The president’s wild ride

By Hugh Hewitt

Washington Times White House correspondent and Fox News Channel commentator Bill Sammon has produced the first extraordinary book of post-9/11 Washington, D.C.: “Fighting Back – The War on Terrorism from Inside the Bush White House.” I read this riveting account of the first year in our war on terrorism in a single sitting on a plane ride from Chicago to southern California and did not pause for longer than a minute at a time.

Often my eyes were wet. Sammon is a fine writer and a wonderful reporter, and his art is to combine his eye for the details of this most dramatic of years with the unique access he was given to President Bush into a moving and memorable narrative that captures the drama, heroism and inspiration of the past 15 months. Do yourself a favor and buy it. Do your friends and family a favor by giving it as a gift this holiday season.

Sammon provides the crucial skeleton of events, but he adds much more. The movements and decisions of the president and his closest advisers are all accounted for, and the key remarks and speeches are reproduced in a readable way that returns us to the drama of the president’s address at the National Cathedral, the visit to Ground Zero, and the address to the Joint Session of Congress. Sammon knows the power of the material and does not get in the way of the narrative when all that is required is a small nudge to the memory.

But Sammon does provide many sections of analysis and descriptions of events that will have eluded most observers. He takes us inside the breakfast club of Godfrey “Budge” Sperling, a longtime Capitol fixture, whose early morning get-togethers had been bringing newsmakers and journalists together since 1966. There was a Sperling breakfast on Sept. 11, 2001, one that featured the Democratic strategy dream team of Stanley Greenberg, Robert Schrum and James Carville. This recounting of the assessments of Bush by these men just prior to the attack on America is an indictment of their judgment, and one to be savored over and over again. They could not have been more wrong.

Sammon is also careful to note throughout the chapters that follow the year’s events the nearly-always-wrong predictions and analyses of elite media. Time and time again the doomsayers – especially those at the New York Times – would sally forth in print to blast the Administration only to have events completely destroy their credibility. They sail on still, immune to a record of failure that would put any other professional out of business, but Sammon has done us a great service by providing in one place a record of the folly of Dowd, Apple, etc.

By far the greatest strength of the book, however, is its portrait of George W. Bush. In one of the interviews he granted Sammon, Bush describes the war on terrorism as one of “chaos vs. civilization,” and goes on to detail its many fronts and the reasons for his confidence in the end result. For those readers who have great confidence in Bush, the book is a reaffirmation of that trust. For any fair-minded critic, Sammon’s account will prove to be an occasion for reconsideration of their earlier judgments.

The front tables of most bookstores are overflowing now with scores of books full of advice on where to go next and how to understand how we came to be in this war. Many of them are no doubt highly useful. Sammon’s account is a starting point, however, because it will give each reader a sound grounding on what happened and when, who said what and why. The year following 9-11 may turn out to have been the most crucial in our nation’s history. Everyone deserves a compelling chronicle of that year, and Sammon has provided it.