Our Fearful Commander in Chief again shows that the policies in WARshington, DC have little to do with him. An amazing perspective:
Spinning his wheels
By Brian McGrory | May 13, 2005
So let's get this right. Some poor slob in a Cessna brings the capital city of the most powerful nation on earth to its highest level of alert. The vice president, the first lady, and a former first lady are whisked away to secure locations. The entire White House complex is evacuated.
All of Congress is sent scampering, as well, so urgently that women run out of their high heels and food is left on tables and strewn on the floor. The Supreme Court justices are dispatched to a parking garage downstairs.
All in all, more than 30,000 people were ordered out of their workplaces in the middle of the day Wednesday by officials who repeatedly warned them that this was not a drill. Black Hawk helicopters leapt into the sky at Reagan National Airport in Virginia. A pair of F-16 fighter planes were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and fired flares at the errant aircraft. Split-second decisions were made on whether to shoot down the tiny plane.
All this and the president of the United States, the commander in chief of the military, the war president, as he likes to be called, was never notified. And why not, one might logically ask. Here's why: because he was riding bikes with a high school friend at a wildlife center in suburban Maryland. Maybe the Secret Service figured he was entering his fat-burning zone just as Washington was placed in the Red Zone.
That's right: The most powerful figure in the world was not disturbed in the middle of what was momentarily regarded as the most urgent threat to the homeland since Sept. 11, 2001, because he was getting some midday exercise. The Secret Service followed silently behind him as he and his friend rode their mountain bikes, but said nothing as the nearby capital was gripped by panic.
Yesterday, the administration that has never actually admitted a mistake typically refused to admit a mistake.
''The protocols that were in place after Sept. 11 were followed," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at yesterday's briefing. ''The president was never considered to be in danger because he was at an offsite location. The president has a tremendous amount of trust in his Secret Service detail."
But wouldn't he want to know that his wife was considered to be in such danger that she had to be moved? His beloved vice president? His chief of staff, Andy Card? He wouldn't want to know that the Capitol might be under attack, that the institutions of democracy had ground to a halt, that his house, his very own house, had to be effectively abandoned?
Wouldn't he at least have been worried about what was going on with the family pets?
''The president was informed immediately upon the conclusion of the bike ride about what had occurred," McClellan said.
The bike ride. Of course. He was informed right after he was done riding bikes.
This, in a nutshell, sums up what's gone wrong in the once promising administration of George W. Bush. His staff apparently didn't feel he needed to know that Washington, D.C., was placed on a high alert. Dick Cheney knew. Don Rumsfeld knew. They didn't see the point to interrupting his bike ride for national security concerns and the life-and-death decisions that were being made in the sky above Washington. You have to wonder if this notoriously incurious president looked up, heard the fighter planes flying overhead, and wondered, even for a flicker of a second, what might have been taking place.
And by yesterday, the White House admitted no fault. They weren't wrong in Iraq, even though weapons of mass destruction were never found. They're not wrong here.
''This was an instance where presidential authority was not required, because we had these protocols in place after Sept. 11," McClellan said.
It all begs the troublesome question that will dog his next three years in office: What else doesn't the president need to know?
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.