Saturday 10 November 2007

"A Great Opportunity": President Bush Describes 9/11

Bush during the 2002 State of the Union address
How did President Bush feel about the September 11 attacks? In the following hours, weeks, and months, he repeatedly used one word. While most people no doubt felt that it was an absolute catastrophe, George W. Bush described 9/11--or at least the political climate it had engendered--as an "opportunity." He said this again and again:

September 11, 2001
Hours after the attacks, during a 9:30 p.m. meeting with his key advisers, Bush declared: "This is a great opportunity. We have to think of this as an opportunity." [1]

Later that evening, he dictated for his diary: "My hope is that this will provide an opportunity for us to rally the world against terrorism." [2]

September 13, 2001
During an appearance in the White House Oval Office, Bush said: "You know, through the tears of sadness I see an opportunity. ... And now is an opportunity to do generations a favor, by coming together and whipping terrorism." [3]

During the National Security Council meeting later that day, he said: "This is a new world. ... Start the clock. This is an opportunity. ... I want Afghan options ... I want decisions quick." [4]

September 19, 2001
During a photo opportunity at the White House, the president described: "Progress is being made. ... I said at the time, through my tears I see opportunity. One of the opportunities I saw was the ability not to put--not only for freedom-loving nations to come together to say resolutely we will fight terrorism, but I felt like there would be--this event may shake up the attitudes of the Middle East where people would end up resolving to show the world that there could be peace there as well." [5]

During another photo opportunity later in the day, he said: "Let me say that, in terms of foreign policy and in terms of the world, this horrible tragedy has provided us with an interesting opportunity. One of the opportunities is in the Middle East. ... I think there's some interesting opportunities to shake terrorism loose from sponsor states. And this government, working with Congress, are going to seize the moment." [6]

October 3, 2001
Bush told a meeting of business leaders in New York: "There's now a reassessment taking place all over America. ... [P]eople are reassessing: what can I do to help? I truly believe that out of this will come greater opportunities for peace; peace in the Middle East. This is a fantastic opportunity born out of sadness, and the question is--can we seize it?" [7]

October 21, 2001
During a press conference along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush said: "Both of us see great opportunity. Both of us see positive good that has come out of the evil of September the 11th. Both of us are willing to work hard to seize the moment." [8]

October 29, 2001
Addressing the African Growth and Opportunity Forum, the president said: "Out of the sorrow of September 11th, I see opportunity, a chance for nations to strengthen and rethink and reinvigorate their relationships." [9]

January 29, 2002
During his State of the Union address, the president said: "In the sacrifice of soldiers, the fierce brotherhood of firefighters, and the bravery and generosity of ordinary citizens, we have glimpsed what a new culture of responsibility could look like. ... We've been offered a unique opportunity, and we must not let this moment pass. ... This time of adversity offers a unique moment of opportunity--a moment we must seize to change our culture. ... And we have a great opportunity during this time of war to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace. ... In this moment of opportunity, a common danger is erasing old rivalries." [10]

July 19, 2002
Bush told journalist Bill Sammon that "the events of September 11 caused him to focus on two big goals that he believed the nation could achieve." One of these, the president said, was "peace. ... I believe we can achieve the peace in the Middle East. And I believe we can achieve a peace in South Asia. ... I view this as an opportunity that we will seize." And at home, he added: "the cultural shift toward personal responsibility is going to enable us to better deal with those who could be left behind. ... And one of my jobs is to seize this opportunity, to encourage its impact on our culture." [11]

It would appear that the president's feelings were similar to those articulated by a senior Pentagon official. In 2004, this unnamed official told Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough: "I hate to say this and would never say this in public, but 9/11 had its benefits." [12]

[1] Bob Woodward, Bush at War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 31-32.
[2] Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, "America's Chaotic Road to War." Washington Post, January 27, 2002.
[3] "President Pledges Assistance for New York in Phone Call With Pataki, Giuliani." White House, September 13, 2001; Elisabeth Bumiller and Jane Perlez, "The Overview; Bush and Top Aides Proclaim Policy of 'Ending' States That Back Terror; Local Airports Shut After an Arrest." New York Times, September 14, 2001.
[4] Dan Balz, Bob Woodward and Jeff Himmelman, "Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges." Washington Post, January 29, 2002.
[5] "President Building Worldwide Campaign Against Terrorism." White House, September 19, 2001.
[6] "Remarks by the President at Photo Opportunity With House and Senate Leadership." White House, September 19, 2001.
[7] Karen Hughes, Ten Minutes From Normal. New York: Viking, 2004, pp. 267-268.
[8] "President Bush and Russian President Putin Discuss Progress." White House, October 21, 2001.
[9] "U.S., Africa Strengthen Counter-Terrorism and Economic Ties." White House, October 29, 2001.
[10] "President Delivers State of the Union Address." White House, January 29, 2002.
[11] Bill Sammon, Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism--From Inside the Bush White House. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2002, pp. 382-383.
[12] Rowan Scarborough, Rumsfeld's War: The Untold Story of America's Anti-Terrorist Commander. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2004, pp. iii.

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