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On September 14, 2001, a day he declares a national day of mourning and remembrance, President George W. Bush stands atop a pile of rubble at Ground Zero and says that the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks will hear from America soon.
'Sith' Invites Bush Comparisons
Without Michael Moore and "Fahrenheit 9/11" at the Cannes Film Festival this time, it was left to George Lucas and "Star Wars" to pique European ire over the state of world relations and the United States' role in it.
Lucas' themes of democracy on the skids and a ruler preaching war to preserve the peace predate "Star Wars: Episode III &mdash Revenge of the Sith" by almost 30 years. Yet viewers Sunday &mdash and Lucas himself &mdash noted similarities between the final chapter of his sci-fi saga and our own troubled times.
Cannes audiences made blunt comparisons between "Revenge of the Sith," the story of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and the rise of an emperor through warmongering, to President Bush's war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.
Two lines from the movie especially resonated:
"This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause," bemoans Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) as the galactic Senate cheers dictator-in-waiting Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) while he announces a crusade against the Jedi.
"If you're not with me, then you're my enemy," Hayden Christensen's Anakin (soon to become villain Darth Vader) tells former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). The line echoes Mr. Bush's international ultimatum after the Sept. 11 attacks, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
"That quote is almost a perfect citation of Bush," said Liam Engle, a 23-year-old French-American aspiring filmmaker. "Plus, you've got a politician trying to increase his power to wage a phony war."
Though the plot was written years ago, "the anti-Bush diatribe is clearly there," Engle said.
At the Cannes premiere on the night of May 15, actors in white stormtrooper costumes paraded up and down the red carpet as guests strolled in, while an orchestra played the "Star Wars" theme.
Lucas said he patterned his story after historical transformations from freedom to fascism, never figuring when he started his prequel trilogy in the late 1990s that current events might parallel his space fantasy.
"As you go through history, I didn't think it was going to get quite this close. So it's just one of those recurring things," Lucas said at a Cannes news conference. "I hope this doesn't come true in our country.
"Maybe the film will waken people to the situation," Lucas joked.
That comment echoes Moore's rhetoric at Cannes last year, when his anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" won the festival's top honor.
Unlike Moore, whose Cannes visit came off like an anybody-but-Bush campaign stop, Lucas never mentioned the president by name but was eager to speak his mind on U.S. policy in Iraq, careful again to note that he created the story long before the Bush-led occupation there.
"When I wrote it, Iraq didn't exist," Lucas said, laughing.
"We were just funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction. We didn't think of him as an enemy at that time. We were going after Iran and using him as our surrogate, just as we were doing in Vietnam. . The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."
The prequel trilogy is based on a back-story outline Lucas created in the mid-1970s for the original three "Star Wars" movies, so the themes percolated out of the Vietnam War and the Nixon-Watergate era, he said.
Lucas began researching how democracies can turn into dictatorships with full consent of the electorate.
In ancient Rome, "why did the senate after killing Caesar turn around and give the government to his nephew?" Lucas said. "Why did France after they got rid of the king and that whole system turn around and give it to Napoleon? It's the same thing with Germany and Hitler.
"You sort of see these recurring themes where a democracy turns itself into a dictatorship, and it always seems to happen kind of in the same way, with the same kinds of issues, and threats from the outside, needing more control. A democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody's squabbling, there's corruption."
First published on May 16, 2005 / 11:06 AM
© 2005 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Yes, George W. Bush bears some Responsibility for US Vulnerability on 9/11
Juan Cole is Director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. He maintains a blog on US foreign policy and progressive politics, Informed Comment. His newest book is, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster).
The Donald Trump-Jeb Bush tiff over whether George W. Bush “kept us safe” is another example of how Donald Trump is better than Karl Rove at politics. Rove had some success with his doctrine of attacking people on their strengths. Like a spiteful child, Trump attacks people on their weaknesses. The Bush loyalists’ refrain that W. “kept us safe” has all along stuck in the craw of everybody else. No one will ever be able to use that line again. Trump has struck.
It is hard to take Trump seriously, and it is possible that there was nothing Bush could have done to forestall 9/11. But it is clear that George W. did not do everything he could have, in part because he was ignorant about the threat of terrorism and in part because he was obsessed with Iraq instead. It was a failure, and one the administration never acknowledged.
The Bush gang tried to divert the attention of the public by making 9/11 about revenge. And it wasn’t even about revenge on al-Qaeda. It was revenge on Iraq, which was blameless in the affair and itself afraid of al-Qaeda. Bush initiated a chain of events where by an al-Qaeda offshoot would end up with 40% of Iraq. The Bush gang cynically used 9/11 to take America to war on false pretenses. They weren’t tearful. They got what they wanted.
Nor is George H. W. Bush’s role as vice president in instigating the Mujahidin holy jihadis in northern Pakistan to fight the Soviets and Communists in Afghanistan irrelevant to this discussion. The Reagan-Bush fascination with far rightwing private armies as tools of American policy helped create al-Qaeda in the first place. George W. can’t be held responsible for that pro-jihadi policy, but let’s just remember that the Bush family is not unconnected to it.
But back to W’s responsibility. I explained some of the things Bush and his team did wrong on coming to office in a 2004 posting at this blog. I had read Richard Clarke’s book. He was a full cabinet member under Bill Clinton, with responsibility for counter-terrorism.
Bush demoted him from being a cabinet member to being some sort of adviser. That demotion was crucial. As of that point, Clarke could not call a meeting of the major cabinet members, the principals. They included the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, CIA director George Tenet, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. In the Clinton era, before he was demoted, Clarke could and did call meetings of the principals and read them into the intelligence on al-Qaeda. In spring of 2001 and summer of 2001 Clarke was helpless. He tried one last time in mid-summer. But Bush and the others all went on vacation. Bush was on vacation 42% of the time in 2001 before 9/11.
Clarke says that when the Bush team came to the White House, it was as though they had been frozen in amber. They went out just after the Gulf War when Iraq was big. They had missed the rise of al-Qaeda in the 1990s, and were not inclined to recognize the danger of an asymmetric terrorist organization. They thought in terms of states being the real threat. Terrorist organizations in their experience were just ways for states to bother one another.
“Richard Clarke detailed in his memoirs, “Against All Enemies,” how he had enormous difficulty in calling a meeting of high Bush administration officials to discuss the threat of al-Qaida in spring of 2001. When Clarke finally had the opportunity to make his case to them, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz “fidgeted” and “scowled” and attempted to shoot him down. “I just don’t understand,” complained Wolfowitz, “why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden.” Clarke says he explained that he was talking about al-Qaida “because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the US.”
Clarke alleges that Wolfowitz responded, “You give bin Laden too much credit,” and insisted that bin Laden’s success with operations such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing would have been impossible without a “state sponsor.” He added, “Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don’t exist.”‘
Here is my account of the difference between how things worked late in the Bill Clinton period versus the first year of W. It discusses al-Qaeda’s “Millennium Plot” of late 1999, one element of which was supposed to be an attack by Ahmed Ressam on Los Angeles Airport.
“The story of how the LAX bombing was stopped on December 14 has been told in an important series in the Seattle Times. Extra security measures were implemented by US customs agents, leading to the apprehension of an Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, with a trunk full of nitroglycerin, heading for LAX (he wanted to start his journey by ferry from Port Angeles, Washington). . .
Ressam fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Then he settled in France and became part of the terrorist Groupe Roubaix, which carried out attacks in that city (pop. 98,000, near Lille in the north). In spring of 1998 he flew to Afghanistan and was trained in two camps under the direction of Palestinian-Saudi Abu Zubaida. Abu Zubaida recruited Ressam into an Algerian al-Qaeda cell headed from London by Abu Doha al-Mukhalif. Ressam was assigned to form a forward cell in Montreal, from which he and several other Algerians plotted the attack on LAX.
What Clarke’s book reveals is that the way Ressam was shaken out at Port Angeles by customs agent Diana Dean was not an accident. Rather, Clinton had made Clarke a cabinet member. He was given the authority to call other key cabinet members and security officials to “battle stations,” involving heightened alerts in their bureaucracies and daily meetings. Clarke did this with Clinton’s approval in December of 1999 because of increased chatter and because the Jordanians caught a break when they cracked Raed al-Hijazi’s cell in Amman.
Early in 2001, in contrast, Bush demoted Clarke from being a cabinet member, and much reduced his authority. Clarke wanted the high Bush officials or “principals” to meet on terrorism regularly. He couldn’t get them to do it. Rice knew what al-Qaeda was, but she, like other administration officials, was disconcerted by Clarke’s focus on it as an independent actor. The Bush group-think holds that asymmetrical organizations are not a threat in themselves, that the threat comes from the states that allegedly harbor them. That funny look she gave Clarke wasn’t unfamiliarity, it was puzzlement that someone so high in the system should be so wrongly focused.
In summer of 2001 the chatter was much greater and more ominous than in fall of 1999. Clarke wanted to go to battle stations and have daily meetings with the “principals” (i.e. Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Powell, Tenet). He wanted to repeat the procedures that had foiled the Millennium Plot. He could not convince anyone to let him do that.
Note that an “institution” is defined in sociology as a regular way of getting certain collective work done. Clarke is saying that Clinton had institutionalized a set of governmental routines for dealing with heightened threats from terrorists. He is not saying that Clinton bequeathed a “big think” plan to Bush on terrorism. He is saying that he bequeathed the Bush administration a repertoire of effective actions by high officials.
He thinks going to such a heightened level of alert and concerted effort in 2001 might have shaken loose much earlier the information that the CIA knew that Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi were in the US. As it is, the INS wasn’t informed of this advent and did not start looking for them until Aug. 21, 2001, by which time it was too late. Since they made their plane reservations for September 11 under their own names, names known to the USG, a heightened level of alert might have allowed the FBI to spot them.
So it just is not true that Bush was doing exactly the same thing on terrorism that Clinton was. He didn’t have a cabinet-level counter-terrorism czar he didn’t have the routine of principals’ meetings on terrorism he didn’t authorize Clarke to go to ‘battle stations’ and heightened security alert in summer of 2001 the way Clinton had done in December, 1999.
The key to understanding Clarke’s argument is to understand how exactly the Millennium Plot was foiled.”
You could have an honest argument about whether Clarke’s argument was correct, and about whether Bush could have in fact foiled 9/11 if he had been more on the ball. Maybe, maybe not. I have an open mind, though I lean toward maybe. What you can’t argue about is that the buck stops with the president. Bush had to take responsibility. He never did.
One of the things I most mind about George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney is that they never apologized. They never came before the American people and said, we were elected to keep you safe. We didn’t. We are sorry.
Other people did apologize. Richard Clarke, the terrorism czar, apologized tearfully. They all should have apologized in that administration.
FederalTexas History President George W. Bush’s Address to the Nation After the September 11 Terrorist Attacks
Director of Communications Dan Bartlett points to news footage of the World Trade Center Towers burning, September 11, 2001, as President George W. Bush gathers information about the attack from Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. Also pictured are Director of White House Situation Room Deborah Loewer, directly behind the President, and Senior Advisor Karl Rove, far right. Photo by Eric Draper, White House Photographer in the Bush administration.
Passengers aboard the fourth plane, United Flight 93, prevented the terrorists on board from crashing into any populated area, but were killed when they crashed in a rural field.
Less than a year before the attacks, George W. Bush was still governor of Texas and was campaigning for the Oval Office on a platform focused on domestic policy.
But his focus on domestic policy came to a halt on September 11 when the country needed him to be a unifying leader in response to the evils of radical Islamic terrorism.
In the morning shortly after the first two planes crashed into the New York towers, Bush addressed the country from the Florida school that he was visiting.
“Today we’ve had a national tragedy,” said Bush.
“Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country. I have spoken to the Vice President, to the Governor of New York, to the Director of the FBI, and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families, and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.”
Later that evening, Bush addressed the nation in more detail from the White House.
A transcript of his speech from the White House archives follows.
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.
The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed our country is strong.
A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.
America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.
Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America — with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.
Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, D.C. to help with local rescue efforts.
Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.
The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight, and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business, as well.
The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance.
America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism. Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.”
This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.
Thank you. Good night, and God bless America.
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American History: Life After 9/11
Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.
STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
This week in our series, we look at America after the events of September eleventh, two thousand one.
► Listen to this story in high-quality 192kbps audio (or right-click/option-click to save)
DAN RATHER: "A stunning and cowardly strike on the United States. Terrorists send mighty skyscrapers crumbling to the ground. Many innocent people are dead. The president vows the killers will pay for this attack on America."
The United States changed as a result of the September eleventh terrorist attacks. CBS newsman Dan Rather expressed what many Americans were feeling.
DAN RATHER: "You will remember this day as long as you live. A series of coordinated terror strikes today at this country, its people, our freedom. Strikes that came without warning."
On the morning of that sunny September day that came to be known as 9/11, the nation came under attack from al-Qaida, an extremist group led by Osama bin Laden. Its targets were world-famous buildings representing America's economic and military power.
Al-Qaida operatives hijacked four American passenger airplanes. The hijackers were from Middle Eastern countries. Each group included a pilot trained to fly two kinds of Boeing airliners, the 757 and the 767.
At eight forty-six on that morning, one group of hijackers flew a Boeing 767 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Seventeen minutes later, another group flew a second 767 into the Trade Center's South Tower.
The planes exploded in fireballs that sent clouds of smoke into the air. The intense heat of the burning jet fuel from the planes caused structural failures that brought down both buildings.
About an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, another group of al-Qaida operatives flew a 757 airliner into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Defense Department, in Arlington, Virginia. The plane exploded against a wall of the huge building where more than twenty thousand people worked.
A fourth group had taken control of another 757. But some of the passengers on that flight, United 93, had heard about the terrorist attacks through phone calls to their families. Several passengers and crew members attempted to retake control of the plane. It crashed near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Investigators later said the hijackers probably planned to attack the Capitol, a major government building in Washington, D.C., where Congress meets.
There was also concern that the White House could have been a target.
The 9/11 attacks saw the worst loss of lives on American soil since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in nineteen forty-one. That attack caused the United States to enter World War Two.
GEORGE W. BUSH: "The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger."
As expressed by President George W. Bush on 9/11, the attacks left Americans in a state of shock and disbelief. But that was soon replaced by anger and a resolve that this would not be allowed to happen again.
GEORGE W. BUSH: "These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.
"Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they can not touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they can not dent the steel of American resolve."
At Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center destruction, rescue efforts continued into the night. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was asked if Arab-American or Muslim groups in New York might be targeted due to the nature of the attacks.
RUDY GIULIANI: "Just the opposite. They will receive extra protection. Nobody should engage in group blame. The particular individuals responsible, the groups responsible, that's up to law enforcement, and it's up to the United States government to figure out. And citizens of New York should -- even if they have anger, which is understandable, and very, very strong emotions about this -- it isn't their place to get involved in this. Then, they're just participating in the kind of activity we've just witnessed, and New Yorkers are not like that."
And Giuliani spoke of the strength of the spirit of the people of his city.
RUDY GIULIANI: "People tonight should say a prayer for the people that we've lost, and be grateful that we're all here. Tomorrow, New York is going to be here, and we're going to rebuild, and we're going to be stronger than we were before."
On September twentieth, President Bush went before a joint session of Congress to declare a war on terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH: "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. [Applause]"
President Bush explained that the war on terror would be different from other wars.
GEORGE W. BUSH: "Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.
"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. [Applause] From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
President Bush demanded that the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan stop sheltering Osama bin Laden and surrender him. The president also called on the Taliban to close terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
The Taliban refused. They demanded evidence that Osama bin Laden had been involved in the attacks of 9/11. They said that if such evidence was provided, he would be tried in an Islamic court. The United States refused to provide evidence.
On October seventh, the United States and Britain launched air strikes against Taliban targets. What became known as the War on Terror had begun.
Tribal groups from the opposition Northern Alliance led a ground attack. But suicide bombers had killed their leader, Ahmad Shah Masood, on September ninth, two days before the 9/11 attacks.
By November, Taliban control began to collapse in several provinces. Taliban forces fled Kabul, the capital. But the ouster of the Taliban government did not mean the end of the war on terror.
Some of President Bush's advisers had long supported an invasion of Iraq. As early as October two thousand one, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that military action against Iraq was possible. Government officials accused Iraq of having links to terrorist groups like al-Qaida. They noted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons. And they said he was seeking to develop biological and nuclear weapons as well.
In October, two thousand one, Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act. This law provided the government with more power to gather information about suspected terrorists in the United States. Critics said the law invaded constitutional rights to privacy. Civil liberties groups said the Patriot Act gave law enforcement and other agencies too much power.
In January two thousand two, President Bush gave his State of the Union report to Congress. He accused some nations of supporting terrorist organizations. He said the United States would not wait to be attacked by such groups. Instead, it would strike first at the countries that sheltered them. The president identified three nations – North Korea, Iran and Iraq -- as supporters of terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH: "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred."
In two thousand two, the United States opened a detention center at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some of the fighters arrested in Afghanistan were sent there. They were not considered prisoners of war. Instead, the detainees were treated as "unlawful enemy combatants." As such, the Bush administration said they did not have the same rights as war prisoners under international treaties.
In the United States, the government also detained some foreign citizens, mostly for violating immigration laws. No terrorism charges were brought against these detainees. Human rights activists and some legal experts protested the detentions.
After 9/11, government agencies were criticized for failing to prevent the terrorist attacks. Critics said the agencies should have been working together to gather intelligence. Government officials said part of the issue involved legal restrictions on the gathering and sharing of intelligence.
The attacks of 9/11 had a major effect on the commercial aviation industry. The skies over Washington and other cities became strangely silent.
Washington's busy Ronald Reagan National Airport was closed for several weeks after the attacks. When it reopened, new security measures for inspecting passengers and their belongings were put in place. Similar measures were in force at other airports across the nation.
Fears over safety among the traveling public led to a drop in the number of airline passengers. As a result, the airlines began to use smaller planes. Costly changes were necessary to "harden" the cockpit, to prevent more terrorist attacks.
The increased security led to delays and other problems. But slowly, Americans began to fly again in greater numbers. But airlines had to work hard to win back the trust of the traveling public.
(SOUND: United Airlines commercial)
One carrier, United, ran a low-key television advertising campaign, in which actor Robert Redford, at the end of each ad gently suggested
ROBERT REDFORD: "It's time to fly."
In January two thousand three, the Department of Homeland Security opened for business.
ANNOUNCER: "Maybe you see something suspicious, but you don't want to get involved. It's nothing, you think. Can you be sure?"
ANNOUNCER: "If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activity to local authorities."
Transportation security, immigration, law enforcement, border protection. It represented the biggest government reorganization in more than half a century. All or part of twenty-two federal agencies and departments were combined into the new agency. Its job: to keep America safe in a world that had changed in a single day.
The War on Terror, which began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, escalated in March 2003, when a coalition of American-led forces invaded Iraq. The mission, as stated by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."
This is the final program of a summer series that has featured encore performances of some of our favorite programs. I’m Steve Ember. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing some of these programs again – or possibly, for the first time. All summer, we’ve been at work on the production of a new series of THE MAKING OF A NATION, starting with program number one, which we’ll have for you next week at this time.
‘War on Terror’ president re-tells the 9/11 story as he lived it
While all Americans remember where they were on the day of the deadliest attack on this nation’s soil, few have had the opportunity to hear about it from the American at the center of the tragedy and its aftermath. For the first time on camera, former President George W. Bush has shared his experiences, feelings, and responses on September 11, 2001.
On Sunday, August 28th, two weeks before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the National Geographic Channel will air “George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview.” The film contains no narration other than Bush’s answers to questions posed by executive producer and director Peter Schnall. Viewers will see the terror attacks through the eyes of a president facing crisis.
The account is apolitical. National Geographic presents the emotional and grave human aspect of one American grappling with what so many others felt that day, and of his decision-making process in the midst of an unprecedented attack on the U.S.
“There were no politics, no agenda as he recalled what happened that day,” said Schnall, who conducted the interview with Bush over two days. “What you hear is the personal story of a man who also happened to be our president.”
Indeed, the juxtaposition of pictures and footage of the crashing planes, crumbling towers, and smoldering buildings with the president’s reaction and response likely will bring many viewers to tears — recalling the human tragedy and their own emotions — regardless of their political ideology or their feelings about Bush’s presidency.
The former president begins his account with his morning jog and describes the moment, during his visit to a local school, when he learned the nation was under attack. His story takes us through each of the attacks, the decisions he made, the measures he and his cabinet took to ensure Americans’ safety, his communications with the country and other branches of government, and his visits to the attack sites.
“The most powerless I ever felt was watching people jump to their death,” Bush says in the film. “And there was nothing I could do about it.”
He recalls the point at which he realized the country was truly at war, providing his immediate reactions to each of the plane crashes. Like many Americans, he thought the first plane crash was an accident. The second confirmed a terrorist attack. And the third, he says, was a declaration of war against the United States.
“It changed my presidency,” he explains. ”I went from being a president primarily focused on domestic issues, to a wartime president — something I never anticipated, nor something I ever wanted to be.” As the chaotic day progressed, Bush says, his primary goal was to do his job: to lead and lead well.
“It’s not one of those moments where you weigh the consequences or think about the politics,” he adds. ”You decide. And I made the decisions as best I could in the fog of war. I was determined. Determined to protect the country. And I was determined to find out who did it and go get them.”
He chronicles his frustrations on that day, and a distress borne of not knowing the attacks were coming.
“At some point in time in the immediate aftermath of the attacks I thought about ‘why didn’t we know this?’” he says. “I knew we needed to figure out what went wrong to prevent other attacks. But I didn’t want to start finger-pointing … My attitude was that we now have a job to do and that is to go find these people and bring them to justice. And therefore we needed our intelligence community looking forward, and not backward.”
Between his emotional recollections, Bush has strong words for America’s enemies who attacked his country that day.
“The terrorists never won. They may have thought they won. They inflicted terrible damage on people’s lives and our economy. But they were never going to beat America,” he says. They just didn’t understand us. They didn’t know we are a nation of compassionate, kind people who are very courageous and would not yield to their barbaric attacks. September 11th thousands of our citizens lost their lives, and I vowed that day that it wasn’t going to happen again.”
Closing a chapter in American history, the film also captures Bush’s reaction to the announcement that SEAL Team 6 had eliminated Osama bin Laden. Fortuitously for the director, that news broke just one day before his interviews began.
“President Obama called me [and] told me that Osama bin Laden had been killed. And my response was — I congratulated him, and the special operators that conducted a very dangerous mission,” he says. “And I was so grateful. I didn’t feel any great sense of happiness or jubilation. I felt a sense of closure. I felt a sense of gratitude that justice had been done.”
The hour-long feature is a strong reminder of what Americans faced ten years ago. Like so many, Bush will be reliving that day for the rest of his life.
“Eventually, September 11 will be a day on the calendar it’ll be like Pearl Harbor Day,” Bush says. “For those of us who lived through it, it’ll be a day that we’ll never forget.”
In his 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush called North Korea "A regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens."  He also stated Iran "aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."  Bush gave the most criticism to Iraq,  stating "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world."  Afterwards, Bush said, "States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."  None of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were citizens of the three nations Bush cited. 
David Frum Edit
The phrase was attributed to former Bush speechwriter David Frum, originally as the axis of hatred and then evil. Frum explained his rationale for creating the phrase axis of evil in his book The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. Essentially, the story begins in late December 2001 when head speechwriter Michael Gerson gave Frum the assignment of articulating the case for dislodging the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in only a few sentences for the upcoming State of the Union address. Frum says he began by rereading President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "date which will live in infamy" speech given on December 8, 1941, after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. While Americans needed no convincing about going to war with Japan, Roosevelt saw the greater threat to the United States coming from Nazi Germany, and he had to make the case for fighting a two-ocean war.
Frum points in his book to a now often-overlooked sentence in Roosevelt's speech which reads in part, ". we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again." Frum interprets Roosevelt's oratory like this: "For FDR, Pearl Harbor was not only an attack—it was a warning of future and worse attacks from another, even more dangerous enemy." Japan, a country with one-tenth of America's industrial capacity, a dependence on imports for its food, and already engaged in a war with China, was extremely reckless to attack the United States, a recklessness "that made the Axis such a menace to world peace", Frum says. Saddam Hussein's two wars, against Iran and Kuwait, were just as reckless, Frum decided, and therefore presented the same threat to world peace.
In his book Frum relates that the more he compared the Axis powers of World War II to modern "terror states", the more similarities he saw. "The Axis powers disliked and distrusted one another", Frum writes. "Had the Axis somehow won the war, its members would quickly have turned on one another." Iran, Iraq, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah, despite quarreling among themselves, "all resented power of the West and Israel, and they all despised the humane values of democracy." There, Frum saw the connection: "Together, the terror states and the terror organizations formed an axis of hatred against the United States."
Frum tells that he then sent off a memo with the above arguments and also cited some of the atrocities perpetrated by the Iraqi government. He expected his words to be chopped apart and altered beyond recognition, as is the fate of much presidential speechwriting, but his words were ultimately read by Bush nearly verbatim, though Bush changed the term axis of hatred to axis of evil. North Korea was added to the list, he says, because it was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, had a history of reckless aggression, and "needed to feel a stronger hand". 
Afterwards, Frum's wife disclosed his authorship to the public. 
Yossef Bodansky Edit
A decade before the 2002 State of the Union address, in August 1992, the Israeli-American political scientist Yossef Bodansky wrote a paper entitled "Tehran, Baghdad & Damascus: The New Axis Pact"  while serving as the Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the US House of Representatives. Although he did not explicitly apply the epithet evil to his New Axis, Bodansky's axis was otherwise very reminiscent of Frum's axis. Bodansky felt that this new Axis was a very dangerous development. The gist of Bodansky's argument was that Iran, Iraq and Syria had formed a "tripartite alliance" in the wake of the First Gulf War, and that this alliance posed an imminent threat that could only be dealt with by invading Iraq a second time and overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
Remembering 9/11: Between Forgiveness and Revenge
On the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush spoke to a grieving nation: "The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world."
Over the last 10 years, "Never forget" has become a rallying cry for Americans. Memorials have been designed and constructed, and pillars of light climb into the Manhattan sky on each anniversary. The very date -- 9/11 -- has become a symbol of our national vulnerability and commitment to renewed security and strength. Images of the planes crashing into the towers serve as ubiquitous calls to grief and anger. A poignant photograph of firefighters erecting an American flag among the ruins symbolizes a fierce nation that will not be cowed by displays of terror and destruction. Never forget.
Last May, President Barack Obama visited firefighters in New York City. He assured them that the killing of Osama bin Laden "sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."
Today marks the 10th anniversary of that blue-sky Tuesday morning. And it is true that no one has forgotten the shock, the loss and the wrenching pain of that day. In the intervening years, the United States has tightened security measures at airports and borders. We have sought criminals in the Middle East and waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have hunted and killed the leader of al Qaeda. We have not forgotten, and we have also not forgiven.
Seventy-six percent of Americans call themselves Christians. They cite forgiveness as a cornerstone of their faith and a hallmark of the work of Jesus in the world. The New Testament's messages on forgiveness are sometimes mixed: Jesus calls for forgiveness without bound ("seventy times seven," Matthew 18:22), but also forgiveness "if there is repentance" (Luke 17:3). There are sins that even God will not forgive (Matthew 12:31-32 Mark 3:29 Luke 12:10), and on the cross, Jesus prays for the forgiveness of his attackers rather than forgiving them directly (Luke 23:34). But in spite of these inconsistencies, the general consensus is that forgiveness is a non-negotiable duty of faithful Christians.
And yet. The national discourse around Sept.11 contains few mentions of forgiveness. There are even T-shirts and coffee mugs that take the familiar mantra a step further: "Never forget never forgive," thus echoing Bush's early words about "unyielding anger." Last year, protesters raised their voices in outrage at the possibility of an Islamic center built in the vicinity of Ground Zero, angrily holding all Muslims accountable for the 9/11 attacks and reducing Islam to an offensive symbol. On May 1, elite members of the military assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. This grand display of retributive justice was met stateside with raucous cheering and flag-waving. No doubt many of those celebrating in the streets that Sunday night had attended church that morning, where they would have heard that day's lectionary text about the importance of forgiveness from the Gospel of John (20:19-31). Even so, when it comes to 9/11, anger and revenge take the day.
This is not to say that it's time to talk about forgiving those responsible, or that forgiveness is even a relevant concept on a day like today. "Never forget" is exactly the right way to stand in the face of something so monstrous and so grave. In this case, collective forgiveness may have no place, because the victims -- not all Americans -- are the only ones with the ability to forgive, and the perpetrators -- not all Arabs, and not all Muslims -- are the only ones whose repentance really matters. Forgiving is in the province of the victims, but remembering is something that everyone can do, and America is a nation that does it well.
But when "Never forget" becomes a call not just for remembrance, but also for revenge, questions of forgiveness begin to play a role. And especially for American Christians, they have to. The Old Testament commands, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). And in Romans, Paul instructs, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19). "An eye for an eye" (Exodus 21:24 Matthew 5:38), often cited as justification for revenge, was actually meant to be a prescription for reciprocal justice, not a warrant to wreak vengeful havoc.
The opposite of revenge does not have to be forgiveness. Forgoing revenge does not necessarily mean excusing the violence, or canceling the debt incurred by actions of the hijackers on that day. There is a lot of room on the spectrum between forgiveness and revenge, and we suffer when we think there are only two ways we can respond to wrongdoing.
Mary Fetchet's 24-year-old son Brad worked on the 89th floor of Tower 2. After his death, Fetchet channeled her grief and anger into lobbying Washington for an official investigation into the attack and subsequent rescue efforts. Fechet's work was instrumental in the creation of the 9/11 Commission, where she called not for revenge, but for change. "We want to prevent other families from suffering the loss we've had to endure," she said. "We want answers to our questions. We want systemic failures identified and problems resolved."
Just after the death of Osama bin Laden, Fetchet appeared on NBC Nightly News. "There is no closure when you lose a son in a terrorist attack," she said. "I wanted accountability, but I feel if you have revenge, then they win in the end." She went on to emphasize that commemoration of the victims is ultimately more productive than any act of revenge. The organization she founded, Voices of September 11, works on behalf of victims and survivors toward commemoration as well as prevention and preparedness related to terrorism.
For all Americans, especially American Christians, this 10th anniversary is a call for reflection. Must forgiveness and revenge be the only options in the wake of such a tragedy? Mary Fetchet's organization works toward remembrance and justice in the names of the nearly 3,000 victims, including 372 foreign nationals and more than 60 American Muslims. Letting go of anger and revenge does not have to mean forgiving, but it can make way for more constructive responses like activism and memorialization.
Faithful Christians are called perhaps to consider forgiveness, but definitely to eschew revenge. The American criminal justice system offers a path between these two, but when we deny the worst criminals trial by jury, as with Osama bin Laden, we embrace revenge rather than the blind justice we so value as a nation. Through memorialization we can fix the trauma in the past in meaningful ways, but when "never forget" becomes a rallying cry, we drag the past into the present in a vicious cycle of violence. When the quest for justice becomes a manhunt, the cycle repeats. And when forgiveness comes too early or too easily, the cycle stands to repeat again.
Ten years later, a way opens for the rest of Paul's words on how we should regard those who harm us: "'If your enemies are hungry, feed them if they are thirsty, give them something to drink . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:20-21). Perhaps this looks too much like forgiveness, and perhaps it comes far too soon. For Christians, though, it presents a serious challenge: to stand in between, and to seek to repair the world rather than continue to strike blows against it. It is a way of remembering who we are, and who we are not. It is one way, perhaps, never to forget.
9/11 & Popular Culture: The Impact of George Bush’s First Pitch During Game 3 of the 2001 World Series
Wearing a Kevlar vest, George W. Bush approached the pitchers mound at Yankee Stadium on October 30th, 2001, before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. As roaring applause filled the stadium, President Bush took his place on top of the mound with a baseball in hand, getting ready to deliver the first pitch of the game. Prior to the pitch, Bush lifted his right hand high and gestured to the crowd a thumbs up. The crowd erupted, and then Bush proceeded to throw it right down the pipe. This will go down as one of the most memorable and patriotic first pitches in history, but it was much more than that.
It is often stated that leaders make conscious use of symbols to implement a message, and this pitch was a unifying symbol to the American people that we would never forget the 9–11 attacks and that the healing process could now begin in America. It is also noteworthy that this message was communicated to the American people via baseball. Baseball is America’s past time, and it would have been different if he were dropping the puck at an NHL game, or flipping the coin at a football game. According to Bush, “Flipping the coin, you’re with people wearing huge pads and giant people and referees and cameras. On the baseball mound, you’re alone.” (Thomas, 2015) This was symbolic in that it showed trust. The president never wanted to seem vulnerable he wanted to seem strong in eyes of the people. When the nation was at a time of crisis, he wanted to invoke a feeling of fearlessness, which is exactly what this iconic first pitch did. President Bush stated, “Baseball represented a sense of normalcy- the pace of play, the size of the players, the old and abiding appeal of tradition. Normalcy.” (Thomas, 2015) He made the case that, if the American people really wanted to send a message to the terrorists, then they needed to “get back to normal life and we’ll do the best we can to protect you, and so going to a baseball game was kind of symbolic of getting back to normal life.” (Thomas, 2015) However, while trying to implement fearlessness to the American people, the fact that President Bush was wearing a Kevlar vest covered by a New York Fire Department windbreaker exemplifies importance. It showed that though Bush wanted to seem like he was fearless while walking out to the mound “alone” the people of our nation, including himself, were on high alert after 9–11, and everyone needed to take extra precautions in regards to safety after 9–11. Even today, we are still on high alert after 9–11. For Americans, September 11th, 2001, is a day that we think about when we think about a true sense of fear. “Our open society is vulnerable to attack and, even while precautions are being taken, there is no way to provide one hundred percent assurance against terrorist violence.” (London, 2005). Our country is still feeling the repercussions of these acts of violence against our nation.
As we know, a little over a month prior to Bush taking the mound for this unforgettable first pitch, the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, unfolded on American soil. These terrorist attacks on America left us, the American people, scared and looking for answers. George W. Bush, the President of the United States at this time was the man who we looked to for those very answers. On that brisk October night, Bush jogged out to that mound with the mind set of the chief communicator of the nation, and he wanted to set the emotional tone for America. When the American people were trembling with fear, looking for answers, we needed Bush’s hand to be stable. We needed him to stay calm in the face of adversity. If our president could expose himself on one of the largest and most watched stages in America, the World Series, and not show an ounce of fear in his face, then we could as well in our every-day lives. This pitch was arguably one of the most patriotic moments in recent history.
Throwing a strike right down the middle was key. It showed strength, and showed where President Bush’s mind was for the future of our nation. He stated, “I can not remember thinking, if you don’t bounce it, that’ll lift their spirits, but I probably knew, instinctively, that a bounce would kind of reduce the defiance — the act of defiance toward the enemy.” (Thomas, 2015) This statement proves that president Bush was determined to prove a point with this pitch. This pitch was not just a pitch to remember all the lives lost on 9/11, it was a statement to those who implemented these acts of terror on the United States. Bush was set to prove that justice would prevail, and America would not let these acts of terror go without consequence. The concept of “justice” has changed because of 9–11, and has sparked many questions in the minds in of Americans. Such as, to what extent is revenge an appropriate response. Questions like this spark many heated debates, but there is no debating the significance this first pitch had in unifying our country on October 30th, 2001.
London, H. (2005). Fighting a War for Survival. Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, 14(385).
The Final Insult in the Bush-Cheney Marriage
The first meeting, 1987: In June, George W. Bush goes to Capitol Hill to garner support for his father’s presidential campaign. Dick Cheney, then a congressman from Wyoming, tells him he won’t endorse anyone for fear of jeopardizing his own House leadership ambitions.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
The first meeting, 1987: In June, George W. Bush goes to Capitol Hill to garner support for his father’s presidential campaign. Dick Cheney, then a congressman from Wyoming, tells him he won’t endorse anyone for fear of jeopardizing his own House leadership ambitions.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
The running mate, 2000: In July, Cheney, who’s in charge of vetting candidates, visits the Crawford ranch. Over lunch, Bush announces, ‘‘The man I really want to be the vice president is here at the table.’’
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
2001: On Sept. 11, Bush, on Air Force One, confers with Cheney, who’s managing the response from the bunker beneath the White House, ordering any remaining hijacked planes to be shot out of the sky.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
2001: Cheney bypasses Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and others in November, bringing a draft order establishing military tribunals — and skirting the Geneva Conventions — directly to Bush.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
2003: In a meeting with aides in March, Bush is given intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein’s location. He orders everyone to leave but Cheney, who advises him to order the strike that starts the war.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
2004: Cheney offers to step down from the ticket in advance of the campaign. Bush considers it and even comes up with a replacement, Senator Bill Frist, but ultimately decides to keep Cheney on.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
2006: With Iraq deteriorating, Bush finally decides to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary in November without consulting Cheney, whom he informs after a morning briefing.
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
2009: The Scooter Libby dispute dominates the administration’s final days. When Bush refuses to pardon Libby, Cheney lashes out: ‘‘You are leaving a good man wounded on the field of battle.’’
Credit. Illustration by Zohar Lazar
In the final days of his presidency, George W. Bush sat behind his desk in the Oval Office, chewing gum and staring into the distance as two White House lawyers briefed him on the possible last-minute pardon of I. Lewis Libby.
“Do you think he did it?” Bush asked.
“Yeah,” one of the lawyers said. “I think he did it.”
In March 2007, Libby, who had served as Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, was convicted of lying to federal officials who were investigating the leak of the identity of a C.I.A. officer. For the past two months Cheney had been pushing the president to grant Libby a full pardon before they left office. He would not let it go. Cheney brought it up again and again, first before Thanksgiving, then again around Christmas and finally throughout January 2009 as they prepared for the transition to the incoming Obama administration. His lobbying was so intense that the president made clear to his aides that he did not want to talk with Cheney about it anymore.
Troubled by the decision hanging over him, Bush had asked the White House lawyers to re-examine the case to see if a pardon was justified. Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, and his deputy, William Burck, pored over trial transcripts and studied evidence that Libby’s lawyers had raised in his defense. Their conclusion was that the jury had ample reason to find Libby guilty.
“If I were on that jury,” Burck told Bush, “I would probably have agreed with them. You have to follow the law, and the law says if you say something that is untrue, knowingly, to a federal official in the context of a grand jury investigation and it is material to their investigation, that’s a crime.”
The case had its origins in the politically fraught summer of 2003, when American troops had just invaded Iraq but were unable to find the unconventional weapons they had been told were there. Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, suggested that the White House ignored contrary evidence about Iraq’s nuclear program in the months before the invasion, a charge Cheney would deny. When the news media reported that Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A., the F.B.I. opened an investigation into whether her identity was illegally divulged.
Libby testified that he first learned Valerie Plame Wilson was a C.I.A. official from Tim Russert, the NBC journalist. If true, this would mean he did not disclose secret information he learned as Cheney’s chief of staff — which would undercut the common theory that the leak came from Cheney’s office and that Cheney was trying to take retribution against Wilson by blowing his wife’s cover. Libby’s story clashed not just with Russert’s version, but also with those of eight other people, including fellow administration officials, who testified that they talked with Libby about Wilson before his conversation with Russert. When Russert disputed Libby’s depiction of events, Libby said simply that he must have misremembered what had transpired, hardly an indictable offense.
“All right,” the president said when the lawyers concluded their assessment. “So why do you think he did it? Do you think he was protecting the vice president?”
“I don’t think he was protecting the vice president,” Burck said.
Burck figured that Libby assumed his account would never be contradicted, because prosecutors could not force reporters to violate vows of confidentiality to their sources. “I think also that Libby was concerned,” Burck said. “Because he took to heart what you said back then: that you would fire anybody that you knew was involved in this. I just think he didn’t think it was worth falling on the sword.”
Bush did not seem convinced. “I think he still thinks he was protecting Cheney,” the president said. If that was the case, then Cheney was seeking forgiveness for the man who had sacrificed himself on his behalf.
“Now I am going to have to have the talk with the vice president,” Bush said. That was the sort of unpleasant business that for eight years he had left to Cheney. It was the vice president who delivered the bad news, for instance, to Paul O’Neill and Donald Rumsfeld when they were fired.
Joshua Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff, was also in the room, and he volunteered to handle it.
“Nah, nah,” Bush said. “I can do it.” But as several people close to him would later attest, the president was dreading it.
Not since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger had two Americans in public office collaborated with such lasting effect as George Bush and Dick Cheney. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, they confidently steered America through its most traumatic years since Vietnam, erecting a national-security apparatus that their successors have largely adopted and prosecuting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that, members of the administration take pains to emphasize, toppled two brutal regimes. The continuing effects of their tenure are evident in some of the most vexing issues of today — what to do with the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, how to balance the need for surveillance with the rights of private citizens and whether to use even a modest amount of force in Syria when the American public is tired of the costs of two long wars.
But if it was a partnership of enduring and controversial consequences, it was also one that was widely misunderstood. That their final hours together would be consumed by a private argument over the pardon of Scooter Libby underscores the distance the two men had traveled. Over the course of conducting hundreds of interviews with key players in the Bush White House, including Cheney, and examining thousands of pages of never-released notes, memos and other internal documents, I came to see a relationship that differs substantially from the commonly accepted narrative. Even in the early days, when a young, untested president relied on the advice of his seasoned No. 2, Cheney was hardly the puppeteer that critics imagined. To the extent that the vice president exerted outsize influence in the first term, he became more marginalized over the course of the second, as Bush sought new paths to right his troubled presidency.
Bush and Cheney were never quite friends. They did not see each other out of the workplace. Cheney did not spend social weekends at Camp David. On election night in 2000 and again in 2004, they watched the returns separately at first, coming together only late in the evening when they thought they could publicly claim victory. “They weren’t personally close,” said Ari Fleischer, the president’s first White House press secretary. “Cheney didn’t go jogging with George Bush. He was everything that Bush designed when he chose Dick Cheney to be counselor” — meaning a veteran Washington hand who would give him straight advice.
“It was professional, more than personal,” Cheney told me after leaving office, as he sat sipping coffee in a small library in his Virginia home. “We weren’t buddies in that sense.”
Some Bush advisers objected even to the word “partnership,” since that implied equality. Cheney said he never forgot that he was the vice president, and by all accounts he made a point of showing deference to Bush. While Bush called him “Dick,” Cheney always called Bush “Mr. President” and with others referred to him as “the Man.” (Karl Rove, though, reportedly referred to Cheney as “Management” — as in, “Better check with Management” — suggesting an influence not generally associated with vice presidents.)
Cheney is just five years older than Bush, but he carried himself with the gravitas of a much more experienced man, and the president treated him with more respect than anyone else in the inner circle. In any meeting, though, it was clear who was in charge: Bush led the discussion, asked the questions and called on people to speak, while Cheney largely remained quiet. Still, that silence seemed to connote a power all its own everyone else in the room understood that when they left, Cheney stayed behind, offering advice when nobody could rebut him. What Cheney actually thought often remained a mystery outside of these one-on-one conversations. “He was a black box to a lot of us,” Peter Wehner, the director of the White House office of strategic initiatives, told me.
Cheney found the image of him as the dark controller of a weak-minded president, crystallized by books with titles like “The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney” and “Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency,” to be absurd. Gen. Richard Myers, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was on hand for some of the most critical moments, agreed. “This whole notion that the vice president was the puppet master, I find laughable,” Myers said. “He was an active vice president because I think he was empowered, but he wasn’t a dominant factor. The alpha male in the White House was the president.”
But Cheney also came to embrace the reputation. Once his friend David Hume Kennerly greeted him teasingly by saying: “Hi, Dick. Have you blown away any small countries this morning?” Without missing a beat, Cheney replied, “You know, that’s the one thing about this job I really love.” At another point, he tried on a Darth Vader mask his aides had bought and posed for a picture. When he later tried to put the picture in his memoir, his wife, Lynne, talked him out of it.
“Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole?” he once said. “It’s a nice way to operate, actually.”
The president’s closest friends and advisers do not recall him ever complaining that Cheney had pushed him to do something he would not have done otherwise. And Cheney “never did anything in his time serving George W. that George W. didn’t either sanction or approve of,” said Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming and a close friend of Cheney’s.
Cheney was unquestionably the most influential vice president in American history, but that influence was in large part a function of his deference, as much as any overt exertion of power. Because he had no aspiration to ever run for president himself, he was able to focus on making Bush’s presidency successful — though on terms that he helped define. In return, Bush gave him access to every meeting and decision, a marked contrast to many of his predecessors. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s appointment calendar shows only two meetings with Vice President Harry Truman after they were inaugurated. When asked in 2002 how many times he had met privately with Bush, Cheney reached into his suit pocket and pulled out his schedule. “Let me see,” he said. “Three, four, five, six, seven — seven times.” Then he added: “Today.”
Bush put him on the ticket in 2000 to balance his own inexperience. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the choice seemed prescient. Cheney’s calm hand in the bunker that day and in the war cabinet in the weeks that followed gave Bush confidence that he could depend on seasoned counsel as he began to confront a changed world. Cheney operated in tandem with Donald Rumsfeld, his longtime mentor who gave him his first White House job under Richard Nixon and was now serving as defense secretary. Together, they shared a vision of a world of threats that required a strong executive branch and an unapologetic assertion of American power. “He never came over to me and organized against some decision or said we have to marshal support for this or that,” Rumsfeld later told me. But he never had to. They were almost always on the same page, executing the same vision.
By the second term, though, as that vision came under fire with the deterioration of Iraq and the failure to find the weapons that led to the invasion, Bush moved away from Cheney and turned increasingly toward Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who supplanted Cheney as the president’s most influential lieutenant. No one in the White House had the relationship with Bush that Rice had. She worked out with him, talked sports with him, dined with him and Laura in the residence and spent weekends with them at Camp David. Over lunch one day in the first term, Rice told Christine Todd Whitman, then the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, “I can count on one hand the days when I have not spoken to the president over the last three years.” As Whitman later reflected: “She didn’t have a life. Her life was all about that.”
Bush turned to Rice to help repair the damage done by the administration’s aggressive response to the Sept. 11 attacks. “We had broken a lot of china,” Rice told me. “But at that point, you have to leave something in place. That is true with allies. It is true with the Middle East. It is true in putting together an international consensus on North Korea and international consensus on Iran. And I don’t think that is how the vice president saw it. I think he would have liked to have kept breaking china.”
Only by the end of his sixth year did Bush finally conclude that Rumsfeld had to go, a decision that represented the most fundamental break with Cheney, who was informed, not consulted. “It wasn’t open for discussion by the time he came to me,” Cheney told me. Cheney managed to preserve much of the national-security architecture he helped create, but he was now on defense more than offense, fending off changes that he thought would weaken the country or unravel the policies he had urged. “Perhaps my clout was diminished,” Cheney said in a 2011 television interview. “That’s possible. I wouldn’t quarrel about that.” Indeed, by the time they left office, Bush and Cheney disagreed on a long list of significant issues and policies. Where Bush was willing to pursue international diplomacy, empty secret C.I.A. prisons, sign an agreement to withdraw from Iraq and cut deals with Congress on military tribunals and warrantless eavesdropping, Cheney resisted any compromise as a sellout of the principles they once shared.
And then there was the Scooter Libby pardon.
A few weeks before Barack Obama’s inauguration, Joshua Bolten invited all of his predecessors to his office in the West Wing to meet with his successor, Rahm Emanuel. Thirteen of the living 16 men to have served as chief of staff attended, including Cheney, who was Gerald Ford’s top assistant. They went around the table one by one, offering advice. When Cheney’s turn came up, a devilish look crossed his face. “Whatever you do,” he said, “make sure you’ve got the vice president under control.”
As Bush’s final days in the White House approached, he did not exactly have his vice president under control. Cheney’s lobbying campaign on behalf of Scooter Libby had become deeply disconcerting to the president. To Cheney, it was a simple matter of justice. As he saw it, Libby had been pursued by an unprincipled prosecutor bent on damaging the White House. Neither Libby nor anyone else had been charged with the actual leak that precipitated the investigation, only with not testifying truthfully about how he learned about Wilson’s identity. Years later, it would be revealed that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, knew from nearly the start that Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s deputy, was the original source of the leak, not Libby. Cheney believed that Fitzgerald’s relentless investigation in spite of this fact was proof that Cheney was the real target, and that Libby was caught in the cross-fire. Libby had loyally served his country, Cheney argued, only to be made into a criminal. And Powell and Armitage stayed quiet as it happened. “The Powell-Armitage thing was such a sense of betrayal,” Cheney’s daughter Liz told me. “They sat there and watched their colleagues in the White House — Scooter and everyone else — go through the ordeal of the investigation, and all that time they both knew Armitage was the leaker.” Armitage and Powell said they were simply following investigators’ instructions to keep silent.
As Cheney pressed Bush for the pardon, the president put him off by saying he would wait to issue controversial pardons until near the end of his term, which the vice president took as an indication that Libby would be among them. Bush had already commuted Libby’s prison sentence of two and a half years after it was handed down in 2007. As a result, Libby never had to spend a minute behind bars, a decision that inflamed critics on the left, who argued that Bush was interfering with justice, and on the right, who felt he had not gone far enough in quashing a bogus prosecution.
At the time, Bush said publicly that he was not substituting his judgment for that of the jury. So how would he explain a change of mind just 18 months later? That was the argument Ed Gillespie, the president’s counselor, made to Cheney when he came to explain why he was advising Bush against a pardon. “On top of that, the lawyers are not making the case for it,” Gillespie told Cheney, referring to the White House attorneys reviewing the case for Bush. “We’ll be asked, ‘Did the lawyers recommend it?’ And if the lawyers didn’t, it’s going to be hard to justify for the president.”
The favoritism inherent in the clemency process had long been a source of frustration for Bush. “This process is broken,” he railed to aides. “It doesn’t make any sense.” He suffered some embarrassment when, after a Christmas pardon of a Brooklyn developer convicted of mail fraud, the media revealed that the developer’s father had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans, leaving the White House in the awkward position of taking back the clemency order.
It irritated Bush even more that he was coming under pressure from all directions. His lifelong friend Joe O’Neill wrote him a letter on behalf of a bank officer who served time for falsifying documents. Another childhood friend from Texas, Charlie Younger, pressed him to pardon a fellow doctor who served time on child-pornography charges. Clay Johnson, a Yale friend and White House aide, was lobbying Bush to commute the sentence of David Safavian, an administration official convicted in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Bush granted the first request but rejected the other two.
Now it was time to deliver bad news to Cheney. Bush invited the vice president into the small private dining room off the Oval Office for their final lunch on Jan. 15. There would be no pardon for Libby, Bush said. It was a hard choice, but that was his decision.
“You are leaving a good man wounded on the field of battle,” Cheney snapped.
It might have been the harshest thing Cheney had ever said to him.
“The comment stung,” Bush wrote in his memoirs. “In eight years, I had never seen Dick like this, or even close to this. I worried that the friendship we had built was about to be severely strained, at best.”
To Cheney, this was the final proof that Bush had lost his will. The president had been buffeted by critics for so long that he would not stand up for what was right and jeopardize the relatively positive attention he was receiving for a smooth transition with Barack Obama. Perhaps it was even one last attempt to show who was actually in charge after all.
“Scooter was somebody — you know, he didn’t have to be there,” Cheney told me years later. “He came to serve. He worked for me before at the Pentagon. He had done yeoman duty for us.” The conviction was a deep scar, Cheney said. “He has to live with that stigma for the rest of his life. That was wrong, and the president had it within his power to fix it, and he chose not to. It is obviously a place where we fundamentally disagree. He knows how I felt about it.” Cheney suggested that the president did not want to take the heat. “I am sure it meant some criticism of him, but it was a huge disappointment for me.”
Famed for never second-guessing himself, Bush began to doubt his decision after his encounter with Cheney. Libby, aware that his chances were grim, contacted Joshua Bolten, who considered Libby a friend, to ask to meet with the president directly.
“I’m sorry, Scooter,” Bolten told him. “In fairness to the president, I can’t permit that.”
Then Cheney went to Bolten. “Scooter would like to visit with the president.”
“I know,” Bolten said. “I’ve already told him no.”
“I’d like you to ask the president directly,” Cheney said.
“I wish you wouldn’t ask me to do that,” Bolten said. “But obviously the president would not want me screening him from any request of yours.”
Bush still refused. Bolten suggested to Libby that he meet with Fielding and Burck, the two White House lawyers who reviewed his case. On the final weekend of the administration, Libby sat down with the two men in a booth at McCormick & Schmick’s, a chain seafood restaurant a few blocks from the White House. It was just after 11 a.m., and for the next 90 minutes, Libby made his case. He complained that the prosecution had suppressed expert testimony about the unreliability of memory, which Libby was sure would have exonerated him.
Fielding and Burck knew that pardons were typically issued not to people claiming innocence but to convicts who had paid their debts to society and were seeking forgiveness. Under Justice Department guidelines at the time, the pardon attorney who prepared recommendations for the president did not even accept requests until at least five years after applicants had completed their sentences. They asked Libby if he would be willing to admit guilt and ask for forgiveness to obtain a pardon.
No, Libby said. “I am innocent. I did not do this.”
On the final frigid weekend of his presidency, Bush was at Camp David with his family and a few friends and advisers, including Bolten and Rice. The president was stewing over Libby. While the rest of the group was in another room, Bush called his former adviser Dan Bartlett, who was back in Texas.“This sucks,” Bush said. “Here I am, supposed to be trying to have a great weekend with my family, last weekend, and here I am knowing what a difficult decision it is going to be.” Bartlett reassured him that he was making the right call.
Rice pulled him aside. “Don’t let this be a pall over your last days,” she urged him.
Finally, it was Laura Bush who pressed him to stop dwelling on it. “Just make up your mind,” she said. “You’re ruining this for everyone.”
The following Monday, Bush had his final, definitive meeting with the White House lawyers, ending any possibility of reconsideration. There would be no pardon for Libby.
The next morning, Inauguration Day, Cheney showed up in a wheelchair, explaining that he had thrown his back out packing boxes at the vice-presidential mansion over the weekend. “Joe, this is how you’re liable to look when your term is up,” Cheney joked to his successor, Joseph Biden.
Bush and Cheney separated as they left the White House, each joining his successor for the short motorcade trip to the Capitol. Bush climbed into an armored car with Obama. As the two men settled in and the vehicle began its slow, circuitous path past the barricades and out of the White House grounds, Bush took the opportunity to offer one last piece of advice. Whatever you do, Bush told Obama, make sure you set a pardon policy from the start and then stick to it. There Bush was, in the final minutes of his presidency, and foremost on his mind was the rift with his vice president.
Bush retreated to Texas, where he resolved not to pass judgment on Obama, while Cheney became a fiery critic of the new president. What set him off was a decision to reopen an investigation into C.I.A. interrogations of terror suspects. “Threatening to prosecute C.I.A. officials was indefensible,” Liz Cheney told me. “It was just so far beyond what you could stay silent and watch.”
Cheney’s public battle with Obama, though, seemed like a proxy for his private battle with Bush. Out of his deep respect for protocol, he could say only so much as he watched Bush compromise in their final years. But now he could lash out at a Democrat. For Cheney, the betrayal of the C.I.A. officers became, in effect, an extension of the betrayal of Scooter Libby. They were all men doing a job for their country and now had to pay for it. “Dick was terribly upset that he didn’t pardon him, get him off the hook,” Cheney’s friend Bernie Seebaum told me. “The man did what he was expected to do, and then he got in trouble for it. Nobody came to his rescue.”
Bush, on the other hand, was through with politics. He told visitors in Dallas that he felt liberated on the day of Obama’s inauguration. “When I saw his hand go up, I thought, Free at last,” Bush said. When Rove regaled a dinner party at Bush’s home with his analysis of forthcoming Congressional elections, the uninterested former president paid little attention, cracking jokes instead with a guest sitting next to him.
The passage of time has tempered some of the harsh judgments of Bush’s administration. By this past summer, 49 percent of Americans now viewed him favorably, compared with 46 percent who disapproved, the first positive balance in eight years.
As for Libby, still barred from practicing law despite the commutation, he has largely stayed out of the political debates of the last several years. Only recently did he co-write a scathing critique of Obama’s foreign policy for The Wall Street Journal.
Bush and Cheney see each other infrequently. Last spring, they reunited for the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University, outside Dallas. While Bush took a seat onstage with his fellow presidents, Cheney stepped down into the audience to sit with cabinet members and the Bush children. Condoleezza Rice had a speaking role Cheney did not. Aware that many were wondering about their relationship, Bush made a point of praising Cheney’s “loyalty, principle and strength” from the lectern. “I’m proud to call you friend,” Bush said.
But inside, the new library suggested a different reality. There were exhibits featuring the first lady and their daughters, videos narrated by Rice, Bolten and Andy Card, and even statues of the presidential dogs. There was little sign of Dick Cheney.