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September 11, 2001 - The Attack on the U.S.

The morning of September 11, 2001, felt routine. I was preparing to leave for work from our house on Laird Avenue. Jackie had just left to drive Chase, then a junior at East High School, to his 7:30 a.m. seminary class. Eleven-year-old Westin had joined me in a bedroom to talk as we got ready for the day. My oldest son, Mike, was in the basement preparing to leave for work, having just started his first job after graduating from college. Anne Marie and Taylor were both at Utah State University. 

Glancing at my watch, I noted it was 7:40 a.m. “I need to leave,” I thought. I had an 8:00 a.m. meeting at the Governor’s Mansion with Tom Vander Ark of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 

My phone rang. Caller ID showed it to be Joanne Neumann, director of Utah’s national office in Washington, D.C. It wasn’t unusual for her to call me at that time of the morning. My Washington portfolio was robust, and it was convenient for both of us to talk first thing in the morning like that.  

The tone of her voice signaled something far different than any previous call—she spoke with a breathless sense of panic. “Are you watching what’s happening here?” she said, nearly shouting at this point, “We’re under attack!” 

“Westin, turn on the television,” I said, pointing to a wooden, double-doored chest in the room that held a small television, “Something’s happening.”  

Joanne could not be calmed. “Two planes have hit the World Trade Center, and now one has hit the Pentagon building,” she said, “I’ve got to get out of here.”  

“Yes,” I said, “go, get out of there.”  

On television, unimaginable scenes were unfolding live, showing America under attack in two of its major cities, with more devastation yet to come. 

As the morning began, four coordinated terror attacks were launched on the east coast by al-Qaeda hijackers using commercial jetliners as weapons. The first two hijacked jets crashed into the twin towers in New York City at 6:46 a.m. and 7:03 a.m., Utah time. At 7:27 a.m., a third hijacked aircraft slammed into the side of the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft, which had departed later than the others, crashed and disintegrated in a field in Pennsylvania at 8:03 a.m. after heroic passengers, who had learned of the previous attacks, fought back against the hijackers and forcefully attempted to gain control of the plane.  

“Two planes have hit the World Trade Center, and now one has hit the Pentagon building.”

Initial shock and confusion soon made room for a seismically grim reality. The United States was at war—but the question was, with whom? 

Joanne Neumann and thousands of others spent the next couple of hours trying to get out of Washington, D.C., amid reports that another flight was headed toward Washington, D.C. Their escape was punctuated with the smoke from the Pentagon strike clouding the sky. The White House and U.S. Capitol Building were obvious targets, and both were being evacuated. People were running for their lives, with the expectation that an airliner could crash into those seats of government power at any moment.  

Westin and I stood in front of our television watching. I heard Mike S. walking upstairs and called to him, “Mike, you’ll want to watch this.” He joined us. Within moments, Jackie walked in the back door. Her familiar call, “Mike. . .,” had urgency. The tone of her voice made evident she had been listening to the radio.  

We all huddled around the television, speechless. Just under an hour after being hit, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. People streamed through the streets of lower Manhattan, many bloodied or coated with dust, all fleeing the enormous dust and debris cloud pouring from the tower site. It was chaotic and surreal, and playing out for the world to see on live television.  

Within minutes came word that the fourth hijacked plane, United Flight 93, had plunged into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The 9/11 Commission’s investigation of the attacks would later determine that the Flight 93 hijackers’ intended target was indeed the White House or Capitol.  

The combined death toll was not immediately known, but as soon as it was known it was staggering—2,977 people killed in the four crashes, along with the 19 hijackers. And as a traumatized nation watched it live on television, the unease and questions mounted. What would happen next? What did it mean for us?  

Jackie whispered: “My mother called me in the car. Her first words were, ‘I hope this doesn’t mean those boys of yours will have to go off to war.’” The thought had crossed my mind, and I completely understood why this moment would be particularly poignant for Cleo Smith and for her generation. They had experience with events such as these. The course of their lives was instantaneously altered when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It was a moment just like the one we were experiencing, when a foreign adversary had totally surprised our nation with a devastating attack that took thousands of lives. But the Japanese had attacked a military target; this was an attack on civilians and on the mainland of American soil. It was unthinkable.  

After Pearl Harbor, Jackie’s father, Lewis Calder Smith, at the age of twenty-three, was deployed as a fighter pilot. He served for the next four years flying combat missions over the Pacific, about 144 of them. Our two oldest sons were within months on either side of the same age. Was Cleo right? I wondered. Would this change the course of our sons’ lives, like it did their grandfather’s?  

The North Tower of the World Trade Center fell at 8:28 a.m. Mountain Time, its 110-plus floors pancaking to the ground alongside its twin, both with a similar eruption of dust, flying debris, and ruin. The time that elapsed from the first attack to the final fall: one hour, forty-two minutes. Watching in horrified silence I said to Jackie, “I need to get to the Capitol. We need to open the Emergency Management Center.”  

Emergency Management Center 

Anticipating the moment, my security detail had already swung into action. Alan Workman, the head of the security detail, had called his entire team in to work. My driver for the day, Shane Nordfelt, or Nordy as we called him, waited in the driveway of our house. We drove with a speedy sense of urgency toward the Mansion, where I stopped briefly to tell participants of a scheduled 9:00 a.m. meeting that there would be no meeting. I called ahead to the office, asking that my senior staff be assembled at the Capitol, and then quickly headed there myself to meet with the state’s comprehensive Emergency Management team.  

I walked up the back stairs to my office to huddle with senior staff, then went directly to the Emergency Management Center where the team from state government was beginning to assemble.  

The Emergency Management Division of state government, headquartered in the basement of the State Office Building, is part of the Department of Public Safety. One of the division’s key functions is to maintain readiness of an operating center that can be quickly put together in the case of an emergency. It is staffed around the clock. The room is equipped with desks where each part of state government can send a representative. There is radio equipment and other communications gear that allows coordinated decision making. There is also an office for the governor.  

By the time I arrived, the head of public safety, Bob Flowers, was standing by. I was briefed on what they knew at that point. All flights incoming to or over the continental United States had been ordered grounded—an unprecedented decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Air Force and Air National Guard bases scrambled fighter jets over New York City and Washington, D.C., while every aircraft other than the military fighters was being summoned to land—they had to be viewed as potential weapons. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, some 3,300 commercial flights and 1,200 private planes were guided to land at airports in Canada and the United States, and the U.S. airports were closed. 

“Mommy, is there still an America?”

The president of the United States, George W. Bush, who had been visiting a school in Florida, boarded Air Force One and was flying to an undisclosed location as officials in Washington tried to determine the breadth of the attacks.  

Most of this information was coming from live television coverage. There was no official information being conveyed.  

Tension and Patriotism  

For the next several weeks, Americans navigated life an atmosphere of stunned shock, soon eclipsed by a sense of profound patriotism that swept across the nation. American flags appeared everywhere; vigils were held; military enlistments soared. Television and other media focused almost exclusively on the recovery operations at the World Trade Center, which quickly became known as Ground Zero. The stories of the family members of the thousands who were lost began to be told. We mourned together as a nation. The tone of society changed as to reflect inwardly. Many began asking deeper questions, turning toward their religious beliefs.  

I heard a mother tell a local radio host that her young daughter, confused by all the news and sadness asked, “Mommy, is there still an America?”  

With air travel prohibited, the stories of stranded people trying to make their way home became common. Tom Vander Ark from the Gates Foundation, my 8 a.m. appointment that morning, spent several days at the Governor’s Mansion because there were no planes flying for several days. Ultimately, he rented a car and drove home to Seattle. Gary Doxey, general counsel in the Governor’s Office, was in Washington, D.C., at the time and did the same thing, driving cross-country in a rental. 

The term “fog of war” well describes the condition that existed for the first few days after the attacks. Events were unfolding simultaneously, but lack of visibility or perspective made it difficult to gain situational awareness. Rumors, misinformation, and fear-based conclusions led to confusion. The United States had been at war many times before, but this was the first time an attack had been made on American soil. Yes, Pearl Harbor was an American territory at the time, but the 9/11 attack struck right at the heart of our country’s safety and security. It was clear, a page had turned in history.   

A Wartime President 

Over the next several weeks, news media constantly played a video of the moment Andy Card, the president’s chief of staff, interrupted President Bush on the morning of September 11 as Bush was reading a book to children at a school in Sarasota, Florida. There he was, a former colleague governor and friend who had been elected in a controversial national election decided after recounts, court decisions and a political party dogfight, two hundred thirty-four days after his inauguration facing his generation’s Pearl Harbor. George W. Bush, from that moment on, would be a wartime president. 

The events of September 11, 2001, in many ways defined the presidency of George W. Bush. Over the ensuing months, I had many interactions with the president. The weight of the presidency, compounded now by the intensity of war, had been brought to bear very early in his term. All of his capacity as a leader and human being were being called upon to lead a tense, grieving nation into a unified response.  

“God was lifting an ordinary man to meet the moment—a man I knew.”

Three days after the attack, the president traveled to the World Trade Center site to support first responders who were undergoing the painstaking, dangerous, and gruesome work of sorting through a mountain of twisted steel and debris looking for survivors and the remains of those who were buried in the buildings’ collapse. A spontaneous moment occurred that day which, when coupled with an address to Congress shortly thereafter, galvanized America’s moment of unity.  

The president stood on a pile of rubble at Ground Zero, speaking into a portable bullhorn in order to be heard by workers. His arm was draped around the shoulders of Bob Beckwith, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department who had gone to the tower site to help with search and rescue efforts. As President Bush spoke of the nation’s gratitude for their service, workers above him on the pile of debris shouted, “We can’t hear you.” The president looked toward them and said, “I can hear you. The world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down, will hear all of us soon.”(1) It was a transformative moment for him and for the nation.   

A week later, September 20, 2001, the president appeared in the House of Representatives to address a joint session of Congress and the nation. He had stood at that podium before, but this was different. The nation needed reassurance and a rallying cry; our allies needed a call to action; and any friend to our enemies needed warning.  

World Trade Center towers as flames and debris explode from the second tower on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, in New York.

I vividly recall the feelings I had watching George W. Bush standing on the dais of the House, addressing the nation as members of Congress applauded in a bipartisan show of unity. President Bush is four years, eight months older than me. I wondered if he felt prepared for such a moment with the entire world watching. His speech answered my question. It was powerfully written and delivered by a man who seemed lifted up in a spiritual way to meet the moment.  

The thunderous and prolonged applause by a usually partisan Congress finally subsided. It was a demonstration to the world of a nation shaken but unbowed, confident in its convictions, and now unified.  

“We are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done,” he intoned. 

Later in the speech the president spoke, expressing resolve I would later quote in my State of the State address:  

Our nation, this generation, will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. 

He concluded by introducing the mother of a first responder who had died along with thousands of others that day. The mother had given the president the officer’s badge. He pledged to carry it with him each day as a reminder, saying:  

I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. 

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.(2) 

“Walk out and meet him. It will be a nice surprise.”

Watching the president deliver the September 20 speech in the House chamber was a moving experience for me, a spiritual feeling. I sensed that my friend was being elevated to meet a critical moment in the history of our nation.  

President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andy Card whispers into the ear of the President to give him word of the plane crashes into the World Trade Center, during a visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

A Friend Elevated 

I reflected back to the time in late November 1998 when Bush, then still governor of Texas, visited Israel with me and two other governors, and we had visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Bush had been recognized and greeted by people we encountered there, which heightened buzz in the U.S. that Bush was eyeing the 2000 presidential race. I had written about the experience in my journal saying, “Today I saw fate fall upon a man.” The 9/11 attack nearly three years later brought fate to George Bush in a far more resounding and irrevocable way. The feeling I had watching his national address was not about Bush personally, but rather a strong sense that in answering the prayers of millions, God was lifting an ordinary man to meet the moment—a man I knew. It was a feeling of peace for me at a time when our nation faced the most significant crisis in my lifetime.   

Not long after the speech, I was in Washington and visited the White House for a meeting with members of the president’s staff. Joanne Neumann accompanied me. The president had been on my mind, so I stopped by Chief of Staff Andy Card’s office intending just to leave a message of encouragement. Andy said, “Can you wait for a few minutes? The president is arriving on Marine One on the South Lawn soon and I think he would really enjoy seeing a friend. It’s been a long week.”  

Andy led Joanne and me to the small waiting area just outside the Oval Office. When we heard the sound of Marine One’s rotor blades cutting through the air, Andy walked us out. Joanne remained on the porch and Andy guided me to the driveway in front of the south lawn entrance to the West Wing. There we would wait for the arrival of the president.  

Washington is a town every American should visit. It is a place of remarkable monuments and meaningful memorials, all with high significance. But I must say there are few scenes that inspired me more than the landing of Marine One on the south lawn of the White House. To my left stood the White House, and its whisper-white exterior felt pure against the greenery of the trees, massive fountains, and a lawn that stretched across the front. The Washington Monument stands prominently across the ellipse.  

The air was still that day but soon the sound of helicopters got closer. Not just one, but three identical olive-green Sikorsky Sea King helicopters appeared. Using three helicopters is a security measure. Two of the helicopters act as decoys, making it harder to know which one the president actually occupies. Just before landing, two cut away and the third quickly descended, hovering for just a moment above the ground. The wash of the rotors created a windy chaos, permeated by the strong smell of aviation fuel exhaust. Then, the engines shut down and settled to a stop. A Marine in dress-blue uniform crisply marched to the aircraft’s side, standing at attention with a perfectly squared salute. The door popped open and swung outward. George W. Bush, the nation’s commander in chief, stepped through the door, popping a crisp practiced salute in return to the Marine. There was a wave to the small crowd of White House visitors assembled to see the arrival and then a turn toward the driveway and the West Wing.  

Andy Card turned to me and said, “Walk out and meet him. It will be a nice surprise.”  

The president was surprised, or at least seemed surprised. He greeted me with “Hey, Mikey.” I began to walk with him toward the entrance to the Oval Office. He put his arm on my back. I intuitively reciprocated. Associated Press that day published a photo of the two of us walking toward the West Wing, each with his arm on the other’s back. When I saw the picture, I worried for a moment that I had been a bit too familiar with the president of the United States. However, there was nothing contrived about the picture—it just captured the spontaneity of the moment. As we approached the two stairs leading to the portico of the West Wing there was a not-so-spontaneous moment. The president with a grin whispered, “Okay, when I stop, turn around and wave to the camera, we’ll get your picture on the front page of the Utah papers.” We stopped, turned, and did exactly what he proposed. A chorus of camera clicks in unison sounded. We both laughed at the moment, then walked to the Oval Office.  

“There are a lot of people praying for me right now, and I can feel it.”

Andy Card brought Joanne in to join us. The president recognized her from all the time we spent together at governors’ meetings. Most states have an office in Washington and most of them office in the same building as the National Governors Association on New Jersey Avenue in D.C. It is appropriately called the Hall of States. The various state directors and staffs were a collegial community, and during the time I led the Republican Governors Association and National Governors Association, Joanne was the leader among the directors, and was well liked. She had earned their respect intellectually, and her years of experience on Capitol Hill made her a natural mentor. Everyone, including the governors, drew on her experience and depended on her as a convener.   

I expected we would say goodbye to the president at that point, but he insisted we both sit down. He had some time free, and it became clear that Andy Card was right. George Bush, the person, seemed hungry to just talk. The three of us—the president, Joanne, and I—sat in the Oval Office and talked for nearly thirty minutes.  


1. Meeting with Governor Jeb Bush (FL.) and his team at the Governor’s Office in Tallahassee 

2. A state-provided security officer and Mike, along with his security officer Jimmy Higgs as they prepared to board the airplane they used to make their twelve-state trip.

3. From left: John Engler, governor of Michigan; Mike; and Joanne Neumann at the Michigan State Capitol as part of their Homeland Security tour  


We laughed and joked for a few minutes, but two things stood out in my mind from the conversation. I related to President Bush the spiritual feeling I had while watching him speak to the nation on September 20. He said, “There are a lot of people praying for me right now, and I can feel it.” Then he paused and said, “I have never felt stronger.”  

The second memorable moment was a demonstration that the Texas swagger of George W. Bush was still very much present. I mentioned the bullhorn moment at Ground Zero. The president said, “Mikey, we’re going to kick their ass.”  

War in Afghanistan 

Six days later after our meeting in the Oval Office, the United States did just that. On October 7, 2001, American and British forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a joint offensive aimed at destroying training bases for terrorists in Afghanistan.  

The visit we had in the Oval Office was memorable, too, for having flowed naturally from a genuine friendship that had evolved over nearly five years. When you are placed in a position of leadership, people often treat you differently, and it can be lonely. After I was elected governor, I noticed that none of my friends ever called me. Even the pattern of contact from my brothers changed. I came to understand that when one assumes an official role, even those closest to you hold back. For one thing, they don’t want you or others thinking they’re a “hanger-on” trying to exploit the emotional proximity; or similarly they don’t want to seem insensitive to the demands of the new situation.  

Intimate friendships require a feeling of co-equality. Suddenly society applies a new social status to a person who has been elected governor or in another way achieved a form of celebrity that sets them apart. It’s hard for friends and even family to know where they fit—so they naturally step back, waiting to proactively be invited closer. I came to understand the need to assure friends and family that I’m still the same person, our friendship is intact, and I want you to share in this to the degree you can.  

I felt all the “friend feelings” just described in my relationship with George Bush. Yes, we had been friends, but he was now president of the United States. We were Mike and George while governors, but now even his closest friends called him “Mr. President.” When people refer to the loneliness of leadership, the distance suddenly put between a governor or president and their intimate friends is surely part of it.  

Depth of friendship is hard to measure, but it seems like the earlier in one’s life a relationship was formed, the deeper it is. Friendships developed during the formative years of life have a lasting quality. One never tires, for example, of hearing about how their friends from high school or college are doing. Relationships formed during the early years of one’s professional development have a similar quality because they were created in equality.  

While I have never considered myself to be one of George W. Bush’s intimate friends, our friendship was built in parity and to some extent, equality. Although there are hierarchical differences between governors—for example, at the NGA the governors from the original thirteen states were always seated on the front row, and the large population states got more attention and thought of themselves as being in a different class—having the title of governor did create a foundation of common experience, and over the years, George W. Bush and I had built a friendship.  

Visiting Ground Zero 

Three days after the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom, I attended a gathering of the governors at an IBM facility near New York City. George Pataki, the governor of New York, invited me, Governor John Engler of Michigan and Governor Bob Wise of West Virginia to join him for a visit to Ground Zero, where rescue efforts were still under way at the site of the twin towers.  

In order to get there, we took a Coast Guard boat up the Hudson River. Eerily, we were accompanied by other boats that had .50 caliber machine guns mounted as security. It was symbolic of the uncertainty and anxiety that gripped our country.  

With reporters at the site of the Twin Towers after 9/11

At the site we observed hundreds of workers sorting through the inconceivably large pile of twisted steel and debris, with everything from heavy equipment to shovels and picks. Even though it had been nearly a month, periodically everything would stop so people could listen for the sounds of life. Rescue dogs were still at work looking for the living and the dead. It was a sober place of work as most of the workers knew people who were still missing. Just outside the exterior fence there was an area for families who waited in vigil, and for visitors who came to pay respect.  

As we walked soberly along a sidewalk within the interior of the recovery area, I noticed some acorns that had lodged into a crevice of the battered cement. Amid all this destruction were these small, natural capsules of life, capable of regenerating the life of a tree that had perished with the devastation. What a lovely symbol, I thought, gathering a few as a remembrance of that horrific day, and a reminder of how our nation and its people would stand strong in the face of calamity.  

Homeland Security  

While the shock of the September 11 attacks had begun to subside in ensuing months, it was increasingly clear this was an epochal event that had unalterably changed the United States, and in many ways, the world. The attacks revealed that our country had been operating naïvely, almost oblivious, to the need to secure our homeland. After September 11, 2001, our vulnerabilities were laid bare. It became apparent there were—and still are—forces in the world with a mission to disrupt, and if possible, destroy the United States of America, and they were willing to attack civilian targets within our borders. This realization affected Americans emotionally. Suddenly travel had a new danger. A quiet anxiety had crept into American life.  

For me, the primary impact of these new atmospherics was the increased emphasis on security for the Olympics. This is described in more detail in the Olympics section of this history, but suddenly the 2002 Winter Games became the “security games.” The Olympics were a perfect target for terrorists looking for high profile symbols of aspiration to attack, and so much the better if it was in the interior of the nation.  

September 11 also changed the way I used my time as governor. By 2001, I was among the nation’s most senior governors. I had experience in getting the states to work together in common purpose. Whereas in early years I spent my national time on federalism, welfare reform, Medicaid, or internet sales tax, suddenly I began playing a role in rallying the states to play their part in the development of homeland security.  

Most of my work took place in two primary forums. The first was within the Bush White House. During his speech to the nation, the president announced the appointment of Tom Ridge, a fellow governor and good friend, to be the first director of the Homeland Security Council. This move was a precursor to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security a year later, a new department of the national government. The task given to Governor Ridge and his team was the development of policies, plans, and strategies for the nation, including design of the new department.  

I was asked to be one of the governors who sat on a council to assist. This included a request that I build support among the governors for various proposals. I organized a trip to nearly a dozen states and, borrowing an airplane from my friend Jim Laub of Cache Valley Electric, I flew to multiple states each day to bring state governors together.  

The second was a private foundation called the Markle Foundation, which assembled a group of policy thinkers to provide insights and strategy proposals. This effort was chaired by a well-known technology executive, Jim Barksdale, and Markle Foundation President Zoe Baird. Jim was a Republican investor who had brought forward the first internet browser. The executive director of the effort was Phillip Zelikow, a foreign policy expert at the University of Virginia, whom I later served with in the Bush Administration. The committee doing the work was a remarkable assemblage of former policy makers, business leaders, and academics.  

Photo from Mike’s visit to the White House soon after 9/11

Two reports were ultimately produced. The first became an important template for the Bush Administration’s work. My most important contribution was a concept that can be seen as the basic framework of the report—the structuring of our system of homeland defense as a network, not a mainframe.  

Hysterias about threats to our homeland was high enough that as the nation formed its response, I became concerned that the national government would begin to override state authorities in serious—and constitutionally critical—ways. I continued to express the worry that a top-down framework would not only be ineffective but also damaging to our federalist form of government.  

During one of the Markle task force’s early meetings, I made the case that most of the assets that would form the nation’s homeland defense belonged to and were managed by state and local governments. These included the National Guard, police departments, fire departments, health departments, medical infrastructure, and so on. I proposed that the new American system of homeland security needed to be fashioned to resemble a network of personal computers with the federal government acting as an operating system that coordinates assets. This would be in place of the federal government designing a system that functioned like a mainframe computer, attempting to directly own and control the needed assets.  

Phillip Zelikow, the report’s primary author, paused the meeting and noted what a fundamental point this was, saying, “That is a brilliant piece of original thinking.” He later told me that it guided the entire report.  

War on Terror Expands  

American forces made quick work of their mission in Afghanistan. Targeted terrorist camps were destroyed. However, the experience made a new reality evident. Terrorists fight differently than conventional armed forces. This was a networked enemy that changed shapes, locations, and command structures as necessary. Most of the enemy escaped the attacks by moving into Pakistan or the mountains of Afghanistan. The Global War on Terror, as the president began to call it, was not over. It was just beginning, like a cancer that was metastasizing. The war seemed to mobilize the Muslim world and adherents who saw this as a holy war, or jihad, against Islam. Thousands of fighters from around the world began to stream to that region of the world where they could join the effort. The center of the conflict began to focus on Iraq.   

President Bush and his family had a history with Iraq. In August of 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched a military invasion of neighboring Kuwait. The international community, led by George H.W. Bush, the father of George W. Bush, responded with a coalition force that repelled Iraqi forces and handed Hussein a humiliating defeat. However, the senior President Bush stopped short of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam. That decision was debated in foreign policy and military circles for years afterward. 

Naturally, a significant question began to develop about whether the global war on terrorism could ever be won without confronting and removing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It was believed Saddam was sponsoring terror throughout the world. Also, the administration felt certain Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, based in part on strong evidence that Hussein had used nerve agents against his own people. The question of whether the United States should raid Iraq became a matter of robust debate during the balance of 2002. 

“As commander and chief of the National Guard, I was notified that nearly two thousand of the six thousand members would be active.”

Few countries in the region had a bigger stake in this debate than Israel. I knew something about that nation’s interest and positioning within the Middle East due to the trip President George W. Bush and I had taken in 1998. We had been briefed on Israel’s concerns. They viewed Iraq as an existential threat to their nation and assumed as long as Saddam Hussain was Iraq’s leader, it was just a matter of time before Israel would be required to face them militarily.  

A couple of weeks earlier, I received a visit at my Capitol office from Paul Berrin, political advisor at the Consulate-General of Israel in Los Angeles. A primary point of his visit was to ask if I would come to Los Angeles to meet with former Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu during his upcoming visit in California.  

On January 15, 2002, I flew to Los Angeles and met for breakfast with the former prime minister in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hilton. I invited my friend Dell Loy Hansen to join us. Netanyahu’s room, adorned in bright yellow, was fitting for a head of state. We were provided a full breakfast, including freshly squeezed orange juice thick with pulp. It was a full cloth-napkin setting.  

I knew Benjamin Netanyahu. During the Israel trip with Bush three years earlier, we had dined with Netanyahu at his home there. The following year, he had lost an election and left government altogether. However, it was clear that he was still engaged in politics and would at the appropriate point seek to obtain power again.  

Bibi greeted me as if we were long-standing friends. We discussed the upcoming Olympics and our common friend Mitt Romney. He surprised me by revealing that he and Mitt had worked together early in Mitt’s career at Bain Capital. He also updated us on his current business activities. I remember him saying he’d been invited to serve on the boards of many companies but had found it preferable to act as an advisor so as to not be directly aligned with future controversies. (A point I took to heart in my own transition from government.)  Mitt later told me that while they worked together at Bain, Netanyahu used the American name Ben Natay.   

Netanyahu reported that he had stopped in Washington the day before for the purpose of visiting with now President Bush. He shared with me at least part of their conversation. It was clear he was actively encouraging the United States to invade Iraq and to overthrow Saddam Hussein as its leader. I pushed back, pointing out that Americans were not showing a big appetite for a widespread and prolonged war.  

In response, Bibi Netanyahu made a statement that has stuck in my mind through the years since. “Americans love a glorious war,” he said. I was taken aback, but I wondered at the time, and later as the United States did indeed invade Iraq, how much influence Netanyahu had on George Bush. I have since wondered how much our breakfast had been intended to plant seeds with a person he rightly would have perceived to be the president’s friend.  

As 2002 came to an end, it became apparent the United States would indeed seek to wrestle control of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. On February 5, 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared at the United Nations to make the case for invasion. In essence, the U.S. maintained that Iraq had acquired and stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and the world would not be safe until Saddam was gone and the weapons destroyed. In the years since, the validity of that case was questioned by Colin Powell and others. Later that year, I joined Powell in the Bush Cabinet. Secretary Powell and I flew from Mexico to Washington, D.C. together in the State Department’s plane. As the two of us sat in this private cabin, Powell expressed his personal outrage over putting his reputation on the line under circumstances that would later be called into question.  

On March 19, 2003, George Bush announced the United States would lead an alliance of nations to bomb and occupy Iraq. It felt like a perilous moment, and privately to me it did not seem to qualify as Bibi’s glorious war. However, not having access to any of the intelligence upon which the decision was made, one could only hope for the best. On balance, I understood the upside of the encounter could be a game changer in the Middle East. There was the potential for democracy to spread through a region that had long been repressed.  

The next morning, March 20, Operation Iraqi Freedom started with a bombing barrage the administration referred to as shock and awe, and a ground invasion of 248,000 U.S. troops and nearly 50,000 British, Australian, and Polish forces. On April 9, Baghdad fell and Saddam Hussein’s twenty-four-year rule of the country ended. The invasion lasted just over thirty days, and on May 1, 2003, the president declared combat operations over, followed by a move to a transitional government elected in 2005. 

Fighting, however, continued for most of the next decade as an insurgency rose in Iraq, opposing the coalition forces and a permanent government elected in 2006. The Bush administration ordered a troop surge in February 2007, even as timetables for withdrawals of U.S. forces were drawn up with the new Iraqi leaders, who still faced sectarian violence and civil war. In 2011, American troops were officially withdrawn, but a new threat to the security of Iraq emerged with ISIS, causing the U.S. to reengage with a new coalition in 2014. Major drawdowns of troops continued in subsequent years, although small numbers of American military remained in the country.  The conflict that originated with the 9/11 attacks was by this time more than five years into the Obama Administration. 

Utahns Answered the Call 

The start of the war in Iraq had immediate impacts in Utah. Having observed the anxiety of young children on 9/11, and knowing that they had never been exposed to their country being at war on this scale, I had arrangements made for me, as governor, to address the school children about what they were likely to experience.  

However, a more direct impact was felt by members of the Utah National Guard. As commander in chief of the Guard, I was notified by the adjutant general, Brian Tarbet, that nearly two thousand of Utah’s six thousand members would see active duty. This included deployments of entire units, many of them in rural Utah communities.  

By summer, we had men and women deployed around the world, some in actual combat regions and others in support roles, but all of them away from home and family.  

Jackie and I wanted to do something supportive of the troops from Utah and their families. We asked Intermountain Healthcare to partner with us in inviting military families to special gatherings where we could thank them on behalf of the people of our state. It was remarkably heartwarming to see how many people attended—they came in huge numbers. For each of these gatherings at locations around the state we met each family, thanked them personally, took a picture, and gave them a gift. It was a small measure of gratitude for those who had given far more in defense of the United States.  Families were disrupted during long deployments, hardships and heartache were endured without complaint, and fifty-four Utah service members made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the start of those conflicts through 2021, according to the Department of Defense’s Defense Casualty Analysis System. Another 463 were wounded in action.(3


1. Approximately forty-five soldiers of the Utah Army National Guard’s 2-285th Air Assault Aviation Battalion depart from Utah enroute to a twelve-month deployment to Iraq.

2. Soldiers with the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion gather at the Utah Air National Guard hanger for the beginning of their deployment to Iraq.


September 11, 2001, changed the world in tragic ways—and changed American society as well. For the first few months after the attack, America became a more civil, unified place. People turned again to the patriotic and the divine. There was a more cohesive sense of purpose and less recklessness in public discourse. And then political sniping and cultural cynicism eroded that rampart, and the unity faded. One of the most important lessons I learned from this period was how hardship can unite and soften hearts. Likewise, as life returned to normal, I observed how quickly virtuous attributes can be again lost as prosperity is regained and threats wane. 


The deployments and activations of Utah service members meant long separations and ecstatic reunions on a recurring basis, and in one special instance, the wartime upheaval sealed a romance and created a new family.

When Jackie and I began meeting with Utah military families following the start of the Iraq War, we held one of those gatherings in Utah County. About a week or so later, I came home to find Jackie on the phone calling elementary schools there, trying to find a teacher she had met who was the sister of a soldier who had been deployed. 

“She’s mid-to-late twenties and about five-feet-five inches,” Jackie would say. “She has blond hair and teaches fifth grade.”  

Finally, on the twenty-eighth elementary school, a school secretary said, “Oh that must be Andrea.” Jackie then wrote Andrea an email saying she felt so impressed by her when they met, and that it was important that Andrea meet a fellow Jackie knew. Andrea made clear that arranged dating line-ups were not her thing, but given that it was the First Lady asking and Jackie had made a couple dozen phone calls to even find her, she agreed to at least meet this guy.  

Simultaneously, Jackie had been working the other side of this equation, a twenty-nine-year-old nephew named David, who also was not at all interested in being lined up. Finally, at the insistence of his mother, David, a student at the University of Illinois, agreed to just one date.  

On the appointed night, David knocked on a Utah County door. Andrea answered. And magic happened, right on the spot. A few months later they were engaged, then married. At least one positive outcome of a war.  



1. George W. Bush, “George W. Bush visits Ground Zero,” 14 September 2001, Youtube video,

2. George W. Bush, "Address to Joint Session of Congress and the American People," transcript, Office of the Press Secretary, 20 September 2001.

3. “U.S. Military Casualties – OCO Casualty Summary by State,” Defense Casualty Analysis System, 27 December 2022. 


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