AFTER SEPT. 11, 2001, President Bush knew America could no longer tolerate the status quo, that only offense could guarantee security in the wake of this era's peril - Islamic fascism. Courageously, boldly and at great political risk, Mr. Bush - through Afghanistan and now Iraq - ignited long-overdue and historic change in the Middle East. Muslims must ask whether they intend to allow extremist elements to act in the name of Islam. They must ask whether it is Mr. Bush or Arab tyranny that causes their poverty, backwardness and lack of freedom.
The president's critics call him a gunslinger, a moron, a unilateralist, an avenger.
It will take time, but expect historians to someday call the Bush presidency transformative.
In the early 1970s, a political cartoon from The Wall Street Journal showed a father - dressed in a suit - speaking to his son - dressed in jeans, with long shaggy hair. The caption read, "I may not be able to explain my generation, but what a time you'll have explaining yours!" Someday, Mr. Bush's opponents may have to explain their vitriol, their constant denunciation of him in language more strident than used for Osama bin Laden.
Take Lancaster, Pa. Mr. Bush carried the county during November's election, but presidential contender John Kerry won in the city of Lancaster. In the farmers' market, a baker hung a picture of President Bush. Democratic City Councilman Nelson Polite asked the baker to remove the picture. Why? Lancaster needs, according to the councilman, a "healing period."
"I just feel that since it was a close election and the city's so divided, that we should have a healing period," Mr. Polite said.
The 54-year-old baker seemed amused by Mr. Polite's threatened ordinance. "It's fun. People are coming up to me and supporting me. I've been getting letters and phone calls. Even the Democrats come to me and tell me, 'Don't take that picture down,'" he said.
Mr. Bush assuredly takes comfort that the critics of another visionary - President Ronald Reagan - also called him a simple-minded warmonger. While Mr. Kerry gave a phony salute to Mr. Reagan during one of the presidential debates, the senator, in 1988, condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration."
When Mr. Reagan gave his "Evil Empire" speech, Columbia University historian Henry Steele Commager wrote that this was "the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all." Anthony Lewis of The New York Times denounced the speech as "primitive." "What is the world to think," wrote Mr. Lewis, "when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology?"
Halfway through his first term, a January 1983 New York Times editorial pronounced Mr. Reagan's administration a catastrophe: "The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan's White House."
Critics derided Mr. Reagan's economic policies as "trickle-down." They dismissed his strategic defense initiative by calling it "star wars." A 1986 New York Times editorial about Soviet missile strength said, "On a ... vital matter on which he had had to be briefed to the teeth, then, Mr. Reagan confirmed that he still does not have a firm grip."
We know history proved Mr. Reagan's critics wrong. The Soviet Union - and the threat it posed - did, indeed, end up on the ashbin of history. His tax cuts produced increasing government revenues, and Reagan policies ushered in an era of long-term prosperity. The Reagan years saw explosive job creation and income growth. The economy created 20 million new jobs. Individual and corporate charitable contributions increased.
And now, in a few short months, with minimal casualties, despotic terrorist-supporting regimes no longer exist in Afghanistan and Iraq. Taking the hint, Libya's Col. Muammar el Kadafi promptly renounced his weapons of mass destruction program.
Some day - it may take decades - historians will look back at this period of American history, and they will salute Mr. Bush's courage, steadfastness and vision. It just may take a healing period.
Larry Elder is an attorney, a syndicated columnist, a radio talk-show host and the author of Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests that Divide America.