attacked them. Several people that I knew were murdered and pulverised, although none of them were close friends. The building I was in was not evacuated until 11:00 am, and I didn't get home to the Bronx until 7:oo pm.
I had been close to the WTC the first time it had been attacked, back in 1993, by jihadis with an exploding rental van. That had been very disturbing, but once the FBI had snagged the bad guys, it quickly seemed to turn into some manageable kind of business. The bombers seemed more bizarre than threatening, once we knew what they were up to.
But the September 11th attacks were way different. Up to 5,000 people were dead and 5,000 families torn apart, the skyline had a conspicious smoking hole, and somebody somewhere had just successfully declared war on the whole country. Hundreds of firefighters and other emergency personnel, as well as many altruistic office workers had died heroically. Nobody knew what our enemies would do next. And nobody knew what we would, could, or should do next (actually some people did know, or at least had a very good idea, but nobody I knew knew).
Over the next two weeks or so, daily reality took a holiday. And President Bush reassured me and many others that we had found a common purpose and that we would find a common way to deal with things.
If someone reading my account disagrees with me, that's fine with me. I know people had all kinds of reactions, and that is all part of the reality. But I am writing here of my own direct personal experience, and my own evaluation of that experience. I'm not going to pretend I experienced things I didn't experience, and I don't think anyone should expect me to.
I think one thing that some people overlook when they downplay the importance of 9-11 for our foreign policy is that 9-11 is the day that islamo-fascism declared war on our country.
We can pursue Al Qaeda and dismantle it. We can punish the Taliban for supporting Al Qaeda. But that will not stop the islamo-fascist movement. Doesn't even come close.
We need to unleash our secret weapon. It's been in development a long time, and not all the bugs have been worked out. In fact, it's so dangerous, hard-core S.O.B.'s like Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon were often reluctant to use it.
Our secret weapon is liberal democracy. Democracy, with safeguards for minority and individual rights.
If we can infect the Middle East with democracy, and help the freedom bug take over, then islamo-fascism will become as menacing as Italian fascism is today (i.e. not very menacing).
The old dominant school of diplomatic strategy, known as real politik or realism, said that standing by friendly tyrants was more important than pushing very hard for democracy. The new "realism", which has been formulated and promulgated by President Bush, says that the promotion of democracy and freedom is a very high priority national security interest.
Is it possible that the new realism is misguided and wrong and counter-productive?
Anything is possible, but it is not very likely that democracy will prove to be a bad bet. Time will tell. I am optimistic.
It's important to stop the islamo-fascists as quickly as possible.
But it's not obvious what the best way to do that is, and we can only pursue one course of action at a time. So we always need to evaluate what we're doing to see if what we're doing is the best thing to do.
And what makes the war even more compelling a topic to analyze is that it has been so controversial. Here in the U.S., tens of millions of people line up on both sides of the campaign in Iraq. The numbers on each side have changed with the flow of good news and bad news from the battlegrounds.
And as go the fortunes of war, so seem to go the fortunes of President Bush.
President Bush deserves a lot of support. He deserves a lot of gratitude.
He is a trustworthy politician. That's like being a sprinting snail, or a sluggish jet-plane, in terms of defying the conventions of one's peers.
And as if it wasn't enough for him to be a trustworthy politician, he has also proven himself to be a highly competent leader and decision-maker.
If I were president, there are some things I would want to do differently from President Bush. But I suspect there are many more things that I would simply mess up compared to how President Bush is handling them.
I feel lucky that President Bush is our president. Because of that, I am very grateful to him, and I try to take every opportunity to stand up for him and defend his integrity and his record.