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CNN Live Event/Special

America's New War: President Bush Talks with Reporters at Pentagon

Aired September 17, 2001 - 12:16   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, President Bush is at the Pentagon. He's been there to get a briefing on plans to call out the Reserves. I'm told that he has now left the Pentagon. But he did talk with reporters, and here's what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The secretary told me about how you conducted your business on that fateful day. I want to congratulate you and thank you. Many of your members of your members of the Pentagon press went out to help with the evacuation and the aid of the people who worked here in the Pentagon, and the country appreciates that very much. And thank you. Pass the word on to your colleagues as well.

Today, we're talking about the mobilization of Reserve and Guard troops. Such a mobilization is a strong symbol of this nation's resolve. And I want to thank the secretary and David and members of our team for giving me a complete and full briefing.

I fully understand that a mobilization affects the lives of thousands of Americans. I mean, after all, we're talking about somebody's mom or somebody's dad, somebody's employee, somebody's friend or somebody's neighbor. But the world will see that the strength of this nation is found in the character and dedication and courage of everyday citizens.

We are -- last week, I proclaimed a national emergency, and authorized the secretary of defense and secretary of transportation to call up the ready Reserve units of the Armed Forces and the Coast Guard to active duty.

We are in the process of calling up as many as 35,000 such troops. They will serve in a number of essential roles. They will help maintain our air defenses so they can stay on high alert. They will check shipping in ports. They will help our military with air lift and logistics. They will provide military police. They will participate in engineering projects. They will help gather intelligence. And they will perform work as chaplains.

I know this means a lot of sacrifice for those who will be called up and their families. But you understand, the troops who will be called up understand better than most that freedom has a cost and that we're willing to bare that cost. And act of war has been committed on this country, and the dedication of our guardsmen and reservists will serve not only as a strong symbol to all that we're prepared to take the necessary actions, but will be a part of helping to find the spirit and courage of America. And I'm grateful.

I want to thank the employers who understand that there is more to corporate life than just profit and loss, that the employee who is getting ready to serve the country is an essential part of winning the -- of defeating terrorism, evildoers so emboldened that they feel that they could attack the great bastion of freedom.

Before I answer a few questions, I also want to wish the American Jewish community and Jews around the world a healthy and happy new year. As the high holy days begin, I know you'll find strength and determination during this time of reflection.

I'll be glad to answer a few questions.


BUSH: The only thing I can do is reflect upon the spirit of the U.S. military, and the U.S. military is ready to defend freedom at any cost. The men and women who wear our uniforms, both active duty and reservists and National Guardspeople are ready to respond to the call of the commander-in-chief and the secretary of defense.

No question in my mind that the resolve of our military has never been stronger, and we will win the war. And there will be costs, but the military folks understand that, and so do I and so does the secretary of defense. In terms of our economy, I've great faith in the economy. I understand it's tough right now. Transportation business is hurting. Obviously, the market was correcting prior to this crisis.

But the underpinnings for economic growth are there. We're the greatest entrepreneurial society in the world. We've got the best farmers and ranchers. We've got a strong manufacturing base.

But there's a challenge ahead of us, and I'm confident that our business community will rise to the challenge.

Secondly, I'm confident we can work with Congress to come up with an economic stimulus package, if need be, that will send a clear signal to the risktakers and the capital formatters (sic) that the governments going act, too.

Thirdly, we've got a tax cut that's still working its way through the economy as well as a reconstruction plan for New York and the area. And after all, the Congress in a bipartisan fashion overwhelmingly passed a supplemental of billions of dollars which will help not only get New York City up and running again, but will help provide some economic stimulus.


BUSH: I think these are the kinds of subjects that we will talk with the secretary of transportation, with the airline industry and as importantly with members of Congress. Congress must be involved with, obviously, with these deliberations and I look forward to -- I've already encouraged my administration to reach out to members of Congress and we will continue doing so.


BUSH: I want to make it clear to the American people that this administration will not talk about any plans we may or may not have. We will not jeopardize in any way, shape or form anybody who wears the uniform of the United States.

All I can tell you us is is that Osama bin Laden is a prime suspect and the people who house him, encourage him, provide food, comfort or money are on notice. Last week I spoke clearly about our nation's policy and that is, we're going to find those evildoers, those barbaric people who attacked our country and we're going to hold them accountable and we're going to hold the people who house them accountable. The people who think they can provide them safe havens will be held accountable. The people who feed them will be held accountable. And the Taliban must take my statement seriously.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) war is inevitable (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: I believe -- I know that an act of war was declared against America, but this will be a different type of war than we're used to. In the past, there have been beaches to storm, islands to conquer. We've been able to watch on our television screens sophisticated weaponry to find a building and we've seen dramatic reports from the front where, you know, a Pulitzer Prize-to-be winning report stood up and declared the United States is attacked and all of that. There may be some of that, who knows. But I know that this is a different type of enemy than we're used to.

It's an enemy that likes to hide and burrow in and their network is extensive.

There's no rules. It's barbaric behavior. They slit throats of women on airplanes in order to achieve an objective that is beyond comprehension. And they like to hit and then they like to hideout. But we're going to smoke them out. And we're adjusting our thinking to the new type of enemy. These are terrorist that have no borders.

And by the way, it's important for the world to understand that we know, in America, that more than just Americans suffered loss of life in the World Trade Center. People from all kinds of nationalities lost life. That's why the world is rallying to our call to defeat terrorism.

Many world leaders understand that that could have easily -- the attack could have easily happened on their land. And they also understand that this enemy knows no border. But they know what I know that when we start putting the heat on those who house them, they will get them running. And once we get them running, we have a good chance to getting them, and that's exactly what our intent is.

The focus right now is on Osama bin Laden, no question about it. He's the prime suspect and his organization.

But there are other terrorists in the world. There are people who hate freedom. This is a fight for freedom. This is a fight to say to the freedom-loving people of the world: "We will not allow ourselves to be terrorized by somebody who think they can hit and hide in some cage somewhere."

It's going to require a new thought process. And I'm proud to report our military, led by the secretary of defense, understands that; understands it's a new type of war. It's going to take a long time to win this war. The American people are going to have to be more patient than ever with the efforts of -- of our combined efforts not just ourselves, but the efforts of our allies, to get them running and to find them and to hunt them down.

But as the vice president said, you know, "Osama bin Laden is just one person." He is representative of networks of people who absolutely have made their cause to defeat the freedoms that we take -- that we understand, and we will not allow them to do so.

QUESTION: Do you want bin Laden dead?

BUSH: I want justice. And there's an old poster out west, that I recall, that said, "Wanted, Dead or Alive." STAFF: Thank you. Thank you very much.


BUSH: I think that this is a long-term battle -- war. There will be battles, but this is long term. After all, our mission is not just Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda organization. Our mission is to battle terrorism and to join with freedom-loving people.

We are putting together a coalition that is -- a coalition dedicated to declaring to the world, we will do what it takes to find the terrorists, to root them out and to hold them accountable. And the United States is proud to lead the coalition.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) say you want him dead or alive, sir?

BUSH: Just remember, all I'm doing is remembering when I was kid. I remember that I used to put out there in the old West a "wanted" posted. It said, "Wanted, Dead or Alive." All I want and America wants is to see them brought to justice. That's what we want.


WOODRUFF: President Bush visiting the Pentagon, getting briefed there on plans to call up the Reserves and the Guard, speaking with some personal passion about his responsibility to go after the people responsible for last Tuesday's attacks.

We heard the president say these are people who want to destroy America's freedom. He said we are not going to allow ourself to be terrorized by someone hiding in a cave. And there at the end, in a fairly remarkable comment, the president, when he was asked do we want to go after Osama bin Laden, he said, we want justice, but then he went on to recall the poster as he said in the Old West of the United States, the poster "wanted dead or alive," which frankly, leaves it up in the air about what the mission of the United States is.

The president is at the Pentagon to be briefed on plans to call up the Reserves. He did say they are looking at 35,000 troops being called up to do everything from maintain air defenses, check shipping, help the military with airlift and logistics.

This is the president meeting with employees at the Pentagon. He said the reserves would provide military police support. They would get involved in engineering projects. They would gather intelligence, and he says they would serve as chaplains in the military. The president today underlining his determination not to let what happened last Tuesday stand. And the president preparing the American people for sacrifice, saying this effort does not come without a high cost.

White House correspondent Major Garrett, listening to the president.

Major, the president injects a personal feeling into what he is saying. He's not just stating government policy here?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, he is not Judy, and it's worth remembering that this entire crisis has affected this president so personally, probably no more so than it did on Friday, when he was in New York, surveyed the damage, and then after surveying the damage, he spent three hours in the Jacob Javits Center. meeting relatives of firefighters and policemen killed when the World Trade towers collapsed. That meeting was only scheduled for an hour and a half. He spend a full three hours there.

His senior aides were so overcome with emotion, they had to keep leaving the room, they couldn't take it, but the president there for every moment. It has been described afterwards by senior aides as a transforming event for the president. He does take this very personally. He knows he has to prepare the country for war. He feels viscerally himself a deep sense of outrage and a deep commitment to pursue not only, as he said, Osama bin Laden, but the wider net, the wider matrix of terrorist around the world.

And among the remarks that you didn't highlight was one he said, it's going to take lot of patience from the American people a lot more than they're probably imagining right now. It's a very careful and calibrated effort on part of the administration to harness and channel this overwhelming public support the president has received. His popularity rating, his Approval rating, outstanding at 86 percent.

They want to channel that and harness that popularity, not only for what may come now in the near term, but obviously, the longer term elements of this campaign against global terrorism.

WOODRUFF: Major, I was struck that the president made a point of characterizing, took some pains to characterize these terrorist. He did talk about Osama bin Laden, but he made it clear it's not limited to him. He talked about going after anyone who provided comfort, food, aide of any sort, financial aid to the bin Laden network.

And then went on to talk about this is different type of enemy. He said, in the past, we have gone after beaches, we have tried to capture islands. He said, these are people who like to hide and burrow, in. He went on to say, they don't follow ordinary, conventional rules; they slight the throats of women on airplanes. Now that is a reference to what we believe happened on one or more of those airplanes last Tuesday, when the hijackers literally, we believe slit the throats of the airlines attendants and the perhaps passengers.

GARRETT: All those gruesome details becoming more a part of the horrific story of the events on Tuesday, details the president is latching on to, and sharing with the American public in a very emphatic way, not I don't think stir them up or create any froth. It would be hard to create anymore froth than there already is, anymore sense of outrage, but to try to suggest and typify the kind of behavior and the kind of actions the United States the up against when it combats terrorists of this kind.

WOODRUFF: All right, Major Garrett, and again, we've just been watching pictures of President Bush at the Pentagon in the last few hours getting briefed, also meeting with military and civilian employees there.