- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

President Bush became a war president on Sept. 11, 2001, and on Thursday he marks the anniversary of terrorist attacks for the last time as commander in chief.

Though he is beset by record-low approval ratings and criticism from every side that has not abated for years, the president and his supporters take pride in the fact there has not been another attack like the one seven years ago that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Joe Hagin, one of the president’s closest aides until he resigned in July, said that in the days after 9/11 the senior staff felt another attack on their watch was inevitable.

“People should feel a great sense of pride that here we are all these years later and here’s not been another attack,” Mr. Hagin said.

Pete Wehner, a former deputy in Mr. Bush’s political office, said the mood among current and former White House officials on Thursday will be one of “sober satisfaction.”

But Brad Blakeman, the president’s former scheduler — whose nephew Tommy Jurgens died in the attacks on the twin towers — said that closure remains elusive.

“The president will never feel a sense of relief so long as he is president of the United States. The demands of his job will not permit it,” Mr. Blakeman said.

The president does not take credit for preventing another attack. He often thanks the U.S. military and intelligence community for their work to pre-empt or disrupt terrorist activity.

But as the end of the Bush presidency approaches, there have been signs that Mr. Bush sees the absence of another catastrophic terrorist strike as a major achievement.

“Let’s not forget,” said first lady Laura Bush, at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., last week. “President Bush has kept the American people safe.”

The president’s former chief of staff, Andrew Card, said: “It is certainly not just luck that the U.S. has been terrorist-attack free for seven years,” citing pro-active and pre-emptive actions led by the president.

Democrats do not share the sentiment.

“All Americans celebrate the fact that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11, but it is in spite of the president’s serious foreign policy mistakes that have made America less safe, not more so,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokeman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said that “those who are on the frontlines of America’s efforts against terrorists — our military personnel, intelligence officers, law enforcement and diplomats — are the heroes responsible for our safety and security.”

Democrats have criticized the president for his response to 9/11, primarily his choice to invade Iraq 18 months later.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday repeated his charge that the Iraq war is a distraction from “the central front in the war on terror,” which he says is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “where the terrorists who hit us on 9/11 are still plotting attacks seven years later.”

Mr. Reid on Wednesday also criticized the Bush administration for failing so far to catch al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“The Bush administration has failed to put the necessary resources and manpower into the hunt for America’s number one enemy,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, on the Senate floor.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the search for bin Laden “is not the movies.”

“We don’t have superpowers. But what we do have is very dedicated people who are working with our allies to try to bring him to justice,” she said.

Mr. Bush is to observe a moment of silence on the White House South Lawn at 8:46 a.m., the time that the first commercial jetliner - American Airlines Flight 11 - was flown by al Qaeda terrorists into the World Trade Center’s north tower.

The president will also speak at the Pentagon Thursday morning for the dedication ceremony of a new memorial to the 184 people killed there when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the building’s outer ring.

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