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"While my emotions might have been similar to those of most Americans, my duties were not," President Bush writes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "There would be time later to mourn. ... But first I had to manage the crisis."
TODAY staff and wire
updated 11/11/2010 4:27:24 PM ET 2010-11-11T21:27:24

In his new memoir “Decision Points,” George W. Bush shares candid, never-before-heard details about his presidency. This excerpt conveys the emotions Bush felt in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the decision to go to war in Iraq.

9/11
The Secret Service wanted to get me to Air Force One, and fast. As the motorcade charged down Florida Route 41, I called Condi from the secure phone in the limo. She told me there had been a third plane crash, this one into the Pentagon. I sat back in my seat and absorbed her words. My thoughts clarified: The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war.

My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass. ...

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... I stepped into the presidential cabin and asked to be alone. I thought about the fear that must have seized the passengers on those planes and the grief that would grip the families of the dead. So many people had lost their loved ones with no warning. I prayed that God would comfort the suffering and guide the country through this trial. I thought of the lyrics from one of my favorite hymns, “God of Grace and God of Glory”: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.”

While my emotions might have been similar to those of most Americans, my duties were not. There would be time later to mourn. There would be an opportunity to seek justice. But first I had to manage the crisis. We had suffered the most devastating surprise attack since Pearl Harbor. An enemy had struck our capital for the first time since the War of 1812. In a single morning, the purpose of my presidency had grown clear: to protect our people and defend our freedom that had come under attack ...

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... The collapse of the towers magnified the catastrophe. Fifty thousand people worked in the buildings on a typical business day. Some had been evacuated, but I wondered how many were left. Thousands? Tens of thousands? I had no idea. But I was certain that I had just watched more Americans die than any president in history.

I kept up-to-date on the latest developments by calling Dick and Condi in the PEOC (Presidential Emergency Operations Center). We tried to establish an open line, but it kept dropping. ...

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... When we did receive information, it was often contradictory and sometimes downright wrong. I was experiencing the fog of war. There were reports of a bomb at the State Department, a fire on the National Mall, a hijacked Korean airliner bound for the United States, and a call-in threat to Air Force One. The caller had used the plane’s code name, Angel, which few people knew. The most bizarre report came when I was informed of a high-speed object flying toward our ranch in Crawford. All of this information later proved to be false. But given the circumstances, we took every report seriously.

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One report I received proved true. A fourth plane had gone down somewhere in Pennsylvania. “Did we shoot it down, or did it crash?” I asked Dick Cheney. Nobody knew. I felt sick to my stomach. Had I ordered the death of those innocent Americans?

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Iraq
On Wednesday, March 19, 2003, I walked into a meeting I had hoped would not be necessary.

The National Security Council had gathered in the White House Situation Room, a nerve center of communications equipment and duty officers on the ground floor of the West Wing. The top center square of the secure video screen showed General Tommy Franks sitting with his senior deputies at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. In the other five boxes were our lead Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Special Operations commanders. Their counterparts from the British Armed Forces and Australian Defense Forces joined as well.

I asked each man two questions: Do you have everything you need to win? And are you comfortable with the strategy?

Each commander answered affirmatively.

Tommy spoke last. “Mr. President,” the commanding general said, “this force is ready.”

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I turned to Don Rumsfeld. “Mr. Secretary,” I said, “for the peace of the world and the benefit and freedom of the Iraqi people, I hereby give the order to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom. May God bless the troops.”

Tommy snapped a salute. “Mr. President,” he said, “may God bless America.”

As I saluted back, the gravity of the moment hit me. For more than a year, I had tried to address the threat from Saddam Hussein without war. We had rallied an international coalition to pressure him to come clean about his weapons of mass destruction programs. We had obtained a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution making clear there would be serious consequences for continued defiance. We had reached out to Arab nations about taking Saddam into exile. I had given Saddam and his sons a final forty-eight hours to avoid war. The dictator rejected every opportunity. The only logical conclusion was that he had something to hide, something so important that he was willing to go to war for it.

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I knew the consequences my order would bring. I had wept with widows of troops lost in Afghanistan. I had hugged children who no longer had a mom or a dad. I did not want to send Americans into combat again. But after the nightmare of 9/11, I had vowed to do what was necessary to protect the country. Letting a sworn enemy of America refuse to account for his weapons of mass destruction was a risk I could not afford to take.

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I needed time to absorb the emotions of the moment. I left the Situation Room, walked up the stairs and through the Oval Office, and took a slow, silent lap around the South Lawn. I prayed for our troops, for the safety of the country, and for strength in the days ahead. Spot, our springer spaniel, bounded out of the White House toward me. It was comforting to see a friend. Her happiness contrasted with the heaviness in my heart.

There was one man who understood what I was feeling. I sat down at my desk in the Treaty Room and scrawled out a letter:

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Dear Dad, ...

At around 9:30 a.m., I gave the order to SecDef to execute the war plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In spite of the fact that I had decided a few months ago to use force, if need be, to liberate Iraq and rid the country of WMD, the decision was an emotional one. ...

I know I have taken the right action and do pray few will lose life. Iraq will be free, the world will be safer. The emotion of the moment has passed and now I wait word on the covert action that is taking place.

I know what you went through.

Love,

George

A few hours later, his reply came across the fax:

Dear George,

Your handwritten note, just received, touched my heart. You are doing the right thing. Your decision, just made, is the toughest decision you’ve had to make up until now. But you made it with strength and with compassion. It is right to worry about the loss of innocent life be it Iraqi or American. But you have done that which you had to do.

Maybe it helps a tiny bit as you face the toughest bunch of problems any President since Lincoln has faced: You carry the burden with strength and grace. ...

Remember Robin’s words ‘I love you more than tongue can tell.’

Well, I do.

Devotedly,

Dad

Excerpted from “Decision Points” by George W. Bush. Copyright © 2010 George W. Bush. Reprinted by permission of Crown Publishers.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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Photos: Bush's Legacy

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  1. George W. Bush

    Presidential hopeful George W. Bush waves to a crowd of supporters gathered in Kentucky on July 29, 2000. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain but rebounded to claim the Republican nomination for president in 2000. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Ballot recount

    Broward County, Fla. canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg uses a magnifying glass to examine a disputed ballot cast during the 2000 election. A ballot recount was ordered in parts of Florida following voting machine errors. Both Al Gore and the Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount to determine a winner. For 36 days after the election, the results in Florida remained in doubt, and so did the winner of the presidency. Bush emerged victorious when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 ruling, put an end to the ballot counting. (Alan Diaz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Bush wins in 2000

    George W. Bush takes the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001. The president's daughters Jenna and Barbara stand at his side along with their mother Laura. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are seen standing on the right. (Doug Mills / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Terror strikes on 9/11

    President Bush stands with firefighter Bob Beck at the World Trade Center in New York, three days after the 9/11 attacks. (Doug Mills / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Troops sent to Afghanistan

    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld watches television as President Bush announces that U.S. troops are engaging terrorists in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan to hunt for Osama bin Laden and other terrorists linked to the 9/11 attacks. (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wanted: Dead or alive

    Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri are seen at an undisclosed location in this television image broadcast on Oct. 7, 2001. Bin Laden praised God for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. In the days following the attack, President Bush named bin Laden the prime suspect in the 9/11 attacks. (Al Jazeera via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. U.S. detains suspects

    U.S. Military Police guard detainees in orange jumpsuits on Jan. 11, 2002 in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The legality of holding suspected terrorists indefinitely at the Guantanamo Bay facility has become a lightning rod of controversy. More than 750 detainees have been held there since 2001. (Shane T. McCoy / U.S. Navy via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bush declares an 'axis of evil'

    In his first State of the Union address, President Bush declares that an 'axis of evil' consisting of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq was 'arming to threaten the peace of the world.' (Paul J .Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Strong allies

    President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair deliver statements to the media at Camp David on Sept. 7, 2002. Blair was an ally to Bush and supported his decision to intervene in Iraq. (Paul J. Richards / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Powell addresses the U.N.

    U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 14, 2003. Powell was tasked with presenting evidence that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction in order to get a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of military force. (Kathy Willens / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Baghdad falls

    Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad on April 9, 2003. The statue fell more than two weeks after U.S. forces invaded Iraq and started a hunt for Saddam Hussein. (Jerome Delay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mission accomplished?

    On May 1, 2003, President Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Torture at Abu Ghraib

    This photo taken in late 2003 shows an unidentified detainee standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Accounts of abuse and torture of prisoners at the U.S.-run prison came to the public's attention in 2004. Seventeen soldiers and officers were removed from duty and seven were sent to prison for the treatment of prisons at Abu Ghriab. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bush, Kerry debate

    President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry face off during the second presidential debate at Washington University on Oct. 8, 2004. Bush defeated Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Voting in Iraq

    A woman displays her ink-stained finger after voting in Iraq on Jan. 30, 2005. The 2005 vote was the first free, democratic election to be held in Iraq in 50 years. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Bush's boys

    From left, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, political strategist Karl Rove, Vice President Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, White House communications director Dan Bartlett and Vice President Dick Cheney listen to the president deliver a speech in the Rose Garden on July 1, 2005. Since this photo was taken, McClellan has stepped down, Rove left his post and Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying in the investigation of the leaking of a CIA operative's name. (Stephen Crowley / The New York Times via Redux) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Saddam on trial

    Saddam Hussein addresses the court during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq Thursday Dec. 22, 2005. Saddam and his co-defendants are charged with ordering the killing of more than 140 Shiite men in the town of Dujail, following an assasination attempt on Saddam in July 1982. (AP Photo/John Moore, Pool) (John Moore / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Hurricane Katrina

    In this photo taken on Aug. 30, 2005, a victim of Hurricane Katrina is evacuated by helicopter over the devastation caused by the high winds and heavy flooding in the greater New Orleans area. President Bush was sharply criticized for what some called his lethargic response to the natural disaster. (Vincent Laforet / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. No Child Left Behind

    President Bush delivers a speech on education at an elementary school outside of Baltimore on Jan. 9, 2006. The 'No Child Left Behind Act' was aimed at closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their richer counterparts. It was one of the big tenets of Bush's domestic agenda and was signed into law in early 2002. (Evan Vucci / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. New Supreme Court

    Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts walk down the steps of the court house on Feb. 16, 2006. President Bush initially nominated Roberts to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, but when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died, Bush withdrew that nomination and nominated Roberts to be Chief Justice. The president then nominated Alito to fill O'Connor's seat. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Bush in India

    The president is surrounded by Indian women after watching a women's discussion group in Hyderabad, India on March 3, 2006. Bush made a three-day visit to India to renew ties with the nuclear nation. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Prescription drug reform

    Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt points to a laptop computer screen as President Bush watches volunteers and seniors use the internet to sign up for prescription drugs. Bush's program provides prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients through private insurance companies. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Talks with Pakistan and Afghanistan

    President Bush appears with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the Rose Garden on Sept. 27, 2006. The trio met to discuss cross-border relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gonzales resigns

    U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announces his resignation during a news conference at the Justice Department on Aug. 27, 2007. Gonzales stepped down amid controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. (Jim Bourg / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Rice talks Mideast peace

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erek at the White House on Nov. 28, 2007. Bush invited the two leaders to Washington to initiate a new round of peace negotiations. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Border fence

    A metal fence forms a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. The fence was a result of the Secure Fence Act, calling for 698 miles of border fences to try to keep illegal immigrants from entering the U.S. Critics argue that extensive fencing damages fragile desert environments and divides border neighborhoods. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Kyoto protests

    Thousands of climate change protestors march toward the U.S. Embassy in London on Dec. 8, 2007. Mass demonstrations have occurred worldwide since President Bush opposed signing the Kyoto Protocol which seeks to impose mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. U.S.-Russian relations

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush talk during a bilateral meeting at Putin's summer retreat in Sochi, Russia on April 6, 2008. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Economy in crisis

    The president walks alongside Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Christopher Cox and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson prior to a speech on the economy on Sept. 19, 2008. The president called together his economic team to discuss a weakening economy and a global financial crisis. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Hail and farewell

    The president hugs first lady Laura Bush as he gives an emotional wave of appreciation after speaking on the transition to administration employees on Nov. 6, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Changing of the guard

    President George W. Bush,first lady Laura Bush, Michele Obama and president-elect Barack Obama stand outside the White House on Nov. 10, 2008. Obama visited the White House at the invitation of Bush ahead of his Jan. 20, 2009 inauguration. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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