November 20th, 2010
05:45 AM ET
LISBON, Portugal (CNN) - It was the kind of moment that made me feel like my heart was beating outside my chest. My hands were sweating, my mouth was dry. There was palpable anxiety inside the modest conference room where a small group of U.S. journalists traveled to Portugal's Azores Islands.
It was March 16, 2003, and I was part of the pool rotation accompanying President George W. Bush for an emergency war summit. We flew for about five and a half hours to the Portuguese island of Terceira, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to an American airbase.
Sitting in the front row looking up at podiums, the leaders entered the room: President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, and the Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso.
Barroso hosted the closed door gathering that lasted just little more than an hour before the leaders emerged.
Barroso called the lightening speed summit "the last opportunity for a political solution".
It was then that President Bush gave the United Nations just 24 hours to enforce "the immediate and unconditional disarmament" of Saddam Hussein.
President Bush's ultimatum was specifically aimed at UN Security Council members France, Russia and Germany who opposed the US-British resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.
President Bush said "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world. Tomorrow is the day that we can determine whether or not diplomacy will work."
Mr. Bush and his allies' efforts to get more allied support failed. Instead the leaders withdrew the UN draft resolution seeking authorization for the use of force in Iraq, determined to act on their own.
In a televised address to the nation the next day, President Bush told Saddam Hussein and his sons that they had 48 hours to leave the country or face an attack. Three days later, on March 20, 2003, the Iraq war began.
Today, seven years later, we find ourselves back in Portugal, on the mainland, under U.S. President Barack Obama, who is also here dealing with matters of war.
Though this time the sense is more of exhaustion than urgency.
There is a different kind of tension now, one that comes with trying to wrap things up, as opposed to ratchet up. President Obama is seeking commitments from key NATO allies to help END a war, the one in Afghanistan. On that score, he said today, he hopes the gathering of world leaders here in Portugal, will lead to a "landmark summit." If so, it wouldn't be the first.