WASHINGTON - President Bush turned his National Security Council into a council of war at Camp David this weekend, purposefully breaking from a round of intense meetings to urge Americans in uniform to get ready.
The President, proclaiming “we're at war,” warned yesterday that the country is in for a prolonged struggle.
“Everybody who wears the uniform: Get ready,” Mr. Bush instructed. The White House would not rule out the use of ground troops, and Mr. Bush warned that “the conflict will not be easy.”
“Those who make war against the United States have chosen their own destruction,” he declared.
Mr. Bush did not spell out what the soldiers, including the 35,500 reservists he authorized to be called to active duty, should get ready to do.
The Pentagon yesterday said 13,000 will be from the Air Force, 10,000 from the Army, 7,500 from the Marine Corps, 3,000 from the Navy, and 2,000 from the Coast Guard. They may be on active duty for as long as two years.
Administration sources yesterday admitted they have the difficult task of convincing Americans that putting the nation on war footing does not mean there will be quick results.
“You will be asked for your patience, for the conflict will not be short. You will be asked for resolve, for the conflict will not be easy. You will be asked for your strength, because the course to victory may be long,” Mr. Bush said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was the cautious general in during the Persian Gulf War, is in that role again as a diplomat. “The enemy is in many places,'' he said. “The enemy is not looking to be found.''
“We will find those who did it; we will smoke them out of their holes; we will get them running and we'll bring them to justice. We will not only deal with those who dare attack America, we will deal with those who harbor them and feed them and house them,'' Mr. Bush said, leading forward intently. “We will find those who did it. We'll smoke them out of their holes, we'll get them running and we'll bring them to justice.''
Nestled in the beautiful Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, Camp David is normally a serene presidential retreat, albeit heavily guarded.
But ever since former President Carter helped forge the Camp David Accords there in 1979, the retreat has been the scene of presidential talks on peace, the Mideast and terrorism. Just six miles away at Raven Rock is a secret site known as the Alternate Joint Communications Center, a mini-Pentagon for use in the event of a national disaster.
But Mr. Bush indicated that the job is tough. “We're going to meet and deliberate and discuss,'' he said before his radio address.
That weekly custom, which presidents have used for years to speak directly to Americans, is usually the “message of the week'' at the White House. But sometimes it is about what is uppermost on the president's agenda and becomes highly personal.
Such was the case yesterday as Mr. Bush said this “war” will be a conflict “without battlefields or beachheads.'' This war, he said, “will not be short.''
Americans, he said, must be patient. “There is no question in my mind we'll have the resolve. I witnessed it yesterday on the construction site (in New York). Behind the sadness and the exhaustion, there is a desire by the American people to not seek only revenge, but to win a war against barbaric behavior, people that hate freedom and hate what we stand for. And this is an administration that is going to dedicate ourselves to winning that war.''
For the first time Mr. Bush joined Mr. Powell in saying that exiled Saudi renegade Osama bin Laden, suspected in previous terrorist attacks against Americans, is a “prime suspect'' in Tuesday's assaults.
Mr. Bush signed a resolution forwarded to him by the Senate and the House giving him a green light to do what he thinks is necessary to act against “nations, organizations or persons'' who “planned, authorized, committed or aided'' the attacks against America.
Under the War Powers Act, it means that Congress has given its approval if Mr. Bush wants to officially declare war against such nations, organizations, or persons. He already has declared the attacks against New York and Washington “acts of war.''
After Mr. Bush described to his aides his thoughts upon seeing the damage in Manhattan and at the Pentagon, much of the weekend has focused on reaction from countries around the world to the U.S. position on a possible response.
For example, Mr. Powell applauded Pakistan's decision that it will support the U.S. and the United Nations and not give sanctuary to bin Laden and confirmed that the U.S. asked Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to end relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban are still believed to be harboring bin Laden.
Several U.S. diplomats scoffed at the Taliban's warning that any U.S. military strike in Afghanistan will be regarded as a terrorist attack against that country.
In blunt language, Mr. Powell said if a country wants to be a friend of the United States, it will not tolerate terrorists within its borders. And he reported at the meeting that Pakistan and Iran have agreed to close their borders with Afghanistan.
The officials meeting at Camp David also heard from Attorney General John Ashcroft on Justice Department efforts to find out as much as possible about who orchestrated Tuesday's attacks and whether there is still a threat.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Ashcroft did not give specifics, saying only that investigators are satisfied they are making progress. “We are making the kinds of contacts and developing the information that allow us to describe this as proceeding with reasonable success. We believe that the picture is developing a kind of clarity that's appropriate.''
While much of the security around the White House was loosened and armed soldiers were taken off downtown Washington streets yesterday, Mr. Ashcroft sounded a nationwide warning of what's to come.
“I might add that we have put in place very serious measures that we believe will provide greater security,'' he said. But he added that such security measures are intended to “provide a basis for our country returning to the kind of freedom and business and conduct that is characteristic of this great nation.''
Washington's Reagan National Airport remained closed this weekend, and the city's mayor, Anthony Williams, said police will remain on alert. Monuments, except for Washington Monument, reopened yesterday, but extra guards were on duty.
Congress was out of session; many members said they want to be with their families, attend prayer services, or go to their home districts to reassure constituents.
Some said they want to explain the $40 billion they authorized for relief efforts in New York and the effort to round up and punish terrorists. The money, lawmakers say, represents two-thirds of what the Persian Gulf War cost, when 500,000 soldiers were mustered up, and it won't be the end of the money allocated for fighting terrorism.
The White House also confirmed that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta will hold meetings this week to address the financial chaos of the airline industry after the hijackings and the temporary nationwide shutdown of air service for most.
But at Camp David Mr. Bush urged Americans to try to get past tightened security and economic problems and get back to business as usual as much as possible.
He added, “We hope, obviously, that the measures we take will allow the American economy to continue on. I urge people to go to their businesses on Monday. I understand Major League Baseball is going to start playing. I urge people to go to their businesses on Monday. It is important for America to get on about its life. But our government will be on full alert and we'll be tracing every lead, every potential to make sure that the American people are safe.''
Later, in his radio address, he said: “Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best that is in our country, with courage and concern for others because this is America. This is who we are. This is what our enemies hate and have attacked. And this is why we will prevail.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report.