DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. -- The man who advised President George W. Bush to refrain from speaking the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, sounded off on a variety of topics Sunday at Dakota Dunes Country Club. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer delivered an address at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual dinner.
Fleischer shared opinions on Iran, the state of the President Barack Obama's first 10 months in office and why Republicans were soundly defeated at the polls last November.
The November 2008 election turned on three factors, according to Fleischer, who served as the press secretary at the White House from 2001 to 2003: A desire for change, disappointment in President Bush and excitement surrounding Barack Obama.
"Since that time, I think independent voters especially have been disappointed in Obama," said Fleischer. "He has not governed from the center. It is significant how his popularity has dropped this far this fast."
The $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by Obama to pull the U.S. out of a recession didn't work, Fleischer contended.
"We're bailing out everybody," he said. "The longer we do it, the worse it's going to get. The country is heading to be broke. The amount of debt we've added in the Obama presidency is more than we had from George Washington to George Bush."
While the new president disappoints Fleischer domestically, Obama's attention to foreign affairs has impressed him.
"We have been on the offensive, which is good," he said. "Will there be a Sept. 12? The people who want to harm us still want to."
The U.S. government, he added, must be correct 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. "Terrorists must get lucky only once," he said.
Fleischer was with President George Bush the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists used commercial airliners to bring down the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. The first tower had been struck when Bush entered a Florida classroom to read to children. The president was set to speak to reporters about that incident following his reading session.
Fleischer said Bush was going to assure New Yorkers that the resources of the federal government would be available to them in the aftermath of the crash. At the time, it wasn't known if the incident was an attack or an accident.
As Bush read, Fleischer's pager showed a message: "Second tower hit."
At that time, Fleischer took his legal pad and scribbled a message for the president on the back of the pad. He stood with his back to the cameras and showed Bush the message: "Don't say anything yet."
In a matter of minutes, Bush, Fleischer and the group were aboard Air Force One heading to a base in Louisiana and then on to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb.
"I was press secretary during the (2000 election) recount, which I thought was the biggest story of our time," he said. "Then we had Sept. 11, two wars and the anthrax attack."
Back home to New York
Fleischer left Washington in 2003 and moved to his native New York where he is raising two young children. He wrote a best-selling book, "Taking Heat," and travels the country speaking and working as a communications consultant. He addressed the local chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition Sunday. The group is said to be the sole voice of Jewish Republicans to Republican officials.
Rep. Dan Lederman of Dakota Dunes invited Fleischer to meet with the local tri-state chapter, one established by Lederman four months ago. The group's focal points are national defense and foreign policy, especially that relating to Israel.
"We are trying to do what we can to keep Iran nuclear free," said Lederman, who noted his group has 140 members, some of whom are Democrats.
Obama's diplomacy will likely fail, according to Fleischer, because the Iranians will see that it does. The next step might be sanctions involving China and Russia. Should those fail, Fleischer said, the next two options are, in a word, awful.
"You either take military action or you see Iran get the bomb," he said.
Fleischer sounds off
Here are few tidbits offered by Ari Fleischer at a press conference Sunday:
* Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is an exciting, promising presidential candidate for Republicans to consider for 2012.
* Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is exciting, but has a long way to go to be a presidential candidate.
* The biggest regret of the Bush Administration? The fact Weapons of Mass Destruction weren't found in Iraq or with Saddam Hussein. Removing Saddam Hussein, however, was something that had to be done, according to Fleischer.
* "We were attacked (by terrorist) four times in the 1990s," Fleischer said. "We've not been attacked since Sept. 11."
* President George W. Bush, Fleischer's former boss, rests comfortably. "He left office knowing in his heart he did what was right to protect America," Fleischer said.
* Can anyone govern from the center any longer? Bush tried with an immigration reform package that was thwarted by many members of the G.O.P.