"We are not waging a war on terror in this country. Were waging a war of terror. The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush!"--Cindy Sheehan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
October 7, 2002
Suddenly, a time to lead
By Bill Sammon
First of three parts
The United States launched its counterattack on Osama bin Laden's terror network in Afghanistan one year ago today. Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent for The Washington Times, tells the inside story of President Bush's war on terror in his new book, "Fighting Back" (Regnery).
"A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card leaned over and whispered these words into President Bush's right ear at 9:07 a.m. September 11.
"I looked at him, and that's all he said," Mr. Bush recalled months later, in a series of extensive interviews with The Washington Times in the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One. "Then he left. There was no time for discussion or anything."
The old phase of the Bush presidency 234 days of sparring on tax cuts, stem-cell research, media recounts of the Florida ballots was suddenly, irretrievably over.
Now there was this new phase, beginning incongruously inside a classroom in Sarasota, Fla., as the president watched a teacher put her second-graders through a reading drill.
"And I can't remember anything the lady was saying from that point on," Mr. Bush recalled. "I might have been looking at her, but I wasn't hearing.
"And my mind was registering what it meant to hear 'America is under attack' and to be the commander in chief of the country at that moment."
George W. Bush awoke that morning before dawn in a bed whose last famous occupant had been Al Gore. Blinking into consciousness, the president of the United States was alone in a massive, luxury penthouse suite at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on the island of Longboat Key, Fla.
To his left was a wall of windows overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, where a pair of heavily armed boats patrolled the murky surf. To his right was Sarasota Bay and, beyond it, the city of Sarasota, where he was scheduled to give an unremarkable speech on education reform.
Swaddled in the finest Frette linens and matching duvet, the president was stretched out on the same king-sized bed where Mr. Gore had slept nearly five years earlier, on the eve of his vice-presidential debate with Jack Kemp in nearby St. Petersburg.
As was his custom, Mr. Bush had gone to bed early after enjoying a relaxed Tex-Mex dinner with his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and a dozen other Republican officeholders, party leaders and aides.
The president swung his 6-foot frame out of bed and soon left the penthouse to begin a brisk, four and a half mile run at the neighboring golf course at 6:32 a.m.
He called out for Bloomberg News Service reporter Dick Keil, at the clubhouse in the press pool, to jog along with him on his second loop in the dark humidity. The two chatted about running, dogs, Little League baseball and off the record Washington politics.
"The representative of the press acquitted himself quite well," Mr. Bush announced as they returned.
"I was beggin' for mercy out there," Mr. Keil told his colleagues.
The president briefly bantered with the reporters before going back to his suite. He breakfasted on fresh berries and fruit juices, showered and put on a pale blue shirt, a crimson tie and a charcoal, two-button woolen suit.
He received his usual intelligence briefing, though not a just-completed staff report on how to dismantle the al Qaeda terrorist network headed by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.
Aides also updated the president on overnight political developments, including a thick sheaf of articles, columns and editorials from The Washington Times and other major newspapers.
The front page of The Washington Post hammered the White House on three favorite Democratic themes: tax cuts, arsenic levels in drinking water and a dearth of human stem cells for medical research.
The New York Times chose the "darkening economic outlook" as its top story for the fourth day in a row. "Pressure mounted on President Bush to drop his cautious approach to dealing with the weakening economy," it intoned.
"There's beginning to become an undercurrent in Washington that Bush was to blame, Bush's tax cuts were to blame for the deficit," Mr. Bush recalled of the time frame. "I was prepared to fully fight off criticism based upon the sound economic theory that a tax relief plan is good for actually restarting the economy."
An accident report
But on this Tuesday the president wanted to make progress on another top priority education reform. So after posing for pictures with resort maintenance man Kenneth Kufahl and local VIPs, he climbed into a Cadillac limousine and set out at 8:39 a.m. on the nine-mile trip to Emma E. Booker Elementary in Sarasota.
Soon the motorcade was on a causeway approaching the city. Sailboats lined the bay, a brilliant blue sky arced overhead and shimmering office towers rose in the distance.
What could possibly go wrong on a day such as this? It was 8:46 a.m.
Mr. Bush and his aides, including Mr. Card, arrived nine minutes later at the elementary school on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which police considered the most crime-infested street in the county.
"We're on time," the president remembered. "I like to stay on time; I like to be crisp."
Personal assistant Blake Gottesman gave him some final stage directions.
"'Here's what you're going to be doing; you're going to meet so-and-so, such-and-such,'" Mr. Bush recalled being told. "And Andy Card says, 'By the way, an aircraft flew into the World Trade Center.'
"And my first reaction was as an old pilot how could the guy have gotten so off course to hit the towers? What a terrible accident that is. The first report I heard was a light airplane, twin-engine airplane."
The president entered a holding room at the school and picked up a secure telephone to speak with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at the White House. She was sitting in her office, watching live coverage of the stricken north tower as it belched black smoke into a cloudless sky.
"There's one terrible pilot," Mr. Bush muttered.
Turning to Mr. Card, he speculated that the pilot must have suffered a heart attack. Mr. Bush, who had yet to see the TV images, drafted a statement pledging federal assistance.
He rejoined his hostess, Principal Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell. A black woman and a Democrat, she had voted 10 months earlier for Al Gore. Mrs. Tose-Rigell privately considered Mr. Bush a "phony."
Still, she was honored by the presidential visit, so she smiled, made introductions and led Mr. Bush into Sandra Kay Daniels' second-grade classroom.
The president's entrance set off a flurry of snapping and clicking from news photographers' cameras at the back: Ksht, ksht, ksht, ksht.
No alarm bells
"Good to meet you all," Mr. Bush said to the class after greeting Mrs. Daniels.
The president noticed a little girl over to his left, in the front row, her face frozen with fear. He stopped, cocked his head and drew back in a playful half-crouch.
"You OK?" he asked with a reassuring smile.
The petrified child nodded.
"That's good," Mr. Bush chuckled.
This seemed to break the ice and the entire room let out a relieved laugh.
"It's really exciting for me to be here," the president said. "I want to thank Ms. Daniels for being a teacher."
He gave her an expectant look, as if to say, "Well, take it away." He had been in the room for just under a minute, but he had a schedule to keep.
"This morning we do have a lesson that we've been preparing for you," Mrs. Daniels told the president.
"Good," Mr. Bush said, sounding pleased.
It was 9:03 a.m.
"Are you ready, my butterflies?" Mrs. Daniels asked her second-graders.
In a rapid-fire voice, the teacher began to command her pupils to sound out words "the fast way." The children responded like grunts in boot camp, calling out in clear, loud, unified voices.
As he watched, smiling, the president began to ponder the statement he would need to make about the plane crash.
"I was concentrating on the program at this point, thinking about what I was going to say," Mr. Bush told The Times. "Obviously, I felt it was an accident. I was concerned about it, but there were no alarm bells."
"Get ready to read all these words on this page without making a mistake," Mrs. Daniels was saying.
"Look at the letter at the end and remember the sound it makes. Get ready."
"Kite," the children said.
"Yes, kite," the teacher said. "Get ready to read this word the fast way. Get ready." "Kit."
Mr. Bush heard a noise behind him. It was the sound of a door closing, the door through which he had entered. Someone must have walked in, although he didn't bother looking. His eyes were on the reading drill.
"Sound it out," the teacher repeated, unsatisfied. "Get ready."
"Kit," the children said, still a little weakly.
"Kit!" they practically shouted.
Soon concluding the first half of the lesson, Mrs. Daniels instructed: "Boys and girls, pick your reader up from under your seat."
The children bent to retrieve their textbooks. In his peripheral vision, Mr. Bush noticed someone taking advantage of this pause to approach. He swiveled slightly to the right in his chair and was surprised to discover it was Mr. Card, who had not been in the room. His chief of staff was walking right up to him in the middle of a public event.
Didn't he realize the cameras of the national press corps were capturing this breach of protocol? Sure enough, the shutters came clattering to life: Ksht, ksht, ksht.
"Open your book up to lesson 60 on page 153," Mrs. Daniels went on, oblivious to the curious little drama being played out in her classroom at 9:07 a.m.
Now Mr. Card was leaning over to whisper something. The president cocked his head to listen. The shutters went into spasms: Ksht, ksht, ksht, ksht.
The children flipped through their books for the correct page. Mr. Bush's smile had vanished. Mr. Card's drew closer, his mouth inches from the president's right ear.
The tops of their heads were practically touching. Ksht, ksht, ksht, ksht, ksht.
Mr. Bush strained to hear. This had better be good.
Stanley Greenberg was in his element earlier that morning in Washington. Armed with a fresh sheaf of polling data, the Democratic pollster painted a gloomy picture indeed for one George W. Bush.
"In this poll, 45 percent say he's in over his head," Mr. Greenberg told the press corps at a breakfast meeting in the basement of the St. Regis Hotel on 16th Street NW. "There is a fundamental doubt about his competence.
"But they also want him to succeed," the pollster said with a trace of disappointment. "The public is not looking for a failed president."
James Carville, former political strategist for Bill Clinton and the media star among the three partners who ran the partisan Democracy Corps, jumped in to critique the new president's communication skills.
"Somethin' tells me that Bush ain't Clinton," Mr. Carville said with a laugh. "I mean, it's ... a strong power forward against a weak guard, and they don't match up."
"I feel so sorry for this poor guy, George Bush," broke in moderator Godfrey "Budge" Sperling, the 86-year-old columnist of the Christian Science Monitor who had hosted these "Sperling Breakfasts" for print reporters since 1966.
"I know," political consultant Bob Shrum, Democracy Corps' third partner, said gleefully.
"He's in terrible shape here," Mr. Sperling added with mild sarcasm.
"He's not formidable, politically," Mr. Greenberg said.
"You know, I certainly hope he doesn't succeed," Mr. Carville said. "I'm a partisan Democrat. But the average person wants him to succeed."
Mr. Carville, who took delight in his nicknames "Ragin' Cajun," "Corporal Cueball," "Serpenthead" insisted that the Bush presidency already was an abject failure.
"They're not succeeding in the economy. They're certainly not succeeding abroad," he said. "My line is: We're busted at home and distrusted around the world."
And, Mr. Carville pointed out, there was the possibility of some unforeseeable political calamity.
"What I learned during eight years with Clinton is: You always think that somethin's gonna blow you up one day," he said.
Mr. Carville didn't mean it literally, of course. But so deep was his antipathy toward the new president that he openly wished for something to blow up Mr. Bush politically. Never mind that his own wife, Mary Matalin, was a political aide to Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
"There's one thing Bush has never been able to do," Mr. Carville said. "The real skilled politicians are able to go take 10, 12 percent out of the other guy's pocket. The Reagan Democrats. And Clinton got the sort of suburban Republican women. I mean, they got all of their party and their ability was to draw a little bit from the other side.
"Bush has yet to instill any fear," Mr. Carville concluded. "He's yet to get one vote other than what he should be getting. And in fact some of those are startin' to have doubts. If he starts losing any of those voters, his political strength will be sapped bad."
Mr. Shrum's cell phone rang as Mr. Sperling brought the breakfast to a close. It was his assistant, who had instructions not to call unless it was an emergency.
Mr. Shrum was so dumbfounded by the words he was hearing that he repeated them aloud, for the benefit of everyone else: "A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center." The room froze.
"What kind of plane?" Mr. Shrum asked. "A 737!"
Other cell phones rang around the table. A reporter headed for the exit, followed by another. But most remained.
Mr. Greenberg's phone rang, then Mr. Shrum's again, with the news that a second plane had hit the other tower. It looked like a coordinated attack by terrorists.
Before anyone else could leave, Mr. Carville was on his feet.
The cynical strategist, who had just described Washington as "a city that operates on fear," suddenly felt a stab of worry about his wife in the White House this very moment and their two young daughters across town.
"Disregard everything we just said," Corporal Cueball commanded. "This changes everything."
The immediate job
"A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
"At the count of three," Mrs. Daniels was instructing her second-graders, blissfully unaware of what Mr. Card had whispered in the president's ear. "Everyone should be on page 163."
"The Pet Goat," the children recited as their teacher thumped her pen on her book to keep time with each syllable.
Mr. Bush absently picked up his copy of the reader from a pink easel. He glanced at the cover: a cuddly dragon surrounded by butterflies. Turning to the bookmarked page, he tried to follow along.
"A girl got a pet goat," the children recited.
"Go on," instructed Mrs. Daniels, thumping away.
As the children plowed through the story, the president kept gazing up, lost in a tumult of urgent thoughts. So the first plane crash had not been an accident after all. The second crash had proven that much.
A second plane hit the second tower. But what kind of plane? Another small, twin-engine job? Who were the pilots? Why had they done it? How many Americans had they killed?
"But the goat did some things that made the girl's dad mad."
"Let's clean that up," Mrs. Daniels said.
The president noticed someone moving at the back of the room. It was White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, maneuvering to catch his attention without alerting the press. Mr. Fleischer was holding up a legal pad.
Big block letters were scrawled on the cardboard backing: DON'T SAY ANYTHING YET. The remarks drafted earlier would be woefully inadequate.
"The goat ate things."
The president managed a wan smile at the teacher. He redoubled his efforts to appear as though he were concentrating. But it was no use.
Who could have perpetrated such a diabolical crime? No, this was more than a crime. Someone had suddenly declared war against the United States of America.
"Victory clicked into my mind," Mr. Bush told The Times. "The one thing that became certain is that we wouldn't let this stand. I mean, there was no question in my mind that we'd respond.
"I wasn't sure who the attacker was. But if somebody is going to attack America, I knew that my most immediate job was to protect America by finding him and getting them."
A new convert
The children reached the last line: "More to come."
"What does that mean?" the president asked. "'More to come?'"
Nearly all the children raised their hands. Mr. Bush pointed to a girl with braided hair tied in a ribbon. Something else was going to happen, she answered.
"That's exactly right," the president said, hoping this was not some ominous prophecy.
Mr. Bush lingered until an aide ushered the press out. He turned to the principal, Mrs. Tose-Rigell, and pulled her aside for the first private conversation in this new phase of his presidency.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "But a tragedy has occurred."
Mr. Bush told her of the second plane crash and explained that there would be no speech on education.
"I'm going to have to address some things," he said. "I really wish it would have been a different set of circumstances."
"I fully understand," Mrs. Tose-Rigell said.
The principal told the president how frantic she gets when one of her students doesn't arrive home right after school. She likened those in the World Trade Center to students for whom the president was responsible.
Mrs. Tose-Rigell sensed a transformation. The man she had viewed as a "phony" only minutes earlier was calmly apologizing for having to scrap his planned speech. She was astonished by Mr. Bush's sincerity, especially since he hadn't had time to gather his wits in private.
"That's not something that you can fake," the principal said later. "I'm telling you, I was very impressed. I don't know what spurred him on. I don't know if he tapped into his faith. I don't know if there were people around the country praying for him.
"But at that moment in time, he was very, very composed. All I can say is he looked very presidential."
Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell, inner-city principal and Gore Democrat, became the first of many observers across America and around the world to conclude that George W. Bush somehow was changed profoundly by the terrible events of September 11.
"From that point on," she said, "I was a convert."
Finding the words
Returning to the holding room, where he first saw television images from New York, the president talked by phone with the vice president, who was in his White House office with Miss Rice and Miss Matalin, wife of Mr. Carville.
"One thing for certain," Mr. Bush said later, "I needed to get out of where I was."
But the president also realized he would have to make a statement. Mr. Fleischer and Communications Director Dan Bartlett hastily drafted one. Mr. Bush, taking a Sharpie fine-point marker from the inside pocket of his jacket, put it in his own words by scribbling on three sheets of crinkly white paper.
In the school library, the press corps and his scheduled audience waited. Some close to the podium were unaware of what had happened.
The president emerged from behind a blue curtain just before 9:30 a.m. He gestured for the applauding audience to sit down. His expression was grave, tense, almost pained.
"Thank you," Mr. Bush said, before the applause subsided. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America."
October 8, 2002
By Bill Sammon
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Part 2 of 3
Maureen Dowd used her column in the New York Times to mock a widely circulated photo of President Bush speaking by telephone to Vice President Richard B. Cheney from Air Force One during the unfolding crisis of September 11.
Mr. Bush, the columnist wrote of the White House photo, was "nervously inquiring of his adult supervisor, 'Hey, Dick, is it safe to come home yet?'"
Miss Dowd added contemptuously: "This 'heroic' image captures the shaky hours before the president found his footing and his mission in life, a day of blank fear when Washington received no guidance from its leaders."
Mr. Bush refused to let most such criticism get to him, though he was stung a bit by some of the harsher comments about his movements during the initial "fog of war," as he called it.
"It was a momentary bother" that critics were "somehow questioning my courage in the face of danger," Mr. Bush said in a series of extensive interviews with The Washington Times about September 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism.
But Mr. Bush shrugged off such detractors as "elites, these kind of professor types that love to read their names in the newspapers."
Throughout the day of September 11, the president in fact heeded the cautious advice of Mr. Cheney, his aides and the head of his Secret Service detail while telling them repeatedly that he wanted to return to Washington.
Mr. Bush finally did so at his own insistence less than 10 hours after the second airliner struck the World Trade Center, and soon addressed the nation from the Oval Office.
But some Democrats, and journalists like Miss Dowd, would all but accuse the president of cowardice for not returning sooner from what was supposed to be a humdrum trip to Florida to pitch his education reforms especially after a threat against Air Force One turned out to be a false alarm.
"I can't remember the exact quotes or who they were now it's just faded," Mr. Bush said in one of the interviews in the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One. "They're obscure people. Most of those quotes weren't able to escape through my defensive systems; I wouldn't let them in."
Members of Congress and Democratic strategists were among the carpers.
"I don't buy the notion Air Force One was a target," said Rep. Martin Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat. "That's just PR, that's just spin."
Paul Begala, White House counselor to President Clinton, was more blunt.
"He didn't come home for 10 hours 10 hours, when all the planes were accounted for," Mr. Begala said on CNN. "And he gave us some cock-and-bull story about Air Force One being under attack."
Such criticism angered Mr. Cheney and Bush aides, although the president didn't respond at the time at least not publicly.
"I knew full well that I had made the absolutely right decision, and history would record that," Mr. Bush recalled. "When the president is under threat, one thing for the good of the country is you want to remove the president from the immediate threat.
"There's nothing worse for a country having been attacked than a destabilized presidency," he said. "It would make matters a lot worse."
'We're at war'
The president got his first look at the burning World Trade Center towers on a television that had been rolled in on a cart and hooked up for him in a holding room at Emma Booker Elementary School in a poor, crime-ridden section of Sarasota, Fla.
The president sat at a table with his ear pressed to a telephone while he spoke over a secure line to the White House. He craned to watch the sickening images from clear across the room.
"I told Ari to take notes," Mr. Bush recalled months later in an interview with The Times, referring to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "I wanted Ari to have a full understanding of what he saw and my reactions to that.
"I recognized that a lot of this was going to end up being such a blur that I wouldn't have an accurate accounting."
The first airplane hit the north tower at 8:46 a.m., as the president's motorcade crossed the John Ringling Causeway on the way to Booker Elementary from the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key.
The second plane crashed into the south tower at 9:03, a minute after the president stepped inside a classroom to watch a teacher put her second-graders through a reading drill before his scheduled speech.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had informed the president of the first, seemingly accidental crash just as Mr. Bush arrived at the school. Then, at 9:07, Mr. Card entered the classroom and seized a pause in the reading drill to walk up to Mr. Bush's seat.
"A second plane hit the second tower," he whispered into the president's right ear. "America is under attack."
From the holding room off the school's portico, Mr. Bush talked first over the secure line with Mr. Cheney back at the White House. The vice president had watched the second crash on live TV in his West Wing office. He was huddled there with Miss Rice, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby and political adviser Mary Matalin.
"First of all, we had to figure out what we were going to do and where we were going to make decisions from," Mr. Bush recalled.
"I didn't spend that much time about my own safety," the president added, "because I knew others were worried about that. What I was interested in is making sure that the response mechanism that was under my control was sharp and ready to go. And that meant defense, for starters."
Mr. Bush also called FBI Director Robert Mueller, then on the job all of six days. The FBI already suspected Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the Islamic radical who led the al Qaeda terrorist network.
The president then consulted with New York Gov. George E. Pataki. He hung up and turned to the top aides present Mr. Card, Mr. Fleischer, chief political adviser Karl Rove and White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett.
"We're at war," Mr. Bush announced.
A sense of calm
The president gathered up his scribbled notes, got to his feet and headed for the school library to make his first public remarks on the attacks in New York.
"I remember I had to convince myself to be as calm and resolute as possible, because I knew people were watching," Mr. Bush recalled.
"I can be an emotional guy. And I was worried, emotional, about loss of life, because the magnitude of what had happened had come home. And at the same time, I knew I needed to send a sense of, you know, calm in the face of what could be panic. And I think I was able to achieve that.
"Usually when I get up at these things, at these big events, I just kind of let 'er go and hope for the best. This moment, I was conscious of what was going to happen, because I was feeling emotions inside me.
"I was not doubtful. I was firm in what I knew we needed to do."
It was just after 9:30 a.m. The president unfolded his hands and straightened three sheets of hand-scrawled notes that he had spread on the podium in the school library. He folded his hands again and looked back up at his audience.
"Today, we've had a national tragedy," Mr. Bush said, tersely informing the crowd of 200 students, parents, educators and local dignitaries that he would be "going back to Washington" instead of giving his planned speech.
"Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country," Mr. Bush said.
Gasps and murmurs rippled through the audience.
Mr. Bush's short announcement included this choice of words: "Terrorism against our nation will not stand."
The words instantly recalled his father's promise, issued when he was president more than a decade earlier, that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait "will not stand."
'A fog of war'
The new president's own firmness would be tested in the minutes and hours that followed. His limousine barreled away toward the city airport at 9:34 a.m. As the motorcade swung up to Air Force One at 9:43 a.m., he learned that a third jetliner had slammed into the Pentagon.
Mr. Bush headed directly to his private cabin near the front of the plane. He promptly ordered additional protection for his 19-year-old twin daughters Barbara at Yale and Jenna at the University of Texas whom he later described as "freaked out" by the attacks. He also increased security for first lady Laura Bush, who was on Capitol Hill to testify at a hearing on education.
"I was worried for my wife," Mr. Bush recalled, "until I called her and heard her voice."
The president was bombarded by a flurry of urgent reports, not all of them true, as Air Force One sped toward Washington.
"There is a fog of war," he said. "At this point, the information was sketchy, and the facts were just flying at us. You know: Attack on the State Department. Plane aimed for the White House. Crash. We actually had a threat, potential threat on the ranch. I mean, we were hearing all kinds of things."
Between phone calls and grave discussions with aides, he saw the televised images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing. He learned that a fourth plane, possibly bound for Washington, had crashed in Pennsylvania. There was even a seemingly credible threat against Air Force One.
The Secret Service and Mr. Cheney emphatically urged Mr. Bush to divert to a military base until the crisis could be brought under control. At length, the president reluctantly agreed, and his plane swung toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
"I'll never forget looking out the airplane and seeing the F-16s on our wing," Mr. Bush recalled. "I was very worried about the nation. I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. We just didn't know."
At Barksdale, the tarmac teemed with camouflaged soldiers in full battle gear, brandishing M-16s as they scrambled to set up a perimeter around Air Force One.
"Hey, hey! Get to that wingtip!" an officer shouted to an underling. "Move to that wingtip NOW!"
A Humvee outfitted with a machine gun turret escorted the president's motorcade.
"I'll never forget getting in a car and going about 150 miles an hour," Mr. Bush recalled. "I thought the most dangerous part of the whole day was driving across the tarmac, these guys with guns strapped on them."
Eye on the ball
By noon the press was clamoring for the president to address the nation with reassuring words.
The president was in complete agreement as he conferred with Mr. Cheney by phone and with aides in an upstairs office at Eighth Air Force headquarters at Barksdale.
"I think it's important for people to see the government is functioning," he told aides, adding: "We're going to get the bastards."
Mr. Bush called the enemy a "faceless coward" in tape-delayed remarks made at 12:36 p.m. before news cameras in a conference room.
"Make no mistake," he said in a statement the world first heard at 1:04. "The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts."
Media critics faulted the president's delivery from a then-unknown location as halting, but he was markedly more animated away from the cameras.
"I can't wait to find out who did it," Mr. Bush told the base commander two minutes later. "It's going to take a while. And we're not gonna have a little slap-on-the-wrist crap."
On the phone again with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the president said: "It's a day of national tragedy, and we'll clean up the mess. And then the ball will be in your court and Dick Meyers' court to respond."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers was the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The president reboarded Air Force One within a half hour, reluctantly bound for Strategic Command headquarters at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska.
"We need to get back to Washington," the president groused again at 2:58 p.m. to the head of his Secret Service detail. "We don't need some tinhorn terrorist to scare us off. The American people want to know where their dang president is."
Mr. Bush and his entourage descended to an underground bunker at Offut, where he conducted a meeting of the National Security Council at 4 p.m. in a secure videoteleconference.
One of the faces on the video screens was that of CIA Director George J. Tenet, who had dispatched agents to pull his son out of Gonzaga College High School near the Capitol, an act that unnerved students and teachers. School officials had just decided against evacuation.
After the meeting, over the protestations of the Secret Service, Mr. Bush announced he was returning to Washington.
"We're going home," he said to his staff as he stepped out into the hallway at 4:15.
He called Mrs. Bush at her "secure location" after Air Force One took off at 4:36.
"I'm coming home," he told the first lady. "See you at the White House.
"I love you," he added. "Go on home."
By this point the president felt comfortable enough to joke about the level of safety they could expect at home.
"If I'm in the White House and there's a plane coming my way, all I can say is I hope I read my Bible that day," Mr. Bush, a devout Christian, joshed to aides.
The president wandered the plane in his shirtsleeves, pausing at each cabin to chat and hoping his presence would reassure other passengers.
He lingered in the Secret Service cabin, kidding with the agents a bit. While speaking to one agent, he jerked his thumb toward another in an exaggerated gesture and pulled a funny face.
The president next leaned into the press cabin, where White House stenographer Ellen Eckert had worried herself to a frazzle.
"Hey, sir," she said.
"Hey," Mr. Bush said. "How you doing?"
"Fine," she replied. "Uh, were you able to reach Mrs. Bush?"
The president walked up and put his arm around her shoulder.
"I just talked to her," he said, patting the stenographer. "Thanks for asking."
As Miss Eckert's eyes filled with tears, something unusual happened. Normally, when a president ventures back to the press cabin, reporters crowd around and grill him until an aide cuts off questions.
But on this visit, Mr. Bush was alone. And instead of interrogating the president about the cataclysmic developments, the journalists wanted to know how he was holding up.
"How are your spirits, sir?" Associated Press photographer Doug Mills asked.
As Mr. Bush began to answer, he noticed CBS cameraman George Christian filming him. The president held up a hand and shook his head to signify he did not want this conversation recorded. Mr. Christian swung the camera away and turned it off.
"We're gonna get those bastards," Mr. Bush vowed. "No thug is gonna bring our country down."
He noticed AP correspondent Sonya Ross typing this quote into her laptop computer.
"Hey," he said with a glare. "That's off the record."
Miss Ross agreed, and the president decided it was time to go.
"I gotta get back to work," he said.
As he headed to the front of the plane he heard more unusual words from the assembled press: "Keep your chin up." "We're thinking of you." Even "We're praying."
What people want
The president paused in the senior staff cabin to talk with press wrangler Gordon Johndroe.
"I just went back to the press cabin," Mr. Bush remarked casually, then assured the horrified aide: "I didn't say anything."
Mr. Bush could tell Mr. Johndroe was barely holding his emotions in check. He decided the stressed-out loyalist needed a little levity.
"I think we're gonna be too busy to do that 'Day in the Life' next week," Mr. Bush deadpanned, referring to plans for NBC News to follow him around for a day.
"Yes, sir," Mr. Johndroe replied with a weak smile. "I don't think there's any point in doing that."
As the plane neared Andrews Air Force base around 6:30, the Secret Service said it might be safer for Mr. Bush to complete the final leg of his journey via motorcade, not helicopter.
"I'm landing on the South Lawn in Marine One," the president replied. "People want to see me land on the South Lawn at the White House and go into the Oval Office, OK?"
He boarded the helicopter, which the pilot flew close to the Pentagon so the president could see the damage. Smoke billowed from a gash five stories high and 150 feet wide.
"The mightiest building in the world is on fire," Mr. Bush muttered, staring out a side window. "That's the 21st-century war you've just witnessed."
The green-and-white helicopter crossed the Potomac and the Tidal Basin, then swung back around the Washington Monument.
The sun still illuminated the tops of the stately trees surrounding the South Lawn as Marine One descended to the gloom of the grass at 6:54 p.m. The president never thought he would be so relieved to see the White House again.
"I knew we were going to get back there," he said. "It was just a matter of making sure."
October 9, 2002
Soothing the soul, rousing the spirit
By Bill Sammon
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Part 3 of 3
A funereal rain fell as President Bush slipped inside the English oak doors of the National Cathedral.
He was led into a small sacristy, where the heavy chains of iron chandeliers cast strange shadows across gothic arches. On an easel set up at one end, church officials sketched out the logistics of the unprecedented service that was about to begin.
Mr. Bush had declared this day Sept. 14, 2001 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. He would be delivering his first formal speech since September 11 and hoped it would be a turning point for a grieving nation. But the president also realized that this hastily organized service needed to strike the right note.
The cathedral's head verger, Stephen Lott, explained that he would lead Mr. Bush to the pulpit when it came time for his speech.
"No," the president said. "I want to go by myself."
The trick for the president was to talk about the nation's grief without wallowing in it. At the same time, he wanted to stir America to action without seeming insensitive.
"I prayed a lot before the speech because I felt like it was a moment where I needed, well, frankly, for the good Lord to shine through," Mr. Bush told The Washington Times in one of a series of extensive interviews in the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One about September 11 and its aftermath.
Seven carefully selected religious leaders including a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imam and a Catholic bishop preceded the president in addressing the diplomats, military officers, captains of industry, congressmen, Supreme Court justices and former presidents gathered beneath the cathedral's 150-foot-high ceiling.
The last of the preachers to speak was the Rev. Billy Graham, the world-famous evangelist who had changed Mr. Bush's life 16 years earlier by inspiring him to turn to Jesus Christ and, eventually, away from the bottle. As the 82-year-old Mr. Graham finished his message and struggled down the nine steps, someone in the first pew stood up and began clapping loudly.
Bush administration officials were mortified to discover that the person leading what was now a standing ovation was former President Bill Clinton. They considered this a contemptible breach of protocol. If anyone should lead a standing ovation at this service, it should be President Bush.
White House aides were furious that the notoriously self-absorbed former president would draw attention to himself. Mr. Bush nonetheless stood to join the ovation.
Determined to deliver
Shortly it was the president's turn to take the podium.
"We are here in the middle hour of our grief," he began, in a firm voice that seemed to fill the cathedral. "We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who love them."
Mr. Bush later told The Times: "I usually am the kind of speaker that tries to connect with the audience to see how I am doing. Frankly, if I see somebody that doesn't think I'm doing well, I'll switch to another person.
"And I saw I can't remember her name one of the press advance girls, who was just weeping. I felt that I wasn't going to be able to deliver completely deliver the speech."
Searching for another focal point, Mr. Bush dared not gaze at the first pew.
"My biggest concern was looking at my parents," he recalled. "If I looked down at my mother and dad, and they'd be weeping, then I'd weep.
"And so I didn't look at them. And I, you know, didn't look at much."
But the president ably delivered the carefully crafted speech, closing with an appeal to faith from Scripture (Romans 8:38-39): "As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, can separate us from God's love."
No one clapped as the president finished and walked back to take his seat in complete silence. Mr. Clinton's eyes were pinned on Mr. Bush.
First lady Laura Bush, smiling serenely and looking straight ahead, discreetly patted her husband's leg eight or nine times with the back of her hand.
"It was a touching moment," Mr. Bush said.
The 16 uniformed members of the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters led the singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the accompaniment of trumpets and the 10,600-pipe Great Organ.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, considered such a tough guy that the Texas Republican is nicknamed "The Hammer," was among many in tears while singing these words: He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
Smoke, ash and emotion
The president would struggle with his emotions again a few hours later as he arrived in Lower Manhattan for a tour of ground zero. He halted the motorcade when he noticed a dozen ash-caked firemen lined up in their gear and oxygen tanks.
Mr. Bush hopped out and walked over to greet the firefighters. When he got to the fourth one a big, burly guy the president stopped. Two enormous tears rolled down the brute's cheeks. Mr. Bush reached out and cupped the fireman's face in his hand.
The scene prompted other grown men to break down. One was Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, himself a former fireman.
Minutes later, the president pulled up at ground zero as a fighter jet roared overhead. He waded into a sea of police, firefighters, paramedics and rescue workers, a motley crew of mostly unshaven men wearing haggard expressions and filthy clothing.
"It was so surreal," Mr. Bush recalled. "Smoke coming out it was like a movie set, except it was real. It was unbelievable. It was gray. It was ash. And there was slosh all over the ground, and soot, and emotion."
As he moved from man to man, the president clapped each on the shoulder or draped an arm around him. He briefly donned a fireman's hat.
"God bless you," he heard the men say. "We're proud of you."
One called out: "Don't let 'em get away with it, George!"
Mr. Bush had not prepared any formal remarks, yet the workers seemed eager to hear from their president. For every hardhat he thanked in person, hundreds more were jostling for a glimpse. They pressed in from all sides.
Secret Service security protocols went out the window. The setting itself was dangerous. Fires burned beneath the rubble. Smoke was everywhere. The place was shrouded in a toxic haze. Underground cavities were collapsing. Badly damaged buildings threatened to topple at any moment.
To bring a sitting president into such a volatile environment was unprecedented.
To complicate matters, Mr. Bush was trailed by New York's congressional delegation. White House officials noted with dismay that Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, seemed to be maneuvering into camera shots. They thought the hulking lawmaker was getting in the way of the Secret Service, which already was on edge.
One Bush aide told Mr. Nadler three times to give the president some space.
"I'm a U.S. congressman," Mr. Nadler protested.
"I don't give a [expletive] who you are," the aide shot back.
'I can hear you'
The president seemed oblivious to the dustup. He felt somehow protected as he moved among these rough-hewn men who kept calling him by his first name.
His presence seemed to stir their weary souls into an excitement that verged on rowdiness, especially among the ironworkers.
Nina Bishop, on the White House advance team, could sense it. She approached Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, and Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, and suggested that the president speak to the hardhats as a group.
Miss Bishop darted into tents erected by rescue agencies and utilities until she found a bullhorn to borrow. She discovered the bullhorn did not work very well when she blew into the mouthpiece, but the president was nearing the spot where Mr. Rove and Mr. Card had decided he should speak. So she hustled over and passed the bullhorn up to the president.
Mr. Bush, standing atop a crushed firetruck with an arm around a startled veteran fireman named Bob Beckwith, at first had trouble making himself heard.
"We can't hear you!" the hardhats shouted.
The president pulled the bullhorn closer to his lips and pumped up his voice.
"I can hear you," he yelled, prompting laughter, cheers and whistles.
"I can hear you," the president repeated, holding one finger aloft.
"The rest of the world hears you," he said, extending two fingers and pointing behind him at the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
"And the people," he began, interrupted by more clapping and cheers.
"And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" Mr. Bush vowed, jabbing his index finger in the air. A God-given moment
"YEAAAHHH!" the men roared.
They punched their fists skyward and let loose with war whoops. When one began barking like a dog, others took up the cry: "WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!"
The catharsis was extraordinary. After three days of grimly digging bits of their brethren from this filthy, smoldering slag heap, the workers were overflowing with righteous indignation.
It was as if the commander in chief had given them permission to vent the rage and frustration and sorrow coursing through their exhausted bodies and shell-shocked brains.
Mr. Bush lifted the bullhorn to his lips. He was about to say something more when a voice rang out: "USA! USA!" Someone else picked up the chant: "USA! USA!"
In a heartbeat, the whole lot of them were throwing back their heads and roaring lustily: "USA! USA! USA! USA!"
Mr. Bush dropped the bullhorn to his side. He never before had witnessed such an overt, spontaneous display of raw patriotism. These were not the same tired, disaffected men who had begun to heckle him moments earlier. These were patriots the go-for-broke sort that America hadn't seen in 60 years.
The president and his speechwriters had spent so much time crafting his address for the VIPs back at the National Cathedral. His aides had been so worried about striking just the right note.
And now here he was firing off a few impromptu remarks through a defective bullhorn to a bunch of hard-core New York union workers virtually all of them Democrats who probably had voted for Al Gore.
Yet in this imperfect, electrifying moment, the nation seemed to come alive again.
"It was one of those defining moments in American history," Mr. Bush recalled. "It was just one of those spontaneous things where it just popped right out. It wasn't planned, it wasn't thought about, it wasn't scripted. It just happened.
"And maybe that's the way it should be," he added. "The American people don't like to be kind of fooled. They don't want script, particularly in these moments. I believe they want feeling and emotion and honesty honesty isn't the right word, but honest feeling.
"It was just one of those God-given moments where it worked out fine because it sent the right kind of message to the country."
Hoping against hope
The president handed off the bullhorn and headed back to the truncated motorcade, which drove him three miles north to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for a meeting with several hundred people who had lost loved ones in the attacks.
"I don't want any press in here," Mr. Bush instructed a White House staffer. "I don't want a lot of elected officials in here. We're not gonna make a spectacle out of this."
The president began greeting anguished family members, all of whom had gut-wrenching stories.
"It was hard," Mr. Bush recalled. "Everybody felt like their loved one was alive at this point. And I had just come from a scene of incredible devastation."
More than 72 hours had passed since the attacks. Although the hardhats technically were conducting a "rescue" operation, it was becoming an effort to recover bodies.
Yet many of these family members refused to give up hope. They wanted the president to see and hold photos of their missing.
"I came up with a formula as to how to deal with that," Mr. Bush recalled. "And that was to say: 'Let me sign this for you, and when you get Bill back, or Joe back, or John back, you tell him he's not going to believe that you saw the president, and this will be proof.'
"That was kind of my way of saying, you know, 'I'm with you, I hope you're right,' and at the same time, kind of add a little humor," he explained. "There's something about the presidency not necessarily the president, but the presidency which brings out kind of a predictable response. People want their picture, people want their autograph in times of happiness and in mourning. And so, we had a lot of pictures taken, and a lot of signing of autographs."
Ravaged by sorrow and sleep deprivation, some of those in the enclosure literally were holding up one another as the president methodically made his way through the crowd.
"My son is a Marine," one said. "If anybody can get out, he can."
A woman asked the president to sign a picture of her husband. He complied and she tucked the photo into her purse.
"I'm sure we're gonna get him out of there," Mr. Bush assured her. "We're gonna get him out."
A beefy guy carried a small child, 4 or 5 years old, who pointed to a picture of the man's brother and announced, "That's my daddy."
A son's shield
The raw emotion was overwhelming. Again and again, the president asked to be told about their loved ones. Again and again, he listened and cried and hugged them. Almost everyone was weeping.
"I wept with family members, I hugged dads," Mr. Bush said. "I was supposed to be there for, like, 30 minutes. We stayed for a couple of hours. And it was the right thing to do. I saw every single person there."
A 9-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother were so nervous about meeting the president that they clung to their mother. The boy summoned his courage and approached, clutching a brown teddy bear in one hand and a photo of his father in the other.
The president looked at the department-issue photo of a fireman in uniform and asked for the father's name. He signed it and handed it back.
The boy looked at the picture and sobbed. Mr. Bush reached out, hugged the boy around the head and waist, and pulled him close. He held him for a long time.
Families stood in clusters and respectfully kept their distance while others were comforted by the president. After nearly two hours, he had met with just about everyone in the room.
An elegantly dressed woman sat off to one side, though. She was surrounded by several grown sons and a variety of grandchildren, all wearing suits and ties.
Mr. Bush, who knew it was time to leave, approached them. The woman introduced herself as Arlene Dillon, mother of a New York City police officer named George Howard. She pressed something into the president's hand, closing her palm over his.
"This is my son's shield," she said quietly, as the president leaned close. "It was on him and I want you to have it, just to remember. My son would want you to have it, too."
Mr. Bush took the shield, unearthed by the bucket brigades, and put it in his pocket. The woman beamed at him.
Winds of war
It was dark by the time the president departed the convention center. His motorcade headed north on 12th Avenue and turned east on 42nd Street. The sidewalks were filled with people, five and six deep, clutching candles and signs: "God bless America," "God bless the USA," "God bless you, President Bush."
The crowd grew denser as the motorcade progressed. There were thousands and thousands of candles.
People lined up 40 deep in Times Square, many weeping. As the president's limousine approached, a great roar filled the air, rising high above the motorcade to a giant neon news ticker scrolling the latest headline: "BUSH CALLS UP 50,000 RESERVISTS."
The winds of war were blowing through Times Square.
The president's helicopter soon lifted him over the ocean and on to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. As Mr. Bush walked across the tarmac to board Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer intercepted him to say that Congress had just voted to authorize the use of force.
The resolution passed the Senate 98-0 and the House 420-1. The lone dissenter was Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, a leftist radical from Berkeley. Mr. Fleischer had drafted a presidential reaction for the press and needed Mr. Bush to sign off on it.
"I am gratified that the Congress has united so powerfully by taking this action," the statement said. "It sends a clear message our people are together, and we will prevail."
Mr. Bush approved the statement. The two men talked about his meeting with the families. The president said he felt "whipped" by the emotionally draining experience, not to mention the rest of a long day that had begun with a difficult speech about "the middle hour of our grief."
And now Friday, Sept. 14, was ending with Congress uniting behind the president's desire to unleash the "terrible swift sword" of the U.S. military. Yes, Mr. Bush felt whipped, but he also felt good, he confided to his press secretary.
Mr. Bush knew that September 11 was the day everyone would remember. But as far as the president was concerned, Sept. 14 was nearly as important.
It was the day that America began to shake off despair and set about the task at hand fighting back.
Idiotic Wilkes-Barre blogger's note: Just in case you're interested, Michael Moore-on hadn't a clue as to what the muck he was yammering on and on about with that grotesque hatchet job of a movie of his. His cleverly edited series of cheap shots are easily refuted, if not soundly laughed at by the interested folks who bother to do their homework.
Consider the title of the book Bush was supposedly reading from, My Pet Goat.
The indisputable fact of the matter is, the name of the book read from that fateful morning was, Reading Mastery 2. And the lesson plan read aloud was, The Pet Goat.
But for the purposes of embarrassing a sitting Republican president, My Pet Goat was much more damning and much more hilarious for the leftist myrmidons than the actual title of the book, Reading Mastery 2.
But why split hairs when discussing the incessant insanity emanating from the far-left lunatic fringe.
Truth? That's a concept they seem totally incapable of getting their denuded minds around.
So you know.
P.S.--Cindy Sheehan is an asshole.