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Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges
Shortly before 11 a.m., White House aides ushered the press pool into the Oval Office for a scheduled conference call from Bush to New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and New York Gov. George E. Pataki.
The previous day, White House officials had decided to televise the conversation. They wanted Bush to be seen reaching out to the families of the thousands of victims who had died when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, as well as to the rescue workers who were laboring around the clock in a desperate search for survivors. Because it seemed doubtful that Bush could get to New York before the following Monday, the televised conference call was seen as the next best gesture.
But Bush decided he should go sooner. When he got the mayor and governor on the phone, he told them he would fly to New York the next afternoon, immediately after the prayer service at Washington National Cathedral.
Bush appeared slightly uncomfortable, almost distracted as he talked on the televised conference call. "I wish I was visiting under better circumstances," Bush said in closing. "But it will be a chance for all three of us to thank and hug and cry with the citizens of your good area."
The call over, Bush decided to take questions from the reporters standing only a few feet away, including one about the upcoming prayer service. "Mr. President," the reporter asked, "could you give us a sense as to what kind of prayers you are thinking and where your heart is, for yourself, as you -- "
"Well I don't think about myself right now," he said, and it was instantly obvious he was struggling with his own emotions. "I think about the families, the children." He turned his head and his eyes filled with tears.
"I am a loving guy," he said, as he started to regain his composure, "and I am also someone, however, who has got a job to do, and I intend to do it. And this is a terrible moment. But this country will not relent until we have saved ourselves and others from the terrible tragedy that came upon America."
Tears still in his eyes, Bush ended the question-and-answer period with a slight nod of his head, and the pool reporters were escorted out.
"Presidents don't particularly like to cry in front of the American public, particularly in the Oval Office, but nevertheless I did," Bush said in an interview last month. But he said he believed his "mood reflected the country in many ways. People in our country felt the same way I did."
As the reporters filed out, Bush walked back to his private study off the Oval Office. Karl Rove, his longtime political adviser, was there, and he too was overcome with emotion. Rove looked away, and Bush turned his back. Rove realized they were both in tears.
After his call to Giuliani and Pataki, Bush met with his speechwriting team to begin preparing for the prayer service at Washington National Cathedral the next day. The service had been Bush's idea, and he had instructed his aides to include in the program leaders of all the major faiths -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- and denominations.
Michael Gerson, the president's chief speechwriter, had worked with Bush since the formative days of his presidential campaign and, with Hughes, was the author of Bush's most important speeches. He had a sense of history, a strong belief in the concept of compassionate conservatism and a flair for language, which Hughes would sometimes distill into Bush's earth-bound style.