In 100 hours, George Bush and his band of able assistants restored America's can-do spirit.

Less than a week ago, the thrill of the air war had ebbed. The confused Soviet peace proposals seemed to be puncturing the coalition's steamroller. The prospect of Americans dying in droves in the desert was on everyone's lips.But not Bush's.

His confidence that the war would be over "very, very soon" and without great loss of American lives never wavered.

As soon as Bush got the word from his generals that the long-feared ground war would be easier than expected, he told them to go ahead. It was over in fewer than five days.

Bush defied the experts - and Saddam Hussein - who had predicted Americans would not tolerate another war. He staked out a moral case for halting aggression, stayed firmly rooted to it and gradually watched his approval rating ease up to 85 percent. It's probably still rising.

He created a feeling of pride in America's prowess abroad that had waned since the sorry days of the Vietnam War.

Throughout the prime-time war, Americans were inspired by intelligent, intent faces of its best and brightest young men and women doing their jobs with competence in far-off deserts with strange-sounding names.

They cheered as weapons - that came with huge price tags, tangled histories and odd combinations of numbers and letters and oxymoronic nicknames - worked and saved lives.

In the end, Bush's critics retreated in shame-faced silence as he declared victory over a demolished tyrant.

Bush's supporters - tear-stained Kuwaitis lining the streets of their pillaged capital as U.S. military vehicles rolled in, relieved leaders of 27 other countries who risked political careers to follow his lead - rejoiced.

The peace demonstrators, who struggled to find words and images for their opposition, faded away.

A generation which had seen America stalemated in Korea, humiliated in Vietnam, cocky in Grenada, puzzled by Panama and struggling to keep up with the new economic Wunderkinder on the block had a sense of moral self-righteousness.

It felt good to win.

Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., the House's defense whiz, when asked if the United States had made any military blunders in the war, shook his head. He couldn't think of one, he said. "It looks like a fabulous piece of work."

Most Americans aren't quite sure what Bush's "new world order" means. It seems to be a fond, utopian vision of democracies, new and old, marching off together toward peaceful resolution of conflict.

A lot of people complained that this seemed to mean nothing when push came to shove in the gulf. But nobody could fault Bush for his determination to win a swift and decisive victory when he saw his new world order threatened.

At 66, Bush has spent a lifetime watching the way countries interact and misinterpret each other. As an 18-year-old fighter pilot, he was shot down over the Pacific, partly because, he came to believe, Adolf Hitler was appeased for too long.

The old Navy man vowed it wouldn't happen on his watch.

Bush can be blamed for his realpolitik belief that Saddam was worth supporting during the Iran-Iraq war. He can be faulted for not seeing quickly enough before Aug. 2 that Saddam was a first-class threat who could not be believed or trusted.

Bush can even be criticized for letting too many Americans think the war was about the price of a gallon of gasoline and not explaining clearly enough why stopping Saddam was vital.

But when it was time to right a wrong, Bush acted with finesse, fortitude and finality.

He surrounded himself with first-rate people and let them do their jobs. He never shirked from the tough calls.

The war was a tragedy. While 79 Americans gave their lives, thousands of other people died, including children. The lives of countless others have been changed forever.

But it was fought for the just and moral cause of freeing the enslaved, brutalized people of a helpless country.

The war had a movie-script happy ending: The good guys won, and a supporting cast of millions felt the future looked a lot better than they had hoped.