Tuesday, June 22, 2004

 

On The 7 Minutes

It’s the duty of a president to move immediately to find out what's going on and to act accordingly. Those who say his inaction stems from confusion, his own and others, may be right, but it in no way lift the responsibility of the presidential mantle from him.

It seems no positive affirmation of the President to say he didn't move because he was confused. Being confused is one thing. Being confused and doing nothing about it is another.

Have we come to expect so little of Mr. Bush? Verbal gaffs may be expected and dispelled because of low expectations, but inaction in the face of being told of the second plane crash seems a bit much to dismiss by simply saying he was confused.

Which is worse, the president not acting because he was too busy projecting stalwart calm for the children and the nation or not acting because he was confused?

Neither of which seem the appropriate response to the events he'd been told about.

One plane hitting the WTC is a major event.

More so in light of previous terror attacks on the WTC and because of the PDB that said Osama Bin Laden wanted to use aircraft hit the U.S.

A second plane hitting the WTC makes an already major event much more serious because it greatly increases the chances that it is a terrorist attack.

A second plane implies coordination.

A second plane means there implies conspiracy.

A second plane means it wasn't an accident involving some wayward pilot.

A second plane hitting the WTC is an event clearly requiring immediate presidential attention.

When we are attacked by terrorists, the president must act quickly to assess the situation and make the decisions necessary to defend the nation, because the president, as Commander-In-Chief, is the only one in the national command authority who can issue shoot down orders of civilian aircraft.

And the 9-11 Commission indicates that by 8:37 the FAA was suggesting that might be necessary because when they contacted the military's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) the FAA suggested they "scramble some F-16s," which NEADS promptly did. These aircraft could have done nothing against civilian aircraft without presidential authority. And if the 9-11 Commission is correct, any possible shoot down of the hijacked aircraft could not have happened till almost an hour later. Mr. Bush has some responsiblity for approximately 25 minutes of that time.

The Commission indicates that no one in the administration was made aware of the situation at all until after 8:46.

When American 11 struck the World Trade Center at 8:46, no one in the White House or traveling with the President knew that it had been hijacked. Immediately afterward, duty officers at the White House and Pentagon began notifying senior officials what had happened.

Mr. Bush was informed about the first aircraft at 8:55. He ignored the information. But this is somewhat understandable, because it was just one plane. I don't agree with that assessment, considering the previous attacks and the PDB, but I see the point.

But from 9:05, when he was told of the second plane crash by Mr. Card, until 9:30, Mr. Bush apparently did nothing other than listen to the children read and work on remarks.

The President was seated in a classroom of second graders when, at approximately 9:05, Andrew Card whispered to him: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The national press corps was standing behind the children in the classroom; he saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.

The President remained in the classroom for another five to seven minutes, while the
children continued reading. He then returned to a holding room shortly before 9:15....

----

Between 9:15 and 9:30, the staff was busy arranging a return to Washington, while the President consulted his senior advisers about his remarks. No one in the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were hijacked or missing. As far as we know, no one was in contact with the Pentagon. The focus was on the President's statement to the nation. No decisions were made during this time, other than the decision to return to Washington.

So, it's not 7 minutes. It's more like 25.

Who knows what would have happened if Mr. Bush had left the classroom immediately to find out what had happened. We'll never know, because he just sat there projecting what he says was an air of calm. Or was it confusion.

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