Book Review: Decision Points (George W Bush, 472 Pages)

Posted: October 20, 2012 in Books


As our 43rd President George W. Bush made some of the most controversial decisions of any president.  President Bush begins his autobiography with a little background on himself.  He was an alcoholic, he found Jesus, gave up the booze and started a program of long distance running.  He ran all the way to the Texas statehouse, and beat political veteran Ann Richards, from that vantage point he launched a run for the White House, and beat Al Gore, with a little help from the Supreme Court.  One of his first decisions as president was whether to continue or expand existing stem cell lines.  He decided to continue the existing stem cells.  Bush also helped pass legislation that expanded the role of the federal government with the signing of bills like No Child Left Behind, the Farm Bill, and the expansion of Medicare part C, through the enhanced Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit.

But George Bush’s presidency will forever be defined by what happened to us on 9/11 2001.  On that day 19 terrorists smashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City.  A third plane was taken down by the passengers before it crashed into the Capital in Washington.  Bush decided to go to war in Afghanistan to kill and or capture Osama Bin Laden.  He signed the Patriot Act, instituted warrantless wiretapping and detained terrorists in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, then came his most controversial decision to date.  In 2003, Bush and the Congress decided to launch a preemptive strike on Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein. That decision will continue to rally supporters and outrage critics.

But the controversy of Bush’s presidency did not end with Iraq.  On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina blew into Louisiana and Mississipi, Bush flew over the state of Louisiana, but did not enter the state until five days later. In 2007, the US endured its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the president signed TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) which allowed the government to buy toxic assets like credit default swaps, and the mounting number of defaulted mortgages. Bush also agreed to government loans to the struggling auto industry.

I’m not going to spend my time on whether the decisions written about in this book were right or wrong, but rather how George W Bush explains these decisions in this book.  What is striking to me is what is not discussed in the book.  He spends little time on Bush V Gore, the decision that essentially gave him the presidency.  Did he think it was right that one branch of government was deciding the fate of another branch of government?  Did he ever think he would lose the Supreme Court decision?  Those kind of first person insights are missing.  He devotes two chapters on Iraq, but the details of the decisions of what we did when there were American boots on the ground were few and far between.  He doesn’t really go onto why Jay Garner was appointed by Rumsfeld as head of the Iraqi Provisional Authority or why Garner was replaced by Paul Bremer.  Bremer and Garner put an American face on the troop presence at a time when the insurgency was just beginning.  No details of the debaathification process, which fired even the lowest level Baath party members and sparked the insurgency.  And no mention of Ahmad Chalabi, the person whose group the INC, provided most of incorrect information about WMD, and seemed to be a favorite of administration members to become Iraqi Prime Minister. His support came especially from Paul Wolfowitz  and Richard Perle.  And of course there’s no mention of  spokesman Scott McClellan, because that would entail discussing Valerie Plame and the outing of a CIA agent, not one of the administration’s finer moments.

Bush on the whole seems defensive about a lot of things, on Katrina he blames Governor Blanco ad Mayor Nagin for not asking for federal help sooner.  He seems to blame Congress for not addressing entitlement spending, or comprehensive immigration reform.  But  Bush increased entitlement spending himself when he signed the Prescription Drug Benefit bill, and a real leader would have brought his party along on these issues, like LBJ on the Civil Rights act. He seems to want to lay the blame on the financial collapse on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but doesn’t blame Bernanke or Greenspan or Hank Paulson, or Republican laisez faire policies for the collapse.  How about some blame for Lehman and AIG?

There are certainly things that he did that deserve praise.  The invasion of Afghanistan, and his leadership in the months after 9/11 certainly helped to heal a badly damaged American psyche. He instituted an AIDS program in Africa, based on both abstinence and condom distribution that got very little press and has vastly curtailed the spread of AIDS in Africa.  No Child Left Behind was certainly a departure for a Republican politician, and TARP was the right thing to do.

But Bush is also willing to take credit for things he shouldn’t.  He absolutely believes that the war in Iraq will bring freedom to the Middle East.  He cites Lebanon as an example.  Lebanon is a bad example, it is now being run by a Hezbollah backed candidate.  Freedom will come to the Middle East not because of a war by Bush or a speech by Obama, but more likely because of tools like facebook or Twiter.

Overall, Bush tries to rehabilitate his presidency, but is ultimately unconvincing.

  1. Ron says:

    9-11, 2 unnecessary and expensive wars, war crimes, refusal to enforce financial regulations, near economic collapse, doubling the national debt, 2 trillion dollars wasted, hundreds of thousands of innocent dead. The man was a monstrous mistake and a war criminal.

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