Pity the person with a hard act to follow, particularly if it's his own. President Bush is such a person. For three months, he has shone as the take-charge leader of a powerful nation reeling from an unexpected blow. A quiet sense of triumph now pervades Washington's inner circles.
But here's the hard-act-to-follow part and the irony of Bush's situation: In declaring a war on terrorism and the states that harbor terrorists, Bush's policy of rooting out terrorism wherever it thrives plunks his administration smack into the middle of the world's trouble spots.
Merely to list the breeding grounds for terrorism is to suggest the scope of the challenge: Sudan, Somalia, Colombia, Iraq, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran, Pakistan, Chechnya and, yes, Saudi Arabia. Here is the underbelly of globalization: countries rendered unstable by the absence of power or its autocratic concentration.
The speed with which success has come to the American campaign in Afghanistan exacerbates the problem. Had the conflict there dragged on, people might have forgotten Bush's pledge to root out terrorism. Today, still fresh in mind, it attracts world attention.
The havens of terrorists are either dysfunctional countries in need of nation-building or autocratic regimes sowing the seeds of despair that sprout fanatics.
Turning these retrograde states into open, self-sustaining communities will require a generosity of spirit and patience for study that Bush's go-go team has yet to demonstrate.
Worse, the expense of promoting economic growth, public schooling and human rights in failing states will run athwart the Bush administration's priority to cut taxes. Bringing poor countries into the global economy will require opening our doors to their goods. Yet low-wage commodity exporters seeking American buyers are sure to mobilize calls from Congress for protection against unfair competition.
Complicating these demands is the arena of power from which Bush will have to lead. While fighting the war in Afghanistan, he makes decisions as commander-in-chief. The Bush who must fashion a successful foreign policy to eradicate terrorism acts as head of the executive branch of a three-part government designed by the U.S. Constitution to operate through checks and balances.
The Bush people have emphasized that we are in this fight for the long haul. The "long haul" they have in mind may be strictly military, but their words have nurtured hopes of a sustained effort to get at the stubborn causes of poverty and fanaticism.
Nation-building, as candidate Bush well knew, is a messy business where trial and error — the only possible approach — consumes endless months and billions of dollars.
The bright side of the picture is that many of America's allies have also been singed by terrorism, either from dissidents inside their country or on their borders. Spain has problems with its Basque separatists, Turkey with the Kurds, Russia with Chechnya and China with its Muslim Uighurs calling for an "Eastern Turkey." Their national self-interest inclines them to cooperate with the United States.
At the end of the Gulf War, the elder George Bush, enjoying similarly high approval ratings, declared victory after routing Saddam Hussein's army. He then precipitately announced the arrival of a new world order.
Within months, that phrase had become a term of derision and his ratings plummeted.
But if George W. Bush stays the course and builds from the ground up, he could usher in a new world order and secure for himself the greatness that eluded his father.
Joyce Appleby is a professor emeritus from the University of California, Los Angeles, and past president of the American Historical Association.