Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

By Karl F. Inderfurth; Loch K. Johnson | Go to book overview

26
THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM

Dan Balz and Bob Woodward

Balz and Woodward capture the sense of urgency and the tension on the National Secu-
rity Council as the second Bush Administration deliberates over how to respond to the
shocking terrorist attacks against the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001.


TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

…. At 9 P.M., Bush met with his full National Security Council, followed roughly half an hour later by the meeting with a smaller group of key advisers who would become his war cabinet.

Powell, back in Washington from Peru, described the immediate diplomatic tasks: dealing with Afghanistan and its ruling Taliban, which harbored bin Laden, and neighboring Pakistan, which had closer ties to the Taliban regime than any other nation.

"We have to make it clear to Pakistan and Afghanistan this is showtime," Powell said.

"This is a great opportunity," Bush said, adding that the administration now had a chance to improve relations with other countries around the world, including Russia and China. It was more than flushing bin Laden out, he indicated.

Cheney raised the military problem of retaliating against al Qaeda's home base, noting that in Afghanistan, a country decimated by two decades of war, it would be hard to find anything to hit.

Bush returned to the problem of bin Laden's sanctuary in Afghanistan. Tenet said they must deny the terrorists that sanctuary by targeting the Taliban as well. Tell the Taliban we're finished with them, he urged.

Discussion turned to whether bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the Taliban were the same. Tenet said they were. Bin Laden had bought his way into Afghanistan, supplying the Taliban with tens of millions of dollars.

Rumsfeld said the problem was not just bin Laden and al Qaeda but the countries that supported terrorism—the point of the president's address that night.

"We have to force countries to choose," the president said.


11:08 P.M.

The President at the White House:
'We Think It's Bin Laden'

After the meeting had ended and Bush had returned to the residence, he and his wife were awakened by Secret Service agents. The agents rushed them downstairs to the bunker because of a report of an unidentified plane in the area. Bush was in running shorts and a T-shirt as he made his way down the stairs, through the tunnel and into the bunker. It proved to be a false alarm, and the Bushes returned to the residence for the rest of the night.

Like his father, Bush tries to keep a daily diary of his thoughts and observations. That night, he dictated:

"The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today."

"We think it's Osama bin Laden."

"We think there are other targets in the United States, but I have urged the country to go back to normal."

"We cannot allow a terrorist thug to hold us hostage. My hope is that this will provide an opportunity for us to rally the world against terrorism."

From Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, "America's Chaotic Road to War," Washington Post (January 27, 2002), A1.

Dan Balz and Bob Woodward are reporters for the Washington Post.

-268-

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