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Bush works phones to build coalition

President Bush at Camp David on Saturday
President Bush at Camp David on Saturday  

By Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau

CAMP DAVID, Maryland (CNN) -- President Bush spoke with several world leaders Saturday in an ongoing effort to build an international coalition against terrorism.

Bush reached out to President Vicente Fox of Mexico and President Jose Maria Aznar of Spain. He also called Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to thank Pakistan for its support, according to a Pakistani official.

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Earlier Saturday, Bush asked the nation to prepare for a state of war, urging Americans to be ready for possible changes in their daily lives and expressing an even greater desire to snuff out terror organizations at their perceived source.

"The American people need to go about their business on Monday, but with a heightened sense of awareness that a group of barbarians (has) declared war," Bush said from Camp David.

U.S. officials continue to indicate that the source of terror such as that seen on Tuesday may be fugitive Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. Through his al Qaeda group, bin Laden is thought to have masterminded several recent attacks against U.S. citizens, business and diplomatic interests, and military personnel.

Intelligence officials believe bin Laden, who has led a spare, nomadic existence for many years, is somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan, holed up in treacherous terrain that has proven deadly to several of the area's past invaders -- including the Soviet army through the entirety of the 1980s.

Bush said the public and the military should be aware that the nation faces a new kind of war, which he described in his earlier meetings with Cabinet and security officials as a struggle against barbarians.

"This will be a different kind of conflict against a different kind of enemy," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "This is a conflict without battlefields or beachheads, a conflict with opponents who believe they are invisible.

"Yet they are mistaken," Bush added. "They will be exposed, and they will discover what others in the past have learned: Those who make war against the United States have chosen their own destruction."

'We're at war'

Bush's turn of phrase sharpened the tone of the administration's rhetoric significantly -- even as several sectors of the executive branch, including the Department of Defense and the State Department, warned through the later part of the week that this assault on the continental United States would be met with a swift and crushing response.

"We are planning a broad and sustained campaign to secure our country and eradicate the evil of terrorism," the president said. "And we are determined to see this conflict through. Americans of every faith and background are committed to this goal."

The administration, through a spokesman, refused Saturday to rule out the use of ground troops in a campaign it says may be long and drawn out.

Questioned by reporters before convening a security meeting Saturday morning in a Camp David conference room, Bush at once shifted his focus to the citizens of the United States. He urged them to do their best to return to a normal life when the work week starts on Monday, but to be prepared for the societal changes brought about by a heightened state of alert and the threat of all-out war.

"We're at war. There has been an act of war declared upon America by terrorists," said Bush, seated at a conference table next to Vice President Dick Cheney. This was the first time the two had been seen together since Wednesday, just before Cheney was shuttled to Camp David for security reasons, according to the White House.

"Our hope is that they have to make no sacrifice whatsoever," the president said when pressed by a reporter on what sort of daily changes the average person might have to anticipate. Travel, Bush responded, might prove more difficult.

"People may not be able to board flights so quickly," he said. "Our borders are tighter than they have ever been before."

'Much to do, much to ask'

The president got a firsthand look at the devastation in New York on Friday.
The president got a firsthand look at the devastation in New York on Friday.  

But Bush's challenge on the home front is one that no modern American president has had to face. U.S. soil has not been touched by a foreign attacker since the British marched into Washington during the War of 1812 -- though there were sporadic reports of German servicemen coming ashore from submarines along the East Coast in the early stages of World War II.

But those incidents in the 1940s did not pose a threat to the general public on a scale anywhere close to what was experienced by civilians and servicemen and women alike when two commandeered jetliners brought down the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, and when another slammed into the Pentagon's outer southwestern wall in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia.

Bush gently acknowledged in his radio address that American citizens for the first time now face fear of attack from an outside source. And -- compounding their risk -- he hinted that Americans should be ready for the sort of disruption and heartache that could be brought on by sustained military action.

"We have much to do and much to ask of the American people," Bush said in his radio address. "You will be asked for your patience, for this conflict will not be short. You will be asked for resolve, for the conflict will not be easy. You will be asked for your strength, because the course to victory may be long."

Bush also acknowledged that his weekend meetings will be focused on response, shifting his late-week focus from recovery and remembrance to prosecution of what he earlier dubbed "the first war of the 21st century."

"This weekend, I am engaged in extensive sessions with members of my National Security Council as we plan a comprehensive assault on terrorism," he said.

"Victory against terrorism will not take place in a single battle, but in a series of decisive actions against terror organizations and those who harbor and support them."

"I will not settle for a token act," he continued. "Our response must be sweeping, sustained and effective."

His words were even stronger when he spoke to reporters prior to the NSC meetings.

"The wreckage of New York City was the signs of the first battle of war," Bush said. "There is no question about it. This act will not stand."

"We will find those who did this, we will smoke them out of their holes, we will get them running, and we will bring them to justice," Bush said, presumably in reference to bin Laden, though intelligence investigators are probing the possibility that the attacks were orchestrated by a loose web of organizations that could also include groups from throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Afghanistan's ruling Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime is a prime focus of the probe. Bin Laden made his home in the war-ravaged country in the mid-1990s after being expelled from several Arab states. The Taliban say they consider bin Laden their "guest."

"It's not just one person. We will deal with those who harbor them, and feed them and house them. Those who harbor terrorists will be held accountable," Bush told reporters.

"Behind sadness and exhaustion," Bush said of his Friday trip to New York, "there is resolve to not seek only revenge, but to win a war against barbaric behavior."

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