President George W. Bush addressed the nation in prime time tonight with a speech that lasted just over 13 minutes. He spoke of his accomplishments as president and of his optimism about America’s future. He admitted that he would do some things differently if he could, though he defended the results of his efforts to protect America. There have been no attacks on the homeland in the seven and a half years since 9/11â€”an achievement few anticipated in the days after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
One line in the address stood out to me as worth further reflection. It’s the one line that sheds the most light on the President’s personal motivation for taking the country to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here’s the line:
“As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before Nine-Eleven. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our Nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.”
I can remember how I felt right after the attacks. There was a sense of uncertainty about when the next shoe would drop. Most people thought that it would. The President along with the rest of America was learning to live with a new realityâ€”the fact that the homeland is vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Yet I suspect that the President is right about how Americans by and large have lost their sense of urgency and vigilance about threats against the homeland. When was the last time you stayed up talking to friends about the possibility of another attack? We all did it in the months after 9/11. I daresay most Americans haven’t had such a conversation in years.
President Bush has talked about this possibility everyday for the last seven and a half years, and his conversations are accompanied by intelligence briefings that describe how people around the world are plotting to acquire and use WMD against the American homeland. I’m sure things never went back to normal for him. What must it have been like to walk in his shoes?
In terms of understanding the psychology of this unpopular president, that one line explains a lot.