Once you get past the fawning over George Bush, 9/11—Inside the President’s War Room is an insight into a wounded imperial power.
This documentary tells the story of the 11 September attacks through interviews with then president Bush and his team. It also shows just how quickly Bush decided on war in Afghanistan.
One thing that shines through repeatedly is how stunned they were that anyone had dared to strike at them.
A shadow of what the US’s wars look like had momentarily been forced onto the US itself. This was an attack the US’s rulers felt very keenly as a blow to the image of their global dominance.
They almost seem to view the attack on the Pentagon—the headquarters of the US defence department—as more significant than that on the World Trade Centre.
One aide remembers Bush declaring, “The mightiest building in the world is on fire.”
Bush himself says the bombing of the Pentagon is the moment that the attacks became “a declaration of war.”
In fact, it’s Bush who decides almost immediately that he’s going to declare war.
Aides recall debating whether Bush’s address that night should focus on reassurance or promises of retaliation.
In particular, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice remembers questioning whether the line “We will make no distinction between the terrorist who committed these acts and those who harbour them,” should appear in the speech.
She knows it will mean war in Afghanistan. Bush is adamant that it should. He talks about how much he looked forward to the prospect of bombing back.
He laughs at how he felt just hours after the attack. “One thing on the to do list was kick their ass,” he says. “I didn’t know who they were yet.”
Now, he’s asked whether he thinks his wars made the world a safer place. He doesn’t quite answer.
“There weren’t any more attacks on America,” he says, presumably because that’s all that really matters to him. “We’ll let history sort all that out—I’m comfortable with the decisions I made.”
History is sorting all that out now—and you’d hope it makes Bush feel a little more than uncomfortable.