– President Bush in a speech before a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001.
In light of the recent criticism regarding President Bush’s golfing statement (blogged by Curt, here), I thought I’d type out this excerpt from Robert Draper’s “Dead Certain”. He was given unprecedented access to key figures in the Bush White House, but certainly doesn’t write a pro-Bush narrative. Supporters and detractors can find quite a bit in these pages that they will like and dislike.
Beginning on Chapter 11, Pg 225 of Robert Draper’s Dead Certain:
Bush had listened, had professed to understand the consequences. Now he had to live with them. That “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended” was, by 2004, thoroughly beside the point. Far more American troops had been killed since that “Mission Accomplished” moment than before it. The mission- to rid the world of menace in Iraq- was far from accomplished, and the toll it exacted was there for him to see, every time he visited a wounded soldier or the families of the fallen.
No one can force a president to make such visits. But, as Andy Card had warned him, this was part of a commander in chief’s job description, and Bush did not run from it. The task became a part of his routine whenever his travels took him near a military hospital. Because such moments couldn’t be a perfunctory meet-and-greet, but instead had to last as much as twenty minutes for each family, the visits taxed his schedule. They also sapped Bush of his emotional reserves, such that the staff knew not to schedule a major public event for him afterward. He invariably cried during such encounters; and though, as some staffers would theorize, Bush’s ability to emote freely enabled him to carry on untormented, the spectacle of maimed young men and women, and of sobbing mothers, would scar anyone’s heart.
Sometimes Card joined his boss; sometimes a warm body from the press shop stood nearby. Joe Hagin nearly always accompanied Bush- though really, this was a lonely moment, the man who sent Americans into harm’s way now confronting the grimness of that act. It was hard for others to appreciate this. Later, in the summer of 2004, Bush was conducting a final run-through of his convention speech, in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, in the presence of Rice, Karen Hughes, Card, Rove, Gerson, and Ed Gillespie. He came to an emotionally charged part at the end of the speech in which he acknowledged the somberness of these visits: “I’ve held the children of the fallen who are told their dad or mom is a hero, but would rather just have their mom or dad.”
Karen and Rice both began to cry when he read the line- or tried to read it: Bush was starting to cry as well. Gillespie whispered to Gerson, “Do we really have to say this line?”
When Gerson spoke up and said, “Mr. President, it’s very important that we say this line to show that we understand what’s going on,” Bush angrily cut him off.
“We don’t have to say this line,” he snapped. “I have to say this line.”
To the wounded, he asked where they were from and what they liked to do. When it seemed the thing to do, he would crack a joke. Without fail, he thanked them for their service and told them that they made him proud. Often, they told their president that they would like to go back to combat again. Bush would try not to choke up as he indicated that they had already served enough.
To those who had lost a son or a daughter, he could offer no levity. Bush hugged them and wept with them. Occasionally, a family would refuse at the last minute to see the man who had prosecuted this lethal war. Or they would get in his face: “You killed my son! How could you?”
“Your son gave his life for his country,” was all he could say in reply. Or: “Your son was a hero.”
Far more often, they thanked him: Our son died for something he believed in. And this was both a humbling and an emboldening thing to hear- though perhaps not as much as the most common refrain of all, usually spoken with searing eye contact:
Don’t let my son die in vain.
The next paragraphs, to the end of the chapter, covers President Bush’s meeting with Staff Sgt. Michael McNaughton from the 769th Engineer Battalion of the Louisiana National Guard, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It’s a detailed account. If you don’t know who McNaughton is and the story about his meeting with President Bush….well,
It doesn’t bother me (as much) that there are those who disagree with President Bush’s decisions, judgment, policies; but what does bother me, is the notion that he is an evil, corrupt, uncaring man.
When the White House called my wife, they said she wasn’t allowed to tell even my other son or daughter that we were invited to meet the President. They didn’t want the press to know, and said the President didn’t want the press to know. If it would have leaked out, we would not have had the meeting.”
Which is telling. It belies the complaints of those who think the President has somehow politicized the situation regarding those who have died in Iraq.