- - Thursday, September 11, 2014


When the first plane hit, I was participating in a press conference so insignificant I can’t even recall what the topic was.

But on that ordinary day, a beautiful fall morning in Washington, I was privileged to witness some of the most extraordinary and inspiring acts of courage and sacrifice of my entire life in public office. As our press conference proceeded on a little corner just outside the Capitol building, you could look down the Mall and see the smoke that was starting to come from the Pentagon. The Capitol Hill police, the amazing men and women who provide security for Congress, almost literally picked me up and hustled me and other leaders of the House and Senate to their headquarters, even as the horror of the events of the day was beginning to dawn on all of us. We had no idea at first who had attacked us or how extensive the plot might be — I remember the police were concerned about the possibility of active terrorist shooters on the grounds of the Capitol — but I got a very early view of the resilience and heroism of the people charged with keeping us safe.

What struck me that day, as reports were still streaming in that another plane might be headed for the Capitol or the White House, was how the police first made sure we were safe and then went back into the Capitol itself, making sure everyone had gotten out. The House and Senate leaders suspended work for the day but someone — who it was is another detail I can’t remember now — suggested we go out to the Capitol steps and sing “God Bless America.” The image of lawmakers of both parties that afternoon, I think, was one of the first signs that this country would not be cowed by the terrorists.

Everyone who was alive that day has a Sept. 11 story, many far more dramatic than my own little narrative. I mention my story here for two reasons. One, it’s important to honor and keep alive the memory of the bravery, unity and sacrifice of that day, especially of the first responders in Washington and New York City who gave the full measure of devotion to save the lives of others.

But also, remembering the first 9/11 gives us a measuring stick for us to judge the policies and mindsets of the two presidents who have conducted the new global war on terrorism, and to understand why President Obama’s vaunted speech on Iraq this week fell so short of the mark.

SEE ALSO: Obama, first lady, Biden observe 9/11 anniversary

What struck me in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks was that George W. Bush instinctively understood what had happened and grasped at once the nature of the war in which we were now engaged. He did not need to be told that global terrorism was a threat to the American homeland or that the country had to be on a war footing to win. President Bush never treated the conflict as police action or criminal investigation; he knew we needed to unleash our military might without reserve, and strike our enemies abroad before they could strike us here at home.

There have been subsequent efforts to carry out terror attacks in the United States, but President Bush deserves enormous credit for understanding the nature of the fight and for keeping this country safe.

By stark contrast, the speech that President Obama gave Wednesday night showed he still doesn’t get it, that after six years in office he still can’t grasp what Mr. Bush understood six minutes after he learned the World Trade Center had been hit. Mr. Obama tried in effect to convince us that his failed foreign policy was working, that his rash decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq — which he even bragged about in the speech! — wasn’t directly to blame for allowing the Islamic State terrorists to flood into that country from Syria.

Mr. Obama talks about 150 airstrikes he ordered so far as part of his “counterterrorism operation,” when the policy should be 150 airstrikes a day to show our enemies what happens when Americans are murdered in cold blood. The terrorists only understand power, and the only way to defeat them is to break their will. Mr. Obama’s past feckless threats — remember that famous “red line” in Syria? — undercut some of the tougher passages of the president’s speech. We will, the president says, hunt down the terrorists and leave them no safe haven — really?

It was, in the end, a political speech, not a wartime call to arms, capped by a totally out-of-place recounting of his economic record and other stump speech staples. Let’s hope that the president’s new strategy — airstrikes, support troops for local fighters, counterterrorism efforts and humanitarian aid — will work, but I think it behooves the Congress to put itself on the record in the fight against the Islamic State.

Congress should vote to endorse the new strategy, if only to put Mr. Obama in a box, to put him on notice that the people’s representatives will be watching to ensure that the president will, at the very least, do what he promised the American people he would do.

Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and WashingtonTimes.com.

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