By Tim Hunt
White House insiders views on 9/11 20 years laterUploaded: Sep 16, 2021
Prior to viewing the Alameda County 9/11 remembrance at the Alameda County Fairgrounds last week, I watched a Hoover Institution program, “Reflecting on September 11, 20 years later” featuring key White House leaders from that time.
Hoover is directed by Condoleezza Rice who served as the National Security Advisor in the George W. Bush Administration on 9/11. She shared her recollections as did Karen Hughes, counselor to the president, Ret. Gen. James Mattis and John B. Taylor who was under secretary of treasury for international affairs. Mattis and Taylor are Hoover fellows.
They recalled the chaos of that morning. Rice and Hughes both ended up in the bunker with Vice President Dick Cheney and other cabinet members. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Peru at an event while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not be reached by phone. Rice described Transportation Secretary Leon Panetta taking notes on a yellow pad as he and his team worked to get every airplane on the ground now that they knew commercial airliners were being used as “missiles.”
Rice also said that prior to being hustled into the bunker, she spoke again to President Bush who said he was coming back to Washington. He had been at an elementary school in Florida promoting an education initiative. She said she raised her voice to him—something she had never done before and would never do again—and told him he cannot come back to the capitol. “It’s not safe.”
Mattis, a freshly promoted brigadier general found himself leading the Afghanistan operations three months after 9/11. Within a month, he found that troop caps had been imposed by Bush Administration. Later, meeting with a Gold Star mom and her family in her home, she asked why is it that the generals ask for 20,000 troops and you have a million? Why limitations? How do you answer that question, he said?
He said that some operations had limitations imposed politically and that questions whether the United States got the strategy right. He said there’s was a failure to think strategically once the original military mission has been accomplished in the first few months and a new government in place in Afghanistan.
He also said once the war in Iraq was under consideration, he was removed from theater and stationed at Camp Pendleton to get the First Marine Division ready to invade Iraq. He said the military leadership already was shifting special forces and marines out of Afghanistan. The focus had shifted and done so without the overall long term strategy. The terrorists were fighting a long war and we wanted a limited war.
I saw an interview with Richard Myers, now president of Kansas State University, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs in that time. He shared a different view that the Iraq war did not distract from the effort in Afghanistan.
Rice shared that she believed there was a messaging problem. Media of all stripes as well as politicians of both parties have labeled Afghanistan as the “longest war.’ She pointed out that we’ve had 28,000 troops in South Korea for 70 years under terms of an armistice. That deployment has included a season where the country was governed by a military dictatorship before evolving into today’s democracy with a robust economy.
Hughes, who left the White House position a year later, recalled talking to the president before the invasion of Iraq. She then met with Rice and was invited to Camp David for a meeting between President Bush and Rice and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his team. Hughes was struck by they all saw the threat from Saddam Hussein the same way—liberal Labour party leader and conservative.
Rice reminded listeners of the president’s speech when he discussed the war. “ President Bush said in his address to the Congress on September 20 this is a war that that I will not be end on my watch. I will pass it to my successor and to my successor to my successor.”
Both she and Mattis said they felt “failure” because they had not protected the homeland. Both pointed out that the radical Islamist had declared war on us in the 1980s and 1990s and we hadn’t taken it seriously despite attacks on the USS Cole, the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the World Trade Center and attacks in Kenya.
President Bush said in his address to the Congress on September 20 He said this is a war that I will, that I will not be one on my watch. I will pass it to my successor and to my successor into my successor.