Notes From Air Force One on 9/11 and the Resolve of President Bush

Today marks what is possibly the darkest day in our nation’s history.

Fifteen years ago today, we witnessed the pinnacle of man’s inhumanity to man, but also, the resolve and grit of the American spirit.

I pray we haven’t lost that spirit forever, buried underneath the rubble of political correctness and liberal appeasement.

I have always said that I was so glad to have had a President George W. Bush in the White House at the time of the attacks. The response from a President Gore would have been too depressing and effete to imagine.

On the day of the attack, President Bush was whisked off on Air Force One to a secure location, as is the protocol. On board the presidential aircraft was Ari Fleischer, the presidential press secretary.

Mr. Fleischer kept a legal pad and jotted down everything that was said on the plane, six pages of notes in all, and he’s about to release them, in order to give people an idea of the tensions of that day.

There are six pages in all, the only original verbatim text of what Mr Bush said on the presidential plane as he and his senior aides absorbed the news.

“We’re at war,” Bush told Vice President Dick Cheney. Hanging up and turning to his aides, he added: “When we find out who did this, they’re not going to like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.”

No gray area, there. No equivocation. No wringing of hands. Just resolve.

“I can’t wait to find out who did it,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s going to take a while and we’re not going to have a little slap on the wrist crap.”

And we didn’t. President Bush did not rush into war. He was methodical, and waited for intelligence and to receive the backing of Congress, which he got, with bipartisan support.

While Iraq was the first target of what became a long and taxing war – a move largely panned by those who say it was the wrong target at the wrong time – it wasn’t without reason.

For starters, that’s where the intelligence received pointed. Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, had purposely led people to believe he was a threat, with his talk of the weaponry they had amassed. While no WMD were found at the time (something liberals and conspiracy theorists love pointing out), those weapons were there, but had likely been moved out ahead of the invasion.

President Bush never wavered in his single-minded mission to be a leader in those dark days.

Fleischer also noted from Air Force One the president’s desire to get back to Washington.

“I want to get home as soon as possible,” Bush said. “I don’t want whoever this is holding me outside Washington.”

An aide responded: “Our people are saying it’s too unsteady still.”

Mr Bush said that was the message he was hearing from Mr. Cheney as well.

Bush chief of staff Andy Card said: “The right thing is to let the dust settle”.

And the dust did settle, but the wounds remained. I remember President Bush’s address to the nation after the attacks. The man’s eyes were red and filled with tears, but his words were filled with strength. This was a man whose heart was breaking for his nation, and I fell in love with the man that day, and gladly defended him as an American hero from that day on, no matter what other policies or decisions he made that I disagreed with (and there were a few). This was the last time we had a president who actually, actively and unapologetically loved his nation.

The one, bright spot in that whole, desperate, dark period was the spark of hope displayed by a nation that drew together as a family united. President Bush recognized it, pursued it, and personified it.

I just pray we haven’t lost it, for good.