9/11 Museum Dedication: Bush, Absent: ‘Evil is Real’

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, along with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton tour the Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on May 15, 2014, in New York.

Photograph by Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, along with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton tour the Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on May 15, 2014, in New York.

Three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, then-President George W. Bush traveled to the wreckage of the World Trade Center with a message for the world.

The president, standing on the rubble of Ground Zero, grabbed a fire chief’s bullhorn after someone in the surrounding crowd called out that he couldn’t hear him and declared with one arm around the firefighter:  ”I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

And hear the U.S., they did, with a congressionaly approved invasion of Afghanistan, which had harbored the plotters of the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon and the target of a fourth hijacked airliner downed in  a Pennsylvania field. Bush would go on to use the congressional authorization of military force for much more,  chiefly a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq which, combined with the war in Afghanistan and a vast expansion of U.S. interrogation and surveillance activities, would come to define his presidency, enmeshed in what he would call a “war on terror” against the “evil doers.”

Today, as an underground museum built on the bedrock of Ground Zero holding wreckage from the attacks and an archive of the lives of those who died there was dedicated, President Barack Obama attended, former President Bill Clinton and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined in and Bush was absent. A spokesman for the former president cited a scheduling conflict.

Actor Robert DeNiro was spotted there.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, chairman of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and majority owner of Bloomberg L.P., parent company of Bloomberg News, led the dignitaries on a tour of the museum. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was running the city on 9/11, attended, as did New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bloomberg’s successor.

The attacks 12 years ago demonstrated that the U.S. is “a nation that stands tall and united and unafraid,” Obama said in his remarks at the museum today. “Nothing could ever break us,” he said. “Nothing could change who we are as Americans.”

Bush’s office issued a statement about the museum’s dedication:

“Americans who lived through September 11, 2001, will never forget the horror or the heroism we witnessed that morning. The 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City will preserve the memory of that day for future generations.”

“It will honor the sacrifice of those who lost their lives and the bravery of those who saved others. And it will help ensure that our nation remembers the lessons of September 11th: that what happens abroad can affect us here at home, that evil is real, and that courage and love triumph over terror and hate. Laura and I thank all those who played a role in creating this inspiring tribute, and we send our best wishes to those gathered to dedicate it.”

– Margaret Talev contributed to this report

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