SPIEGEL Interview with Andrew Card 'The President Will Never Forget 9/11'

Part 2: "Bush Was a Good Leader"


SPIEGEL: What is your judgement of the president under stress?

Card : He was a good leader. He had the right instincts and he also had the right frustrations. Why aren’t we getting better information? Why is it taking them so long to get the people we need on the phone? Again, trying to see through the fog of war.

SPIEGEL: One consequence of Sept. 11 was the war in Afghanistan and, a year and a half later, the war in Iraq. In your view, how did that come about?

Card : It was not our knee-jerk reaction to go to Baghdad. That developed.

SPIEGEL: But how?

Card : Within 48 hours the president invited everybody in the world to condemn the attacks and stand with us. If you are not with us, your are against us. And Saddam never said, I am standing with you.

SPIEGEL: And that made him a target?

Card : No. But the accumulation of non-compliance with UN Resolutions, weapons inspections, violations of no-fly zones and contributed to Saddam's regime being a target. Right after 9/11, the first person in a formal setting to hint at Iraq being attacked was Paul Wolfowitz. I was quietly asked by the president to make sure that we did not mix issues. So I went to Paul Wolfowitz and told him that this was not the time to talk about Iraq. Right now we are focused on al-Qaida and bin Laden.

SPIEGEL: But later on the president changed his mind.

Card : The president said that the world has changed with Sept. 11 and that we are going to be pre-emptive in our defense rather than reactive. That was a very significant change in posture for the US. We would no longer allow the dangers to mature. We were going to eliminate threats before they became a reality.

SPIEGEL: According to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, you supposedly cautioned against an invasion into Iraq. It could easily turn into a "second Vietnam," he quotes you as saying.

Card : I respect Woodward and I know that his quotes are always well documented. I think that also in this instance he quoted me accurately. But I do believe that he quoted me out of context.

SPIEGEL: What did you mean by a "second Vietnam"?

Card : I felt that our planers should always be able to describe possible exit strategies. My Vietnam comparison was made in that context. I wanted to know: How are we going to get out?

SPIEGEL: Good question.

Card : It is easy to go in. It is always hard to get out. I wanted us to think about that.

SPIEGEL: Were you for or against the invasion?

Card : If Saddam was a threat, I was someone who believed: Mr. President, you do not have much of a choice. Your constitutional oath is that you need to defend us. There is no conditional clause in the constitution. It does not say "if," it does not say "if everybody agrees". It does not say, "If the Germans and the French are on board." It says nothing of the sort. It says that the president has to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. It does not even say "if Congress likes it."

SPIEGEL: So your skepticism did not refer to the beginning, but to the ending of the Iraq war?

Card : I supported the president's decision. I just wanted to make sure that people gave thought to all of the issues. Even in the particular details of the war in Iraq, most of the pundits -- and I am not talking about the pundits in the media ... I am talking about the pundits in the planning of the war -- would participate in healthy debates. How many troops are necessary? Do we need more tanks or more aircraft? Should the Marines go in the frontline or the Special Forces? Do we have enough oil in storage? How many ships have to go through the Suez Canal? All these are important tactical decisions and they impact the strategic decisions.

SPIEGEL: If one is to believe Woodward, there was a downright war among the participants about the correct strategy for the Iraq war.

Card : There was a healthy and lively debate in the National Security Council. Most of the pundits focused on the preparations for war. I did not find as much attention given to civil order questions such as: Who is directing traffic in Baghdad? Who is making sure that the street lights go on or the water is turned on?

SPIEGEL: What answers do you get to your questions?

Card : I was told as part of the intelligence that there were sufficient civil servants in Iraq who loved their job and they would show up even if Saddam Hussein was gone. These people would see to it that traffic flows, lights are on and water comes out of the tap. There also would be a handful of generals or colonels who really are not too comfortable with Saddam. When we marched in, they would wave the white flag and assemble their units behind ours -- not to fight, but to keep order.

SPIEGEL: The reality after the invasion by the Americans looked different.

Card : Unfortunately, the bureaucrats didn't show up for work, because most of them were members of the Baath Party and were now afraid. And for some reason no units waved the white flag. I wish that there had been better planning for winning the peace.

SPIEGEL: What were your reasons for recommending to the president that he should fire Defense Secretary Rumsfeld?

Card: That overstates my counsel. Sometimes I would recommend changes and at others others I would caution against change. One of my tasks was to carefully advise the president about when changes should be made. For these cases I had a list, which I called the "Hit by the bus list." If "advisor X" or "cabinet member Y" get hit by a bus, who are the people the president should consider replacing them with.

SPIEGEL: Did the 9/11 terror attacks change the office of the presidency?

Card : This day brought something back to memory that one can easily forget. Most politicians are extroverts, they want to be with people, they want to be liked by people. It is the calling of a president to have the courage to be lonely because the oath is an exclusive responsibility. I saw that three days after the attacks. It was my most memorable day as the president's chief of staff. We went to New York and met the families of policemen and firefighters who were missing a relative. A mother gave him the badge of her dead son. The president said, America will forget, for that is the nature of our country. But I will never forget him. I am comforted that the president will never forget Sept. 11, 2001.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Card, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Gabor Steingart.

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