The new issue of the Weekly Standard features excerpts of the forthcoming biography Cheney: The Untold Story of America’s Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President by Stephen Hayes. The publication date of the book is July 24; quotation from the book by those who have received prepublication copies is embargoed until then. Over the past three years Steve interviewed Cheney for nearly thirty hours and interviewed more than 600 other sources for the book. I don’t think I’m violating any confidences to state that Steve’s book furnishes an intimate portrait of a remarkable public servant.
Today’s excerpts — “Cheney speaks” — focus on 9/11. Steve provides a compelling account of a horrible day. He takes readers inside the White House bunker where Cheney and the national security team operated. Here Steve addresses the decision regarding the president’s destination upon his departure from Florida:
Bush had left Florida almost immediately after his first brief statement to the press at 9:30 A.M. White House staffers aboard Air Force One were not told where they were going. Reporters traveling with the president calculated that the plane was flying in circles because the televisions on board received a strong enough signal that the passengers could watch the local Fox affiliate for almost an hour with good reception.
In reality, Bush flew west to Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. He spoke to Cheney several times on a secure line, reiterating his desire to return to Washington. Cheney, backed by other senior officials and the Secret Service, continued to advise against it.
The attempt to keep Bush away from Washington would be one of the few decisions that day to draw immediate criticism. “President Bush made an initial mistake,” presidential historian Robert Dallek told Susan Page of USA Today. “The president’s place is back in Washington.”
In an interview two months later, Cheney dismissed the criticism. “That’s crap,” said Cheney. “This is not about appeasing the press or being the macho guy who is going to face down danger. You don’t think in those personal terms….This is about preserving and protecting the presidency. His importance lies in the office he holds.”
Flash forward five years for the concluding excerpt that recounts the commemoration of 9/11 in 2006:
The ceremony on the Pentagon’s River Parade grounds began at precisely 9:37 A.M. The proceedings were marked by a solemnity befitting the occasion. Many in the audience looked skyward as an airplane roared overhead on its departure from Reagan National Airport, just two miles away, a powerful if unintentional reminder of the attacks. A massive American flag was unfurled from the roof of the Pentagon, released by the men who famously did the same thing five years earlier.
Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke first. Rumsfeld followed, and Cheney spoke last. A light rain began to fall as the vice president opened his remarks.
“The ones who were lost,” he said, had begun their day “busy with life.”
They had people who cared about them, people who depended on them, people who loved the sight of their face and the sound of their voice. They were unsuspecting of danger and undeserving of their fate. Each one of them had hopes and plans for the future….From two miles away, an Army chief warrant officer, whose wife worked in this building, saw the fire and ran to the scene. He joined in the rescue effort, and stayed in the work even after learning his wife could not possibly have survived.
Cheney stopped briefly. He was obviously moved.
We know of these and so many similar acts of courage and kindness on that terrible morning. Other stories, we will never know. Surely men and women here, and aboard Flight 77, were in their last moments holding and comforting one another. And when we think of them, it will always be with a special feeling of empathy and sorrow.
As Cheney spoke these words, he looked out at the families of the ones who were lost. Many of them, holding and comforting one another, looked back at him, their faces streaked with tears. A burly Army Ranger stood alone next to the holding area for the press, crying silently as he listened.
We will always understand the pain of their families. And our nation will forever look with reverence upon their place–this place where there lives ended.
And then Cheney paused, his words and his emotions tangled in his throat. He started to speak and then, choking back tears, stopped again. Reporters exchanged quick glances as if to confirm that they were seeing what they thought they were seeing.
UPDATE: Despite the embargo that I was advised applies to the book until publication, Karen De Young gets a jump on the competition in tomorrow’s Washington Post Book World while occasionally referring to Steve as “Haynes.”
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