As a veteran of the Second World War, President Kennedy knew the high price paid in lives for the weakness and waffling of the western democracies in the years leading up to that war. They were attacked by countries that knew that the West had greater military potential, but doubted their will to use it. That is clearly the assumption of terrorist organizations and the countries that grant such organizations shelter and financial support.
No matter what we do now, there will undoubtedly be further acts of terrorism against the United States. Whoever planned this well-coordinated attack has obviously thought things through very thoroughly, so it is unlikely that the prospect of retaliation was left out of his calculations. A strong military response by the American government would then provide the terrorists with an excuse for a "retaliation" of their own, perhaps even more horrific, escalating the conflict and mobilizing the kinds of people in the Middle East who are already dancing in the streets for joy at the sight of the destruction of the World Trade Center.
No doubt any further acts of terror after the administration's response will be blamed on that response, even though such terrorist acts were probably already planned before the administration did anything. But escaping blame is a major preoccupation in Washington, so the response may be inadequate, for fear of being considered excessive by "world opinion." But when members of your family are dying, you don't worry about what the neighbors will say.
It is still early days and the unfortunate words of Secretary of State Powell may yet turn out to be just slips of the tongue. It may also turn out that President Bush will make his own decisions on his own terms, regardless of what anybody else has said. He has rejected the advice of Beltway denizens in the media and politics before and may do it again. He faces a greater challenge than any other president has faced since the Cuban missile crisis. When it is all over, we will know a lot more about what he is made of. And the world will know a lot more about what Americans are made of, for better or