On Sunday, in the midst of the holiday weekend - Columbus Day - that marks the discovery of America (by Europeans) in October 1492, George W. Bush took a step that may determine his country's path for the next few years, as well as his balance sheet as president when the 2004 elections loom.

As he is well aware from family experience, success in this military venture will not necessarily translate into a second term in office - but failure will assuredly bring with it serious repercussions for the global status of the one remaining superpower.

Bush will be spurred on by a slogan of the last large operation launched out of Texas, the management of Apollo space rockets sent to the moon - "Failure is not an option."

Bush and his ministers were quick to attack skeptics with their own weapons. They were the first to say that the campaign against terror would take time, that it would not lead to simple and spectacular victories, and that more attacks are expected that could lead to mainly American dead. This sober conclusion of the evaluation of the situation is not a defeatist submission, but rather an adherence to fight to the finish.

The Vietnam War generation grew up on the pictures of the Kennedy assassination. The generation of this war will begin its era with the terrible image of the Twin Towers exploding. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a fighter pilot in the 1950s and a politician in the 1960s and 1970s, spoke of the analogy to the Cold War. This will be the bitter war, and in the eyes of Rumsfeld and his colleagues - and at the moment nine out of ten Americans who support their president's policy in public opinion polls - this is battle for life or death. Columbus, who merely wanted to reach India, was forced to turn around and sail to Asia.

Unlike the Cold War, between two nuclear super powers, a simple and straightforward fact started this one - this war began with a terrible death toll, a massive catastrophe, and not an academic exercise on calculating the relative utility of a blow to the enemy. There is no need to speculate what would happen if terrorists slammed a passenger plane into densely populated towers - it's already happened.

The hair-splitting over the ticking bomb, and when it is right to kill first he who carries that bomb and he who is above him in the chain of command, is superfluous when the ticking has stopped and the bomb has killed 6,000. This is what the legislator meant when he spoke of a near and present danger of a tangible attack.

This is now the hour of the self-defense democracy, and it is a freedom-lover, as embodied in the very name of the military operation, but do not get confused over the order of these values - it puts life before liberty, precisely according to Thomas Jefferson's winning order in the Declaration of Independence. The champion of human and civil rights, where there are no indentity cards out of fear of a tyranny of central government, does not hesitate to restrict freedoms of movement at this time of emergency.

In the spirit of international law and the Israel Defense Forces operations in the territories, Bush and Rumsfeld promise to act "as and when necessary," but do not mistake their words, they will stop at nothing to win the war. One of the methods, which also harks back to the Cold War, is to embrace local dictators, Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, who have control of intelligence, bases and access routes.

This is a deal with the devil - we will turn a blind eye to the contradiction between the flowery language of democracy and the reality in your awful country, and you will oppress your enemies, who are also our enemies.

There is also concern about possible upheavals in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt - the oil or military powers likely to turn against America, as Iran did, if the rulers fall from power. In contrast, when the war ends, it will be a prime time to achieve a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The finality that Ehud Barak demanded as a price of a pull-back to the lines of an agreement, will bring with it renewed delight. The world after the bitter war will not have room for escape clauses that will allow any sides to use terrorism as a means to improve their diplomatic gains.