Portugal: Again plays host - at the epicenter of critical decisions on war
November 20th, 2010
05:45 AM ET

Portugal: Again plays host - at the epicenter of critical decisions on war

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.

My fellow journalists and I sensed what President Bush had warned earlier, that this indeed was "the moment of truth."

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.

Topics: Lisbon • NATO • President G.W. Bush • President Obama • The News

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. shireen jamil

    Interesting read.Thanks for the insight..

    November 19, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
  2. Bob Larick

    Good Article and perspective. Bush went in thinking it was going to be easy to get out. The failure to fully understand the Religious/Sectarian/Tribal & "National " Dynamics of the country and region, as well as corruption and BS, made it much more costly. Was at a 2 day Research Conference today, that had included a UN specialist. It was entitle from Impunity to Accountability regarding Development in not just Africa. One of the things they brought up was that these "Nation" States were really artificial constructs- similar to Afghanistan/Pakistan & Kashmir/India, etc. I brought up UN Rep. Against Genocide's book "Identity,Diversity, & Constitutionalism" by Francis Deng, and that the resistance to talk about Identity& Religious/Cultural Transformation to a more Civil Society, of a more functional, Healthy and Proprietous nature, were costing Billions, as well as Bodies & Souls. Pres. Obama recently proposed not only India on the UN Security Council , but a more cost- effective UN Capacity building .I have proposed exactly that, with My Good Gov't, (W) Holistic/Multi-dimensional Interfaith, Business,Security (& Development) Alliance Inst./Agency ( with board of Elders, say Clinton, Bush1 & Gorbechev, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan ,Boutrous Ghali, Mr Schwarb of World Economic Forum/Davos , etc.) and God's Help, to be able to talk about what ever causes the Dysfunctionality,Hostility,Hatred, and Violence- which are also issues in our schools and Communities- local to global ; as part of meaningful UN Renewal- as FDR updated the weak League of nations, to UN. .Failure to Recognize and put in a proper position of Reconciling Authority ( within & without), is leaving Trans-National Europe and the world , in a non-sustainable and at risk state. These are also issues of Hearts and Minds ( that General McCrystal brought up) , and that Frank Rich/his Liberal base in NYT of 11/14/10 Wk. in Rev., asks "Who will stand up to the Super Rich", & ie.Special Interests leadership, that is distorting "Democracy", to serve the needs of its people? He asks , is the Dem party & Pres. Obama "Poised to Retreat", or to fulfill his promise with the help of Holistic(mind/Body& Spirit) Human Rights & Responsibilities/Balance EU? Don't we all need a Post Copenhagen & Tipping Point ( change takes time & $), New consciousness or meaning of Jerusalem/Messianic Age? Don't we all need to see " God" and each other Constructively vs. Destructively, b/4 we go under water or are blown away by one thing or another?

    November 20, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  3. Linda M. Kunzweiler

    I was hoping to read more. The first hand contrast is powerful and important.

    November 20, 2010 at 11:48 am |