WASHINGTON - Until Oct. 3, the Bush administration had achieved nearly perfect pitch in the war against terror.
Along with Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush had captured, in word and deed, the magnitude of the life or death struggle we now face against Islamo-fascism.
Mr. Bush promised in his speech before Congress that in fighting terror he would not "tire," he would not "falter," he would not "fail." He has faltered already.
Saying now - now - that the United States supports the idea of a Palestinian state is to reward our enemies.
Isn't that obvious? How do they suppose this change in American policy - no administration has formally declared itself for a Palestinian state - will be greeted by the Islamists?
Simple. It's success. Slaughter 7,000 Americans and get an immediate change in foreign policy.
Yasser Arafat's confederates have attacked the heart of the United States. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, al-Qaida - they are all of a piece. They are all Islamic homicidal criminals, and they are all welcome in the Palestinian-controlled areas.
Mr. Arafat himself has engaged in a yearlong series of terror attacks against Israel (the only nation to declare a day of mourning on our behalf), exactly like that Osama bin Laden sent against us.
Americans hear only about the suicide bombers who succeed in Israel. But almost weekly, Israelis hear of attempts being thwarted. They have been bombed in shopping malls and cafes, on the streets and in their homes. A baby girl was shot as she played in her father's arms. And a suicide bomber aimed for and killed whole families when he detonated his load in a Jerusalem pizzeria.
Further, Mr. Arafat has preached jihad ceaselessly, while offering the territory he controls as a training ground for the most vile murderers. He calls them "martyrs." He has so poisoned the minds of his people with anti-Israeli and anti-American propaganda that the Palestinians danced in the streets when they heard of the Sept. 11 atrocity.(Palestinians celebrated in several cities, and the Associated Press filmed a demonstration of about 4,000 in Nablus, a Palestinian town on the West Bank. But that film was never aired because the Palestinian Authority threatened AP that "they could not guarantee the life of the photographer" if the film were broadcast.) Seventy-five percent of the Palestinian population approves of suicide bombings.
And for this, Mr. Arafat is to be rewarded with a change in American policy in his favor? Bin Laden, too, is eager for a change in U.S. policy toward Israel. Even if all the arguments for supporting Israel were wrong, that fact alone would be reason enough not to do what the Bush administration has done.
The weak-minded, and this very much includes the State Department, say, "We must stop the cycle of violence." One would have thought, after Sept. 11, that we would hear that pathetic bleat no longer. In point of fact, the Israelis have been restrained in their responses. But respond they must, no less than we.
It is likely that Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are hoping to pacify our "moderate" Arab allies with talk of a Palestinian state. But Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a few other regimes were already lined up. They are even more vulnerable, for a whole series of reasons starting with their regimes' inherent illegitimacy, than we to the terrorist threat.
Now is the time for the United States to demonstrate clear and implacable leadership, not "sensitivity" to the ferocious hatreds these Arab regimes have often helped stoke. And before this struggle is over, it is the Arab regimes, not Israel, that should feel the sting of American "pressure" to change their policies - to liberalize, to democratize and to institute the rule of law.
In Nablus, there is now a museum dedicated to the Sbarro pizzeria bombing. Palestinian tourists line up to see a mock-up of the Jerusalem restaurant as it looked minutes after the explosion - blood on the walls and floor, body parts scattered on tables and chairs.
The people who built that museum have won a victory. But it is not just Israel that has suffered a blow. It is we, and the cause that until a few days ago seemed so clear.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.