18 years after 9/11 terror attacks, here is what the key members of Bush administration are doing now
A look at George W Bush administration’s top brains who had a harrowing time in finding the right response to the devastation
September 11, 2001, remains an unforgettable date in the history of the United States. On this date, the country faced terrible air-borne terror attacks that laid to dust its iconic twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The Pentagon was also targeted by the extremists who had hijacked passenger flights and turned them into missiles. A fourth plane had crashed in a field before reaching an unknown but supposedly high-profile target.
It was a terrible day for the country’s ruling establishment. George W Bush was in office at that time and the administration’s top brains had a harrowing time in finding the right response to the devastation that the US experienced on that fateful day.
MEAWW takes a look at the individuals who shouldered a massive responsibility in the aftermath, their response to the catastrophe and where they are today.
GEORGE W BUSH, President:
It was in January that year that George W Bush had become the 43rd president of the country. Son of former president George HW Bush, Bush Junior was 55 years old at the time. The president was at a child education event in Florida when one of his aides, Andrew Card, broke the news to him. The president soon after came up with the ‘global war on terror’ strategy which still informs American foreign policy two presidencies later.
When Bush ended his term in 2009 at 62, he had a low approval rating of 33 percent, thanks to issues like Iraq War (2003) and the response to Hurricane Katrina (2005). Bush Junior still considered himself the most popular president, and after leaving office, he returned to Midland in Texas and started living at his favorite Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Not a typical politician, Bush led a quiet life in Texas and avoided connections with politics, including the temptation to criticize his successor Barack Obama. Bush Junior and his wife Laura also bought a home near Southern Methodist University (SMU), Dallas, and started living a busy community life. He started giving paid speeches and got involved with the George W Bush Institute that he founded at SMU. He particularly took to painting and wrote a biography of his father who passed away last year. He also painted portraits of world leaders that he met during his service days. Besides, Bush Junior also worked silently on his legacy. He published a memoir in 2010, Decision Points, giving insight into his policy decisions and experiences as the president.
DICK CHENEY, Vice President:
Former secretary of state Dick Cheney became the vice president in January 2001 and the 9/11 attacks put him under immense scrutiny. Cheney, aged 60 then, had revealed later that the administration had taken the tough decision of shooting down the planes that were targeting various institutions after the first two wrecked the twin towers. It was a very difficult decision to make since those planes were carrying innocent American people.
Cheney had also asked President Bush not to come to Washington DC from Florida saying things were too uncertain there. The politician himself was taken to the underground bunker at the White House from where he coordinated the response. The military, however, did not have to shoot down a hijacked planes since it had already crashed.
What did Cheney, a key member of the Bush Junior administration, do after his demanding job ended? Unlike Bush, Cheney continued to remain involved in politics even after his tenure concluded. In 2012, he campaigned for Mitt Romney who contested against Obama in the presidential election. He also turned a critic of the Obama administration in the later years.
Cheney also supported Donald Trump during his run for the presidency though that did not bar him from criticising the president’s take on immigrants. The veteran has also written a number of books in the recent years including a memoir called ‘In My Time’. In this book, Cheney disclosed his health issues and that he had as many as five heart attacks. He also had a heart transplant in 2012. In 2015, Cheney wrote another book titled ‘Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America’ with his daughter Liz Cheney who is serving in Wyoming congressional seat, formerly served by her father. Last December, the movie ‘Vice’ featuring actor Christian Bale as Cheney, was released.
COLIN POWELL, Secretary of State:
A retired general in the US Army, Colin Powell had served as the secretary of state between 2001 and 2005. He was another key member of the Washington administration at the time of the 9/11 strikes. Powell, aged 64 at the time of the attacks, was in Lima for important meetings, and on his return, he became a key figure of the US administration having the responsibility of knitting together a worldwide coalition on the war on terror.
Powell had defended the Bush administration years later saying it hadn’t ignored warnings over the 9/11 attacks as it was alleged. Providing evidence to an inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, Powell had said that, under Bush, the US had acted on a comprehensive strategy to eliminate Al Qaeda.
Powell was known to be more of a moderate and faced less fire compared to some other high officials of the Bush administration during the Iraq War of 2003.
Nevertheless, the man remained a popular figure and after having an illustrious career in the military, many had expected him to join politics once retiring. Powell turned to his private life immediately after quitting the military but then returned to serve one term as a diplomat in the Bush administration. Even after his retirement from the diplomatic life, Powell was requested by both the Republicans and Democrats to run for a political office but the man chose to lead a private life. He focused on the private sector post-retirement as the state secretary and worked in various capacities in universities and fellowship programs. He endorsed Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and, in 2010, he changed his earlier stance on gays and lesbians in the military.
In 2012, he published his second memoir titled ‘It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership’. Last year, Powell, aged 81, appeared on the CBS show named ‘Madam Secretary’ along with other former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, National Security Adviser:
Condoleezza Rice succeeded Colin Powell as the secretary of state in 2005 but, before that, she was the national security adviser and the first woman to hold the position. Rice, however, remained at the centre of a controversy over her testimony to the 9/11 commission that supported former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States Richard Clark’s charges that the Bush administration had put less stress on the problem of counter-terrorism and that the Iraq invasion had been a major diversion from the war on terror.
In November 2015, 'Spymasters', a documentary on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came up with the account of a high-profile meeting that had taken place in July 2001 between Rice, then CIA director Goerge Tenet and his chief counter-terror aide Cofer Black. During the meeting, Tenet and Black had reportedly told Rice that: “There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.”
Sixty-five-year-old Rice, who had faced a whole lot of criticism after becoming the secretary of state, returned to academics after the end of term of the second Bush administration. In 2013, she became one of the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Next year, she refused to speak at Rutgers University’s May 18th commencement after the students and faculties opposed her support to the Iraq War. In 2017, her book ‘Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom’ was published. The same year, it was announced that Rice has agreed to chair the NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball. Last year, her book co-authored with Amy Zegart ‘Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations Can Anticipate Global Security’ got published.
DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense:
Donald Rumsfeld became the oldest person to hold the position of secretary of defence in the Bush Junior administration at the age of 69. He was the youngest to hold the position in 1975 in the Gerald Ford administration at the age of 43. Rumsfeld was at the Pentagon when the third plane targeted it but was lucky to survive as the ‘missile’ fell short of carrying out a complete destruction. Rumsfeld, who had raised the defense condition signalling of the US offensive readiness to DEFCON 3 level, even had ordered his aides to find out if there was any involvement of Iraq in the September 11 attacks. "Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein)–at same time. Not only UBL (Osama Bin Laden)". “Go massive – sweep it all up. Things related and not,” were among Rumsfeld’s notes to his aides. In March 2004, Rumsfeld had testified before the 9/11 Commission. He was replaced by Robert Gates in 2006.
In 2007, Rumsfeld set up The Rumsfeld Foundation that focuses on encouraging public service in the country.
In 2013, Errol Morris’ documentary about Rumsfeld called “The Unknown Known” was premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. In 2015, The Times of London carried an article in which Rumsfeld, aged 81, said Bush was wrong on Iraq. Days later, he said his statement did not contradict his earlier support for Iraq invasion.
In January 2018, George Washington University’s National Security Archive released the first installment of an estimated 60,000 pages of short memos called “snowflakes” from when Rumsfeld had served as the defense secretary in the Bush administration. In May, Rumsfeld’s book "When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency” was published. In December, a film called ‘Vice’ got released featuring Steve Carell portraying Rumsfeld.