Debra Burlingame, Tony Snow & Memories of 9/11

By January 28, 2007General

The final speaker at the National Review’s just-completed conference was Tony Snow, White House spokesman, who gave a modified Lincoln Day speech, mixing inspiration, political philosophy and encouragement. Like President Bush’s State of the Union address, his remarks were split between domestic and foreign policy matters, in the latter half focusing on the war in Iraq and the evils of the terrorists who would destroy America. Snow noted how remarkable it was that the United States and its economy did not collapse in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

The first question from the audience came from Debra Burlingame, a former attorney, whose brother was Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which terrorists forced down into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. While the following exchange touches on subjects not usually addressed by, it seemed newsworthy, worth noting for the record and for the sake of balance.*


It’s so true, my family was just sustained by the incredible, the incredible resilience of this country that we showed on that day and in the days that followed, and I am particularly grateful to this president for never forgiving, never forgetting September 11th….

I actually am heartbroken to see half of my Congress sitting in its seat when the President invoked victory, and I think people forget that one of the attractions, one of the things that the recruiting aspects of Bin Laden’s pre-9/11 plan was extolling the glories of the defeat of the Soviet Union, the superpower. All 19 of the hijackers were inspired by the defeat of that superpower. All 19 of them went to …. in Iraq to practice comandeering those planes by butchering sheep and camel in preparation for storming the cockpit of those four planes. I deeply worry that if we don’t follow through in Iraq and that region that there may be more, they can be training while in Iraq to come here and do similar things, maybe worse.

We’re losing the propaganda war and of the opinion in this country, and I would like you to comment on that. Why don’t detractors of this war get that one of their chief tools is propaganda?

After audience applause, Snow responded:

And the other thing I want to thank Debra for is her heroic and elegant work in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and a number of other places where you have been an incredible voice for firming up people’s resolution and reminding us of what we went through that day, so thank you and God bless. (applause)

I think…that also…It was stunning to me, I was standing in the chamber and when the President mentions victory, you would think all of the room would stand. Furthermore, if you asked that question around the country, the whole country would stand. So, I was a little puzzled by that behavior…[inaudible] But the fact is, five brigades going into Baghdad, and 4,000 Marines are going into Anwar, and the United States government is continue doing everything we can do with our allied forces to get the job done. It’s interesting, because a lot of people question putting in 21,000 positive troops, yet nobody questioned the importance of hiring of David Petraeus, a man who believes that that’s absolutely essential, and he needs those reinforcements and resources, and he ought to get them. And he will.

The President understands as Commander in Chief, this is a tough time. People don’t like this war. [ ] Nobody likes a war. Everyone wants progress to be immediate and measurable. One of the things that we’ve done is we have taken the handcuffs off our armed forces when it comes to fighting in Baghdad. That’s one of the prior conditions. A politician on a cell phone can stop an operation, going after someone. That’s not the case anymore. It’s important for Americans to understand also that we are serious, and that the other side is serious.

Debra, I think what is going to happen, the resolutions before Congress are going to have, I think, the healthy consequence of making people think about these questions and answer them. What message do we want to send? Bin Laden, he interpreted what happened in Somalia in 1993 as a sign of American weakness, and therefore we encouraged him to strike. We do not want to give him an opportunity again to look upon anything as a sign of American weakness.

If you want to support the troops, SUPPORT THE TROOPS. (applause)

I still think there’s also a possibility, as people begin to reflect upon what the President has proposed, and they have an opportunity to meet and hear from General Petraeus [inaudible] and others involved, we’ve got the prospects of a thoughtful debate about this. This is really the beginning of a conservation about how we move toward the future and how we succeed, and I think fair-minded Americans understand not only how important it is to succeed, but how much we want to make sure we go into there with everything we need to succeed, so there’s no question about where we stand, there’s no question about our determination, and also there’s no question about where democracy can work there.

*Note: Personal transcript from recording of mixed quality.