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Gimlet eyed, firm-jawed, low-key and determined. If he was nervous, it didn’t show.

Called a news conference, it was much more. George W. Bush spoke to the world last Thursday as president of the United States of America.

He’s clearly a man comfortable in his own skin. Sure in his statements and founded in his conclusions, he stated his case and stuck to it. Not a waver or a hesitation.

He sounded like a “president” – the person with the most serious responsibility of all: to protect his country and its citizens from harm.

Saddam Hussein and ultimately all terrorists should see the handwriting on the wall. The message is clear: This president of ours is tough and not one to toy with when principle is at issue. He plays to win.

He’s not afraid to fold ‘em but, more importantly, he’s not afraid to hold ‘em and call the bluff. When he knows he is right, he doesn’t cave.

In a way, this is high-stakes poker with survival at stake. All players are testing and bluffing. None wants to drop out. Each has a vested interest in the outcome – which often has nothing to do with citizen survival. Think money, power, land and influence.

But it really isn’t land acquisition and empire building. The prize is freedom – and, yes, peace, as much as that’s possible.

If Saddam, militant Islam and terrorism win, the rest of the world loses freedom and security. They also lose their future and their past. They’ll lose everything. “They” includes us.

George Bush understands this, even if many world leaders do not. As he said, “freedom is at stake and I take that very seriously.”

Interesting isn’t it, that of all the voices from across the world, mewing and crying for more time for Saddam and peace at any price, Mr. Bush is the only leader saying clearly, with no equivocation, that his duty is the safety of Americans. He says he’s motivated, indeed required, to put that first because of his Oath of Office.

He said it repeatedly in the news conference. There is no doubt where he stands.

Think of it. Have you heard that sentiment from the leader of any other country? I haven’t. They all prattle about the economy, about trade, about what others will think, about the perceived importance of the United Nations, about oil, and blood, and power, and the evanescent “peace” they all claim to espouse. Oh, yes – and how the U.S. is big, bad and evil.

All that leaves out the most important issue: a country’s self-preservation. Without that, none of the rest carries any weight. In fact, without that, there may not be any country left.

But Mr. Bush laid out his mandate. He spoke of his duty to protect us and “that is precisely what we’ll do.”

As for the overall war on terrorism: “We’ll smoke them out, one at a time.”

As for Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction: “If he doesn’t disarm, we’ll disarm him.”

And what of the perennial waffling of United Nations lackeys without the cojones to take a firm stand against a terror threat facing the entire free world?

Mr. Bush put it on the line: “I meant what I said. This is the last phase of diplomacy.”

A U.N. vote? “It’s time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.”

It was a speech to the world of U.S. intent. The limp questions sounded eerily like latter-day versions of Rodney “Can’t we just get along?” King, even though Saddam’s had 12 years to comply.

Mr. Bush rose to the occasion: “… the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul is a risk I’m not willing to take for the American people.”

It is comforting to know someone cares about our safety!

One question dealt with our working with U.N. consensus.

Mr. Bush reiterated we went to the U.N., followed procedure and are still trying to act through them.

But then, he went to the most important issue of all, saying that when it comes to our security “we will act” and “we ‘don’t need U.N. approval when it comes to our security, we really don’t need anybody’s permission.”

Yee-haw! Oops. Sorry.

Let me put it this way: I’m glad GW is on our side.

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