President Bush’s best moments were all related to the aftermath of 9/11, particularly his remarks at a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance at Washington’s National Cathedral, and his iconic bullhorn moment amid the ruins of the World trade Center.
Bush was accused of repeatedly raising the specter of 9/11 to enhance his power, a slur of the highest magnitude. His critics never understood that Bush took 9/11 personally.
At a campaign event in Lebanon, Ohio, in May, 2004, a woman in the crowd shouted to the president, “this girl lost her mom in the World Trade Center on 9/11.” Twelve-year-old Ashley Faulkner’s mother worked for Aon Corporation and was attending a one-day meeting on the 104th floor of the south tower when terrorists flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the tower. Her body was never found. When Bush heard the shout, he turned back and, as Ashley’s father described it, “looked right at [Ashley] and said, ‘How are you doing?’ He reached out with his hand and pulled her into his chest . . . I could hear her say ‘I’m OK,’ . . . that’s more emotion than she had shown in two and a half years. Then [Bush] said, ‘I can see you have a father who loves you very much.’” Bush held the girl in his arms for quite some time while she continued to cry. While many Americans had moved on, Bush was determined to his last day in office to ensure that there would not be a repeat of 9/11 or something even worse.
His worst moments came with his refusal to remove those who failed him, including CIA director George Tenet, and Colin Powell and some of his deputies, who did just enough to appear that they supported the invasion of Iraq, but also ensuring that they did not burn any bridges with those opposed to the war.
— Stephen F. Knott is the author of Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics.