Well, the politicians and the media have done their best (or their worst, depending on your point of view), and now it’s the voters’ turn. I have always felt that it’s a little unfair to force voters to choose, every four years, between one of two preselected candidates for president, and by that act to indicate how they want America to be governed. Maybe they don’t like either candidate very much. Or maybe they like X’s foreign policy but prefer Y’s domestic agenda. No matter – they get just one shot at a choice, and that’s it.

So we’re forced to decide which issue is most important to us, and cast our ballot on that basis. Most times, it’s the economy – and that’s fair enough. The economic health of the nation affects practically everyone, and we naturally tend to prefer the candidate who seems likeliest to produce good results in that quarter.

But every so often some other issue – typically, in the field of foreign affairs – commands our attention. We live in a dangerous world, and the nation’s safety must take priority over other concerns, including the economy. As luck would have it, that is the case this year.

I plead guilty, along with virtually the entire journalistic commentariat, to having missed the growing threat of militant Islam. When the 21st century dawned, I pointed solemnly to China as the chief problem with which America would have to grapple. And no doubt China will indeed loom large in our concerns. But there is another enormous problem that has briskly claimed priority. When 19 suicidal Muslim fanatics hijacked four planes on Sept. 11, 2001, and slammed three of them into major buildings in New York and Washington, they were formally declaring war on the United States.

President Bush retaliated by attacking and toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had sheltered the al-Qaida terrorists. And then, identifying Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a major factor in the deadly hostility of the Arab Middle East to the United States, he invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam.

Since then, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has been obliged to cope with terrorist insurgencies that are able to inflict small but steady casualties upon our forces. It is a strange new form of warfare, in which the enemy has no capital, wears no uniform, and doesn’t even expect to “win.” Rather, he sees the United States as weak, and is betting that his suicide car bombs and obscene beheadings will sap our determination to a point where we will abandon the Middle East altogether.

In this grim state of affairs, the United States has been able to count on the support of some Western nations, but not others. France and Germany in particular, understandably eager to cut “the world’s only superpower” down to size, have withheld serious help, secretly betting that the terrorists will ignore them and focus exclusively on the United States. They could not be more mistaken, but it will be decades before they realize militant Islam’s plans for them.

That is the state of affairs that America faces today, and it simply overwhelms all other issues. One can have reservations about President Bush’s decisions on this or that aspect of the matter, but few Americans doubt his determination to fight this war, and to win it.

Sen. Kerry is a nice man. Few Republicans feel the hatred toward him that so many Democrats proclaim toward Bush. But his plans for the war we are in, as far as he has disclosed them, appear to consist of holding a “summit” with France and Germany, to enlist their help, and making sure that America’s future initiatives pass a “global test,” whatever that may mean, before they are put into effect.

It is between these men that America must choose on Nov. 2, and there is simply no gainsaying the importance of the choice. Even if America were to cut and run from the Middle East, the reprieve would be only temporary. The noted scholar Bernard Lewis has already predicted that Western Europe will pass into Muslim control before the end of this century. After that, it will be America’s turn.

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