WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 President Bush declared today that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were "acts of war." He spent much of the day trying to rally an international coalition for what could become a massive military response---once the enemy was identified.
"This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail," Mr. Bush said as he opened a meeting this morning with his national security advisers.
Wednesday was his first full day back in the White House since the attacks. He spent his time receiving intelligence briefings, calling world leaders to fashion a global coalition against terrorism and visiting the scene of destruction at the Pentagon, where he thanked the rescue workers for their dedication.
"I am overwhelmed by the devastation," Mr. Bush said, standing in the charred hulk of the military nerve center late this afternoon. "Coming here makes me sad, on the one hand; it also makes me angry."
His words this morning suggested that his mind was on retaliation and were more pointed than those he used in his address to the nation on Tuesday night, when he called the attacks "evil, despicable acts of terror" and "acts of mass murder."
Today he said the attacks "were more than acts of terror; they were acts of war," a distinction intended to lay the military, political and psychological groundwork for military action.
Administration officials declined to account for the overnight escalation of language, but senior Republicans said there was some distress among Bush friends that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Tuesday, the president had vanished and that Air Force One had bounced from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska before delivering Mr. Bush back to Washington.
"The jumping around the country, bunker to bunker, created a lot of turmoil for his image," a close ally of the president said.
The White House said today that the path was taken because Mr. Bush was a target in the attacks.
Mr. Bush's stronger public statements today came just before he met with Congressional leaders, and the leaders emerged from the White House with brief statements of bipartisan support for him.
He had asked Congress for an open-ended financial commitment for rescue efforts and to protect the nation's security, saying the United States would spend "whatever it takes." Later today, Congressional leaders began discussing an initial package of $20 billion to respond to the terror attacks.
In his remarks this morning, the president said the nation faced an elusive enemy that hid in shadows, preyed on innocent people and then ran for cover. He promised that the United States would exact retribution for those killed on Tuesday, but he also asked for patience.
"This is an enemy that tries to hide," Mr. Bush said. "But it won't be able to hide forever. This is an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe. But they won't be safe forever."
Aides said that after last night's address to the nation, Mr. Bush met for an hour with his national security team and then retired, with no further meetings or phone calls.
He returned to the Oval Office at 7:05 a.m. By midafternoon, he had called several world leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany and President Jiang Zemin of China. Mr. Bush spoke twice with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Bush was rallying "an international coalition to combat terrorism."
Mr. Bush had lunch with Vice President Dick Cheney and continued his security briefings this afternoon before unexpectedly visiting the Pentagon.
The visit gave him a chance to inspect the damage first hand and to begin to assert his presence in what close associates acknowledged was a severe test of Mr. Bush's leadership and a defining period of his presidency. Aides said that he intended to visit New York, but that he did not want to interfere with rescue efforts.
At the Pentagon, workers unfurled a giant American flag to cover the damaged area and some began singing "God Bless America."
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Bush Labels Aerial Terrorist Attacks 'Acts of War'
The New York Times By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and ELISABETH BUMILLER September 13, 2001