Former US president George W. Bush’s memoirs reveal the reasons behind some of the controversial decisions he made while in office, including his fumbled reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks.
George W. Bush’s memoirs reveal the reasons behind some of the his controversial decisions while in office.
ON the fateful September day nine years ago, George W. Bush’s first inkling of the unfolding tragedy came as he walked into a classroom in Florida to read to a group of young children.
“On the short walk from the motorcade to the classroom, Karl Rove (deputy chief of staff) mentioned that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. That sounded strange. I envisioned a little propeller plane horribly lost,” writes Bush in Decision Points, his memoirs released on Tuesday.
But then his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, called to tell him that what he thinks is a small plane is actually a commercial airliner.
“I was stunned. That plane must have had the worst pilot in the world. How could he possibly have flown into a skyscraper on a clear day? Maybe he had a heart attack,” writes Bush.
The president may have been stunned, but it did not stop him going ahead with the school visit.
Then came the scene that astonished the rest of the world almost as much as the attacks themselves.
A presidential aide, Andrew Card, tells Bush that a second plane has hit the World Trade Centre. The president looks to all the world as though he has been paralysed by shock. For seven minutes he sits there before a group of schoolchildren, immobile while America was under attack. But Bush says he was thinking. “I looked at the faces of the children in front of me. I thought about the contrast between the brutality of the attacks and the innocence of those children. Millions like them would soon be counting on me to protect them. I was determined not to let them down,” Bush writes.
“The reading lesson continued, but my mind raced far from the classroom. Who could have done this? How bad was the damage? What did the government need to do?”
Bush finally leaves the class and is ushered into another room to watch TV coverage of the attacks. The president’s first impulse is to get on television himself.
“I watched in horror as the footage of the second plane hitting the south tower replayed in slow motion. The huge fireball and explosion of smoke were worse than I had imagined. The country would be shaken, and I needed to get on TV right away,” he says.
He drafted a few words longhand and duly appeared to begin: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America.”
What followed was almost as damaging to Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 as
In this Sept 11, 2001, file photo, then President George W. Bush hears from his aide about the terror attacks as he sits in front of a classroom full of primary schoolchildren. In his memoirs (inset), Bush discusses his controversial decision to finish the event before reacting to the plane crashes in New York. his stunned appearance at the school. The president disappeared into the sky on Air Force One and was not heard from by ordinary Americans for hours as the full horror of the assault unfolded.
Bush says he was settling into his seat as news of the third plane crash, on the Pentagon in Virginia, came in: “My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.” Then he prayed.
Bush remained in the air for hours, giving orders to his vice-president, Dick Cheney, at the White House. That decision was contro- versial as it made the president look as if he was in hiding or was not safe in his country’s capital.
Bush says that he ordered the plane to return to Washington DC but he was overruled by the secret service and political aides. Eventually it flew to an air force base in Louisiana and then to a military base in Nebraska.
But then came a decision Bush had never imagined he would have to make. A fourth plane was headed toward Washington. The president ordered that it be shot down by American fighter aircraft.
“Hijacked planes were weapons of war. Despite the agonising costs, taking one out could save countless lives on the ground. I had just made my first decision as a wartime commander in chief,” Bush writes.
Then news came in of the fourth plane having gone down in Pennsylvania.
“Did we shoot it down, or did it crash?” Bush asked. “Nobody knew. I felt sick to my stomach. Had I ordered the death of those innocent Americans?”
Only later did Bush learn that the plane had crashed after the passengers charged at the hijackers in the cockpit.
The president says that one of the hardest things was following what was actually going on.
Air Force One had no satellite television and so would have to pick up local television stations as it flew over.
“After a few minutes on any given station, the screen would dissolve into static. I caught enough of a glimpse of the coverage to understand the horror of what the American people were watching. Stranded people were jumping to their deaths from the top floors of the World Trade Centre towers,” he writes.
Bush returned to Washington with a clear sense that the enemy had to be confronted, but no certainty as to how to do it or even how to rally his own country.
“There is no textbook on how to steady a nation rattled by a faceless enemy,” he writes.
“I relied on instincts and background. My west Texas optimism helped me project confidence.
“Occasionally I spoke a little too bluntly, such as when I said I wanted Bin Laden ‘ dead or alive,’ ” Bush writes.
Decision Points – ghost written by former Bush speech writer Christopher Michael – covers 14 separate decisions Bush made while in the White House, offering analysis about how he reached them in an effort to shed further light on his presidency.
The book begins with the 9/11 attacks, which drastically reshaped his foreign and military policy, and ends with the economic meltdown during his waning days in the White House. – Guardian News & Media 2010
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