After listening to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s speech yesterday on national security, I was a bit taken aback as to why his speech was even necessary.
Then it dawned on me what the problem may be with those who attempt to make believe that the events of 9/11 never happened, criminalize the prior administration, or try their best to ignore the threats we face by radical Islam today.
Maybe they just had to be there! And for those that weren’t and just don’t get it, perhaps they don’t feel the threats we face, or need for us to do everything within our power to make sure it never happens again.
As I listened to the vice president’s speech, there came a point that I was virtually knocked back in time, nearly eight years to the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney said that one of the defining moments for him on 9/11, was when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles per hour. It was American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that ended up hitting the Pentagon.
While the plane was still inbound, Secret Service agents rushed into his office and I imagine with his feet barely touching the ground, he was evacuated, finding himself moments later in a fortified White House command post somewhere within the compound. Confined to this bunker, he listened to the reports and watched the images that so many Americans remember from that day.
His reflection of those events is more than mere words to me as I lived through those moments, standing in front of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was waiting for the vice president to come to the phone.
The mayor and I and our staff were all huddled inside a small office at 75 Barclay Street, just two blocks north of the towers on West Broadway.
After acknowledging someone on the other end of the phone, Giuliani slowly placed the phone back on its receiver. He then repeated what he had just been told, they “think the Pentagon has been hit,” and they’re “evacuating the White House.”
Cheney didn’t make it to the phone because he himself was being dragged into that bunker, and just as that moment is etched in his mind, it is etched in mine as well. It was 9:49 a.m., and although I wasn’t looking at a clock, I’m positive of the time because within 30 seconds after Giuliani hung up that phone, the building we were in began to shake as if a freight train was colliding into the side of it.
The windows in the hallways began to shatter as someone kicked open the door and yelled for us to get down to the ground. For the next 15-20 seconds, there appeared to be an endless explosion, saturating our temporary headquarters with dust, gas, and debris.
We were almost suffocating. It was now 9:50 a.m., and the unthinkable and unimaginable has just happened. Tower II of the World Trade Center had just imploded with enough force to vaporize almost everything and anything in its path.
For me and those who were there, and for those brave men and women that responded and worked day and night at ground zero for months, the events of 9/11 are very personal as we witnessed firsthand, the evil of the enemy and threats we face.
We must realize that most of the people impacted worst, like those who lost friends and family members on 9/11 or the men and women in our armed forces and their families at home; take the events of that day and our country’s national security very personal.
I believe President George W. Bush and Cheney also took it personal. It happened on their watch; they lived through it and then most importantly, had to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.
Now it’s President Barack Obama’s watch, and I believe he himself has gotten a firsthand look at the threats we face, which resulted in an appointment of a much stronger National Security team than anyone would have predicted. But besides those threats, he must deal with a House and Senate, loaded with a partisan obsession to criminalize the former administration for what they felt was right and necessary at the time.
Second guessing and Monday-morning quarterbacking from the outside looking in does no one any good. At the end of the day, it’s the man in the seat who calls the shots and must deal with the outcome. We can only hope he makes the right call, and when he’s wrong, he learns from his mistakes.
Like it or not, the shots were called, and we’ve learned from what mistakes there were. Now move on and move forward. The president has a hard enough job as it is, but the partisan politics and attacks by the House and Senate serves in no one’s interest — except for those out to see us fail.
We’ve been through one 9/11 — and take my word for it — we do not want another one.
Bernard B. Kerik is chairman of The Kerik Group and a former police commissioner for New York City.
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