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Bush blew it the morning of 9/11

New York Daily News. Wednesday, August 11th, 2004
John Kerry has waded into an issue raised by Michael Moore in his film "Fahrenheit 9/11," namely, President Bush's sitting for seven minutes in a Florida classroom after being told "the country is under attack." Republicans are waxing indignant, of course. But the criticism is richly deserved.

The fact that Bush wasted 27 minutes that day - not only the seven minutes reading to kids but 20 more at a photo op afterward - was, in my view, the most outrageous thing a President has done since Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court. Watergate was outrageous but it still did not carry the possibility of utter devastation, like a President's freezing at the very moment we needed his immediate focus on an attack on the United States.

This is an issue about the ultimate presidential duty, acting in an emergency. If nothing else in Washington is nonpartisan, this should be.

But it is not. Republicans are tying themselves in knots trying to defend Bush's actions that morning. The excuses they put forward are absurd:

* He was "gathering his thoughts." This was a moment a President should have imagined a thousand times. There is no time in the nuclear age for a President to sit like Forrest Gump "gathering thoughts" after an attack has begun. Gathering information is what he should have been doing.

* From the White House press secretary: "The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening." I agree that gaining a better understanding of what was happening should have been his goal. What I don't get is how that goal was reached by just sitting there instead of getting up and talking to people. Is he a psychic? Was he receiving the information telepathically?

* "He didn't want to scare the children." Vice President Cheney has said of Kerry, "The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample reason to doubt the judgment he brings to vital issues of national security." So Kerry's judgment is suspect, but at a moment of national crisis, Bush's judgment was: Better not to scare 20 children momentarily than to react immediately to an attack on the country!

If he had just said, "Hey, kids, gotta go do some President business - be good to your moms and dads, bye!" my guess is the kids would have survived.

I cannot see how someone who considers himself a conservative can defend George Bush's inaction. Conservatives pride themselves on being clear-eyed and decisive. They don't do nuance, and they respect toughness.

But Bush choked at the most important moment a President could have. We're lucky Al Qaeda had done its worst by the time he pulled himself away from the photo op. Next time, it might not be that way.

Maher is the host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Bush did not blow it on the morning of 9/11 12.Aug.2004 17:51

The Patriot Guy

I love this crap, trying desperately to explain away Bush's 9/11 conduct, or anything about 9/11 as being failure to respond or system failure. 9/11 was a total success and should be embraced as such.

Just think about it, 250 million people in this country believe that some two bit fundamentalist pulled this stunt off and 40 billion bucks a year for intelligence plus 400 billion bucks for military couldn't stop him, couldn't even slow him down. Now the latest spin is intelligence overload. There was so much intelligence that the community couldn't process it all. Kind of like a denial of service computer worm.

I have an idea. Let us form a committee to study Bush's behavior on 9/11. Maybe we can get Dr Hatfield to chair the committee. He will no doubt attribute Bush's performance to too much suspicious white power. We can have 500 hours of C-Span coverage and that great leftist bastion NPR can air talking heads from the American Enterprise Institute. Lets leave out Ann Coulter blaming the children for holding W hostage.

Indeed... 12.Aug.2004 18:51

Tony Blair's dog

9/11 was quite a success for the Bush administration
and the "old boys network".

Everyone of them and their friends got all they had asked for and more.

Time to put a new face(Kerry) up as "pResident" before
people starts to put two and two together.

If they are lucky none of them will even be punished,
and you know, people have such a bad memory that they
will forget about the whole mess in a couple of years
time (at least that's their hope).

Moreover, and most important... 13.Aug.2004 05:26


The success of the killer mission itself - 9/11, the WTC, pentagon, patriot act, etc. - was the only truly successful thing these inhuman assassins have accomplished since they crawled into the White House through the bathroom window to get a drink. Yet some of the more die-hard thousands in this very sick land will probably stick by the killer-retard even after concrete proof emerges about his direct complicity in making 9/11 happen. It is those that will not be prosecuted, those redneck ignoramuses that we need to do something about because they and their world are willing to kill the Earth and all on it as they are flushed down forever.

Let's be honest 20.Aug.2004 18:34

Derek Maddox

What would have happened if George Bush had jumped up from his chair as soon as his aide whispered in his ear, excused himself to the children, and rushed from the room? What would have awaited him in the hallway of the school?

More aides, military and political, informing him that they were doing their best to gather facts and establish just exactly what was going on.

Within minutes, probably just as the President was leaving that classroom, intelligence and law inforcement officials understood the full impact of the terrorist acts and were ready to begin formulating the nation's response.

The bottom line is that if he had rushed from the classroom, not only would he have unduly upset the children, but he would have been standing around in the hallway waiting for those several minutes for actionable information to be assembled.

President Bush understood that he had a competent and concerned staff who were responding immediately to the crisis, and that when he emerged from the classroom 7 minutes later that they would be ready with the information he needed to direct our national response.

That's the kind of cool head we need in a crisis, ladies and gentlemen. Not some hothead that rushes around like Chicken Little at the first sound of gunfire.

but not intellectually honest apparently 20.Aug.2004 21:20


The Bushites are really turning themselves into knots over this when they should just drop it. There is no excuse for sitting around while the country is under attack. None. Period.

The straw-man that Bush should have run screaming from the room is ridiculous and nothing but an insult to people's intelligence. The president should not have sat in for a photo-op while the country was under attack. Is that so hard to understand? Really, are you that dumb? Can you not understand that being told of the first plane hitting the WTC before entering the school Bush should have immediately canceled his plans for a photo op?

Bush was too stupid to know what to do, which is why he sat there. Can you imagine, being told the country is under attack, and not knowing what to do, just sitting there looking dazed and confused. He didn't ask for any information, he didn't leave to deal with the situation. Imagine if it hadn't been 4 planes but 10 all flying around while the president sat in a classroom rather than excusing himself. What critical decisions might have needed to be made, like say authorize the shooting down of planes during that time that he would have been unavailable for because of a photo op.

The "he shouldn't have run screaming from the room" straw-man isn't going to fly with anyone but brainwashed Bushites like yourself. Better look for other explanations, like maybe someone had slipped drugs into the presidents coffee and that's why he looked so disoriented and frightened.

Settle down, patriot 21.Aug.2004 08:19

Derek Maddox

The first time the word "screaming" was used on this page is in your post. No one else said anything about the President "screaming from the room".

You have obviously never been in a position of responsibility, in business or in the military, when a crisis occurred. Information is not instantly available. Decisions are not made in a vacuum. The leader of the group is not the one gathering all information required to make informed and sound decisions.

The fact of the matter is that although President Bush knew that a crisis was developing, he also understood that he had assembled a competent national security team to deal with such crises. That any decision he needed to make depended entirely upon that team's information gathering, and that the information would take a few minutes to consolidate and verify.

The way this works in the military is that in a crisis, or in battle, the commander depends upon his intelligence and planning officers to develop several alternative courses of action, each evaluated and assessed for benefits and risks. These alternatives are presented to the commander by these subordinate officers, and the commander makes a decision as to the course of action to be implemented. In my experience, this is never exactly one of the presented courses of action, but usually some hybrid of two or more courses of action. Even when plan fragments have been developed beforehand, it takes some minutes to adapt those fragments to a specific crisis or battle plan.

So, you see, the time President Bush spent with the children was the time required for his national security team to evaluate the crisis, develop alternative courses of action (including the possibility of scrambling fighters to shoot down civilian airliners), and to be ready to brief the President on the options available.

No time was wasted, and no children were frightened.

so what you're saying is 22.Aug.2004 04:25

reading a little closer

Bush was too incompetent to excuse himself to deal with a national emergency in a way that wouldn't frighten the children who were present.

Hmmm, you know you may be on to something.

"Well, Jordan, you're not going to believe what state I was in when I heard about the terrorist attack. I was in Florida. And my Chief of Staff, Andy Card -- actually, I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly, myself, and I said, well, there's one terrible pilot. I said, it must have been a horrible accident. But I was whisked off there, I didn't have much time to think about it. And I was sitting in the classroom, and Andy Card, my Chief of Staff, who is sitting over here, walked in and said, "A second plane has hit the tower, America is under attack."

- George W. Bush

You can't possibly be that dense... 22.Aug.2004 07:56

Derek Maddox

I have to believe that you folks are being deliberately obtuse.

There would have been absolutely nothing for President Bush to do had he left the classroom within that 7 minutes. He could sit there and finish with the children, or he could stand in the hallway or sit on Air Force One. It wouldn't have mattered. Until the national security staff developed the scenario and possible courses of action, there was nothing the President could do.

No president, regardless of intelligence or experience, develops the detailed information required to make decisions, or the detailed plans required to implement those decisions, in a vacuum.

The fact that John Kerry doesn't seem to understand this is just one of the aspect of his candidacy that worries me greatly.

not dense, just trying to wake you from your stupor 22.Aug.2004 13:37


Since the Bush administration was well aware of the plans to use planes as weapons Bush's first thought when being told of the first plane hitting the WTC should have been that it was a terrorist strike. He either never read, nor absorbed the numerous briefings on the subject like some in his administration who chose to take action on behalf of those warnings (like to stop flying commercial planes). Strike 1.

Also, after being told of the first strike against the WTC Bush should have immediately canceled his photo-op, even if he believed it was "one terrible pilot" because it still would have been a grave and serious event. Imagine if Reagan had gone into a photo op after being told of the challenger explosion; it would have been unconscionable. Strike 2.

Once being told that a 2nd plane had hit the WTC, not only was it clear that the US was under attack, but that the scale of the attacks was significant. Anyone with the least bit of competence, or humanity, would have wanted to know immediately what was going on, and would have the intelligence and grace to excuse themselves in a polite manner. Strike 3.

Of course, I admit, I cannot picture Bush being able to excuse himself in such a way. So perhaps he was quite literally incapable of doing so.

"or the detailed plans required to implement those decisions, in a vacuum"

Like the vacuum of a Florida classroom? You say there was nothing to do, but why wouldn't he be gathering information, ask to be told what was happening, begin moving to an area where he had communication with his staff and the military and intelligence communities? If there was truly "nothing for President Bush to do" why didn't he just stay at the classroom longer? He could have gotten a few more photos in while his staff was doing the work right? No need for him to be informed, placed in a position where he could make decisions and communicate with others.

This spin simply isn't going to work, and I think you know that. The best defense I've heard is that Bush is "only human" and was shocked by the events. That at least gives Bush the "common man" image. Trying to spin a moment of indecision and incompetence into a shining moment rings hollow to anyone with any common sense.

All the other defenses are brought up and refuted in the article, so I don't know why I bother repeating them. Anyone who says the president was better sitting in a classroom than gathering information and moving to a position from which he could communicate with people and make decisions isn't going to convince anyone.

Once more, for the really stupid ones... 22.Aug.2004 14:12

Derek Maddox

You're beginning to try my patience, patriot.

You seem to be operating under the impression the the President of the United States is single-handedly responsible for gathering situation status information, evaluating and assessing all of that information, adapting pre-existing plans to that situation, and then making implementation decisions. That is simply not true. The president is only one member of the national security team. He's the Commander of that team, to be sure, but the other members of that team, along with the myriad staff members below them, also have their responsibilities during a crisis.

Although during my own military career I never saw service at the national security team level, I have had many a night in the command post at one base or another. I know that when things started to happen, the commander would get there, but often not until half an hour or so had passed. But when he DID get there, he expected all of us to be able to tell him exactly what was going on, and what we thought should be done about it. The captains and lieutenants started busting our butts immediately doing research and checking wing and squadron deployment status as soon as the flags started going up. By the time the old man got there, we were usually able to give him a complete picture of what was happening. My commander knew that if he showed up in the command post too soon, there would be nothing that we could tell him and that, in fact, he would be in the way.

In President Bush's case it isn't captains and lieutenants, but generals and colonels that are doing the research and adapting plans (although they've certainly got a bunch of company grade officers running around for them). But the concept is still the same. If he showed up too soon, the people that should have been off doing real work would be compelled by the customs of the service to interrupt that work to give the president a situation report.

I am beginning to get the sense that you have no intention of believing anything other thant he worst about President Bush in this instance, but he behaved in a manner consistent with the office of a commander. For a crisis of that nature and size, staying out of the way of his national security team for five or ten minutes meant that as soon as he stepped into the hallway of the school they had real information, real options, available for his consideration and decision. President Bush, a good Commander in Chief, knew that and let his team do their jobs.

do you have a grasp on the timeline? 22.Aug.2004 15:19


"You're beginning to try my patience, patriot."

Good, maybe once your patience is tried common sense will actually begin to sink through. Now that you've been reduced to slinging insults people can see your insincerity and insecurity for what they are.

"often not until half an hour or so had passed"

By the time Bush is told about the second plane, more than 30 minutes have passed since the planes were known to have been hijacked. More than 20 minutes have passed since the first strike. Furthermore, for the concern that people show about Bush, "leaving early" he did, in fact, leave early and meet with his staff (as he should have done after the first plane hit, and certainly immediately after the 2nd).

And again, these were not unknown scenarios. These were well known threats that had been known for months to which there were already contingency plans. Therefore, it is not a case where Bush should have had to wait for information. Plenty of information was available for Bush, and a photo-op is simply of no concern.

So you can keep spinning, and if it comforts you to believe what you believe more power to you, but you will not convince anyone. Life's tough that way sometimes; people have certain expectations of a president, and even if what you were saying were true, people still expect that a president would take action on being told the country was under attack. Even if it were just to excuse himself and ask for more information, or to be put in touch with people gathering information, that is what people expect, and those expectations were not met.

"Immediately [after Card speaks to Bush] an expression of befuddlement passe[s] across the President's face. Then, having just been told that the country was under attack, the Commander in Chief appear[s] uninterested in further details. He never ask[s] if there had been any additional threats, where the attacks were coming from, how to best protect the country from further attacks... . Instead, in the middle of a modern-day Pearl Harbor, he simply turn[s] back to the matter at hand: the day's photo op."

- James Bamford