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Cheney's My Pet Goat Moment

06.25.2007 11:53 | DISPATCHES

President Bush's reaction –- or lack thereof –- in that Florida classroom on 9/11 when he was informed of the second attack on the WTC (Flight 175) has been the most dissected expression since Mona Lisa's smile.


Recall that the North Tower had already been hit, a second plane was off-course and flying towards Manhattan, and a third had reversed course over Ohio and was heading back toward Washington, D.C. But neither Bush, nor chief of staff Andrew Card, nor the Secret Service saw fit to call off his appearance at the Booker elementary school in Sarasota. As everyone knows, when chief of staff Andrew Card told Bush of the second strike he did nothing.


As Bush described his feelings at the time: "I have nobody to talk to." In other words, he was used to being told what to do and when. Three ways the look on his face can be interpreted are: 1. "Uh-oh, guess I've gotta do something leader-like. I'll wait for Card to tell me exactly what." 2. "I knew I should have paid attention to those warnings about al Qaida. How am I gonna explain this?" 3. "Damn, I didn't think Cheney would really do it."


Those partial to the third explanation can't help but take note of how Barton Gellman and Jo Becker portray Cheney that day in the first installment of their important Washington Post series "Angler: The Cheney Vice-Presidency."

"Previous accounts have described Cheney's adrenaline-charged evacuation to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center that morning, a Secret Service agent on each arm. They have not detailed his reaction, 22 minutes later, when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

"'There was a groan in the room that I won't forget, ever,' one witness said. 'It seemed like one groan from everyone' -- among them Rice; her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley; economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey; counselor Matalin; Cheney's chief of staff, Libby; and the vice president's wife. Cheney made no sound. 'I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed,' said the witness, reading from a notebook of observations written that day. Cheney closed his eyes against the image for one long, slow blink. 

"Three people who were present, not all of them admirers, said they saw no sign then or later of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney. What they saw, they said, was extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of 'first responders,' Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies."

To some, Cheney's response might seem as disconnected as Bush's My Pet Goat debacle was. But, however typical this reaction might be for Cheney, it can't help but look like he was just a little too ready to carpe the diem.  


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