George W. Bush, the 9/11 Figurehead
by CA Pol Junkie
by CA Pol Junkie
The latest report from the 9/11 Commission, Improvising a Homeland Defense fills in some of the gaps in the timeline of what happened on 9/11 itself. It puts the blame squarely on the FAA, its fragmented and ponderous bureaucracy, and lack of preparedness for an astonishing delay in reporting the hijackings to NORAD.
What was most telling was the report's descriptions of Bush's activities, obviously relaying what Bush and Cheney said in their private joint appearance before the panel. It gives us insight into how Bush sees his job.
At 8:55, before entering the classroom, the President spoke to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, who was at the White House. She recalled first telling the President it was a twin-engine aircraft, then that it was commercial, saying "that's all we know right now, Mr. President."
So Bush knew a commercial aircraft had slammed into the World Trade Center but he proceeded with his photo op in the classroom. It's a bit odd to not stop and get more information, but not everyone would have connected the dots on a moment's notice and realized the connection to all the warnings of terrorist activity (including the use of airplanes) which came in during the summer of 2001. We see the true nature of Bush's presidency, however, when he is notified of the second tower being hit:
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. We are under attack." The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction in 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 5-7 minutes, while the children continued reading. He then returned to a holding room shortly before 9:15, where he was briefed by staff and saw television coverage. He then spoke to Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice, Governor Pataki, and FBI Director Mueller.
Of course, two and a half years passed between the event and his recollection, but looking at video, the "calm" he projected was similar to the calm a deer experiences when staring into your headlights. Taking Bush at his word, though, this is bizarre on a couple of counts. His reaction, upon hearing that America was under attack, was not to take charge but rather to "project strength and calm" to the country while presumably someone else was actually addressing the crisis. This is a basic admission that Bush understands his role as figurehead is to project the desired image of his administration to the American people while others actually do the work. The second bizarre bit is where he said he "should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening". Newsflash, Mr. Bush, you aren't going to better understand what was happening by listening to second graders read you "The Pet Goat".
It's the classic mediocre CEO mentality: the guy at the top handles the broad vision and the underlings handle all the details. Delegate everything and assume that means all will be fine. One wonders how his administrative style affected what was done (or more specifically, not done) in summer 2001 in response to the unprecedented terrorist activity and warnings. It shows the importance of management style when selecting our president.