NEW YORK (AP) – It will once again make the solemn tour to the sites where lives were lost. He will once again bow his head in silent prayer and offer words of comfort to those whose lives were forever changed in that brilliant September two decades ago.
But this time, Joe Biden will be the commander-in-chief in commemorating the worst terrorist attack in America. He now has the responsibility of previous presidents to prevent future tragedies, and must do so in the face of new fears of an increase in terrorism following the United States’ exit from Afghanistan, the country from which the attacks of September 11, 2001, were launched.RELATED
This anniversary comes just over two weeks after a suicide bomber in Kabul killed 13 US servicemen who were assisting in the withdrawal from Afghanistan. And as the Taliban return to Afghan rule, there are concerns that the country could once again be a launching pad for attacks.
But for Biden, as for his predecessors, the 9/11 anniversary may also represent an opportunity to try to regain the sense of national unity that existed after the attacks 20 years ago, a spirit that faded long ago because of to political divisions.
“This is a time for people to see him not as a Democratic president, but as the president of the United States,” said Robert Gibbs, who was former President Barack Obama’s press secretary.
Biden will visit the three sites where the planes crashed, events that deflated America’s image of invincibility and led to the deaths of 3,000 Americans.
On Friday the government released a video to remember those who lost their lives, comfort their families and honor the courage and sacrifice of the first responders and the military. The video calls for putting differences aside and recovering the spirit of cooperation that emerged in the days after the attacks.
“Unity is what makes us who we are,” Biden said. “For me, that is the main lesson of September 11 … Unity is our greatest strength.”
On Saturday, the president will make a first stop in New York City, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were demolished. It will then go to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a plane crashed after heroic passengers fought terrorists to prevent it from reaching its destination in Washington. And finally he will go to the Pentagon, where the most powerful army in the world suffered an unthinkable blow in his own home.
Biden’s task, like that of his predecessors, will be to commemorate the moment with a mixture of pain and determination. Biden, a man who has suffered an immense personal tragedy, speaks of the loss with power and eloquence.
But Afghanistan will darken the day.
Osama bin Laden used that nation to plan the attacks, ushering in an era of attacks on soft targets – hotels, office buildings, nightclubs – in cities across the West. Al Qaeda was expelled from Afghanistan in the months after 9/11. But other groups have taken up the cause, including the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Biden said for a long time that the US military mission in Afghanistan had ended. But for some, the return of the Taliban to power, and the terrorist threat that it could produce, has made the 20th anniversary bitter and worrying.
Biden will be the fourth president to comfort the nation on this dark day. The terrorist attack defined the presidency of George W. Bush. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still deadly when Barack Obama visited the Pentagon to commemorate his first September 11 in office in 2009. When Obama spoke on the 10th anniversary, Bin Laden had died, in May 2011. President Donald Trump pledged to pull the United States out of Afghanistan in his first ceremony, in 2017.
On Saturday, when Biden visits all three sites, Bush will pay his respects in Shanksville and Obama in New York. Meanwhile, Trump will make front-row remarks at a boxing match at a Hollywood, Florida casino.