Bush Book Decision Points
Unprecedented recession, endless wars, unrestrained spending with the result the federal debt more than doubled from 2001 – 2009, George Bush has already been judged by history. George Bush believes that he will be decedent, dead, before history judges him. After all, books assessing Lincoln’s presidency continue to be published. Our curious George, intellectually challenged and unable to perceive from a broad perspective prudent courses of action and the consequences of mistakes, has already been judged by history: the eight years he was responsible for.
“But as I told Laura, if they’re still assessing George Washington’s legacy more than two centuries after he left office, this George W. doesn’t have to worry about today’s headlines.”
The election of Barack Obama is a direct result of Bush’s conspicuous failure in office. John McCain’s election would have followed a successful presidency. Bush’s lack of intellectual throw-weight makes a Palin candidacy imaginable.
Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha
By FRANK RICH
Published: November 20, 2010…The same criticisms that the Bushies fling at Palin were those once aimed at Bush: a slender résumé, a lack of intellectual curiosity and foreign travel, a lazy inclination to favor from-the-gut improvisation over cracking the briefing books. These spitballs are no more likely to derail Palin within the G.O.P. than they did him.
President Palin? Don’t dare dismiss it
Could Prime Minister David Cameron shake hands with President Sarah Palin in two years’ time?
American Way Alex Spillius 7:48PM GMT 20 Nov 2010
Matthew Norman: How did this wastrel ever find his way to the White House?
It takes a certain minimal intelligence for the truly dim to have a notion of their own dimness, but this is denied George Bush. He has the self-awareness of a bison
…The reduction of Bush’s two terms to a satirical sequel to one of those US prep school movies in which the smirking, idiot boy breaks the honour code but is rescued by his Brahmin dad had come to seem shamefully hackneyed. But the one cliché worth trotting out here is that clichés are clichés because they are true. Somehow this half-witted frat boy journeyed, via some jovially preposterous sequence of events involving failed oil deals and baseball team franchises, from japes with Alpha Sigma Phi to possession of the nuclear codes.
Nothing, not even W himself, is ever quite that simple, and palpably there was an edge of madness in the family. In his teens, when his mother Barbara had a miscarriage, he relates, he drove her to the hospital. “I never expected to see the remains of the foetus,” he recalls, “which she had saved in a jar to bring to the hospital. I remember thinking there was a human life, a little brother or sister.” Enough in that alone, to drive any adolescent to drink, you’d have guessed, yet the tale is told as a homily to his mother’s wisdom, and in some impenetrable way to justify his pro-life, anti-stem cell research hard line.
Almost every sentence in the Times extraction (and it does feel like having a tooth pulled) invokes a fatigued he-just-doesn’t-get-it. Churchill is inevitably adduced, while W bangs on about his passion for reading history. Inevitably, he fails to make the connection.
“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft,” urged Winston, and while Bush did little as president other than read history books, the stagecraft entirely eluded him. Some of those tomes must have dealt with the British and Soviet experiences of invading Afghanistan, and not a word sunk in. I know how that feels from a tussle with A Brief History of Time. The difference is that I didn’t extrapolate my failure to grasp a syllable into a bold attempt to rewrite the laws of quantum physics. He assumed he could rewrite the laws of geopolitics.
The process of historical revisionism has, like everything else, speeded alarmingly in the internet age. The emergence of Sarah Palin as an imaginable presidential candidate, allied to the unending travails of Obama, have induced in the amnesiac, the obtuse and the plain bananas a fondness for the memory of George W Bush.
It will not spread. If this great reader of history is concerned for his place in it – and that, needless to say, is why he hired a bright young groupie from Yale to write this memoir in something approximating English – he needn’t fret. In those few lists ranking all the presidents compiled since he left office, W is invariably in the bottom five.
For the two imbecile wars he began, for condoning torture by denying waterboarding was torture at all on the grounds that his lawyers said it was legal; for turning the surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton into the crippling deficit that is bringing the age of American hegemony to a startlingly abrupt end; and for being the pitiably Wagnerian fool who stumbled on to the grandest stage without any apparent clue why or for what earthly purpose, there he will forever remain.
In memoir, Bush spins fiscal fiction
By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
…”For years, I listened to politicians from both sides of the aisle allege that I had squandered the massive surplus I inherited. That never made sense,” Bush writes. “Much of the surplus was an illusion, based on the mistaken assumption that the 1990s boom would continue. Once the recession and 9/11 hit, there was little surplus left.”
Now he tells us? This illusory surplus was the cornerstone on which Bush built his economic policy. “You see, the growing surplus exists because taxes are too high, and government is charging more than it needs,” Bush said in February 2001.
Far from sounding cautionary notes, the administration asserted its surplus estimates were, if anything, conservative. “If there’s going to be a mistake, the likelihood is a mistake will be made on the other side of the scale, that more revenue will come in,” press secretary Ari Fleischer said in March 2001. You know how that worked out.
“I took my responsibility to be a good fiscal steward seriously,” Bush writes.
How’s that? Bush chose to go to war, but, unlike any other wartime president, opted to pay the cost entirely with borrowed funds while pressing for additional tax cuts. He laments that he left behind “a serious long-term fiscal problem” of runaway entitlement spending but blames resistance from both parties in Congress – without acknowledging that he added an expensive and unpaid-for new entitlement, the Medicare prescription drug plan.
And those tax cuts. “It was true that tax cuts increase the deficit in the short term,” Bush acknowledges. “But I believed the tax cuts, especially those on capital gains and dividends, would stimulate economic growth. The tax revenues from that growth, combined with spending restraint, would help lower the deficit.”
This is cleverer than the usual supply-side formulation but still suffers from the tax-cuts-pay-for-themselves fallacy. Bush’s own chief economic adviser, Gregory Mankiw, has estimated that over the long run, cuts on investment taxes generate enough economic growth to make up only half of lost revenue.
Bush offers up a handy chart showing that he spent less (as a percentage of the economy) and ran lower deficits than his two Republican predecessors, and compared reasonably well to Bill Clinton.
Except Bush’s averages are misleading. For one thing, he cherry-picks his fiscal years. He gives himself credit for the 2001 surplus, 1.3 percent of gross domestic product, even though that course was largely set when he took office. At the other end, Bush takes no responsibility for his piece of the ghastly 2009 deficit, 9.9 percent. Subtracting bailouts and stimulus spending, on the theory that much of the former will be repaid and the latter happened on President Obama’s watch, the 2009 deficit would have totaled 6.8 percent of GDP, the largest since World War II.
The war on terror: ‘There are things we got wrong in Iraq, but the cause is eternally right’
President Bush never had much idea of what was going on in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is as true now as when he was in the White House. He blandly claims that “the Iraqi people are better off with a government that answers to them instead of torturing or murdering them”, as if torture has not been the norm in Iraqi prisons since 2004.
Nobody ever imagined that Mr Bush had much of a clue about the war he blundered into in Iraq or its impact in the Middle East. Even so it is breathtaking to read sentences such as: “The region is more hopeful with a young democracy setting an example for others to follow.” This appears after a week in which 58 Christians were slaughtered in a church in Baghdad and cafes and restaurants in the capital are empty after a dozen bombs killed more than 70 people. Eight months after an election in March parties have failed to form a new government.
To be fair, Mr Bush’s ignorance was shared by those around him. Perhaps it says something of the US political class as a whole that they underestimated the dangers of Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only important exception was General David Petraeus, now in command in Afghanistan.
Mr Bush joins former US presidents, notably Bill Clinton, who believe they came within a whisker of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This supposedly happened in 2008 in the last days of Ehud Olmert as prime minister of Israel and Mr Bush as president of the US. It is not a convincing claim.
More realistically, Mr Bush says he considered an attack on Iran but was persuaded that it had halted its nuclear weapons programme. Overall this is thin gruel for the historian of Mr Bush at peace and war in the Middle East.
In Bush Memoir, Policy Intersects With Personality
Published: November 3, 2010
George W. Bush ’s memoir “Decision Points” could well have been titled “The Decider Decides”: it’s an autobiography focused around “the most consequential decisions” of his presidency and his personal life from his decision to give up drinking in 1986 to his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to his decisions regarding the financial crisis of 2008. It is a book that is part spin, part mea culpa, part family scrapbook, part self-conscious effort to (re)shape his political legacy.
A dogged work of reminiscence by an author not naturally given to introspection, “Decision Points” lacks the emotional precision and evocative power of his wife Laura’s book,published earlier this year, though it’s a considerably more substantial effort than Mr. Bush’s perfunctory 1999 campaign memoir, “A Charge to Keep.”
Certainly it’s the most casual of presidential memoirs: how many works in the genre start as a sort of evangelical, 12-step confession (“Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty or was alcohol becoming my god?”), include some off-color jokes and conclude with an aside about dog poop?
The prose in “Decision Points” is utilitarian, the language staccato and blunt. Mr. Bush’s default mode is regular-guy-politico, and his moods vacillate mainly among the defensive and the diligent — frat boy irreverence, religious certainty and almost willful obliviousness.
The Bush who emerges from these pages will be highly familiar to readers of Bob Woodward’s quartet of books on the administration or Robert Draper’s 2007 “Dead Certain”: a president fond of big ideas and small comforts (like a daily run); a chief executive known for his optimism, stubbornness and lack of curiosity. At the same time “Decision Points” — sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently — gives the reader an uncanny sense of how personality and the fateful interplay of personalities within an administration can affect policies that affect the world.
Along the way Mr. Bush acknowledges various mistakes. On his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina he says, “As leader of the federal government, I should have recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster.” On Iraq he says he regrets that “we did not respond more quickly or aggressively when the security situation started to deteriorate after Saddam’s regime fell,” that “cutting troop levels too quickly was the most important failure of execution in the war,” and that he still has “a sickening feeling every time” he thinks about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Still, he insists that “removing Saddam from power was the right decision”: “for all the difficulties that followed, America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East.”
In the course of this book Mr. Bush hops and skips over many serious issues raised by critics, including the cherry-picking of intelligence by administration hawks in the walk up to the invasion of Iraq; the push for aggrandized executive power by the White House in the war on terror; and the ignoring of advice from the military and the State Department on troop levels and postwar planning.
The former president does not address the role that the decision to divert resources to the war in Iraq played in the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, instead arguing that “the multilateral approach to rebuilding, hailed by so many in the international community, was failing.” He tries to play down the problems of Guantánamo Bay, writing that detainees were given “a personal copy of the Koran” and access to a library among whose popular offerings was “an Arabic translation of ‘Harry Potter.’” And he asserts that “had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked.”
Mr. Bush does not grapple with the role that his deregulatory, free market policies played in fueling the economic meltdown at the end of his second term. Nor does he take any responsibility for the fierce partisanship and political divisiveness that took root in his administration.
Several times in the book Mr. Bush uses the term “blindsided” to describe his feelings about a crisis that his advisers and cabinet seem not to have filled him in on. He says he felt “blindsided” over Abu Ghraib: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “had told me the military was investigating reports of abuse at the prison, but I had no idea how graphic or grotesque the photos would be,” he writes. “The first time I saw them was the day they were aired on ‘60 Minutes II.’”
Mr. Bush says he told advisers he “never wanted to be blindsided like that again,” after a showdown between the White House and the Justice Department over a secret surveillance program. And he says “we were blindsided by a financial crisis that had been more than a decade in the making”: his focus, he writes, “had been kitchen-table economic issues like jobs and inflation. I assumed any major credit troubles would have been flagged by the regulators or rating agencies.”
Many books by reporters and former insiders have delineated the Bush administration as given to improvisatory decision making, wary of the traditional processes of policy review and inclined to favor loyalty over expertise. In “The Assassins’ Gate,” the New Yorker writer George Packer quoted Richard N. Haass, a former director of policy planning in the State Department, saying that a real weighing of pros and cons about the Iraq war never took place. And in “The Next Attack” Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon wrote that planning efforts for the war were often not coordinated, that many officials were working out of channels, “issuing directives without ever having their plans scrubbed in the kind of tedious, iterative process that the government typically uses to make sure it is ready for any contingency.”
In many respects this volume ratifies such observations. Mr. Bush, famous for being a “gut player,” writes that in assessing candidates for administration jobs, he looked at “character and personality” in an effort to create a culture that “fostered loyalty — not to me, but to the country and our ideals.” In 2006 an aide told him that “several people had spontaneously used the same unflattering term to describe the White House structure,” he writes. “It started with ‘cluster’ and ended with four more letters.” And he writes about “squabbling within the national security team” and how “nothing worked” to cool these turf battles, including his own talks with Mr. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney and the national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Despite the eagerness of Mr. Bush to portray himself as a forward-leaning, resolute leader, this volume sometimes has the effect of showing the former president as both oddly passive and strangely cavalier.
For instance Mr. Bush writes about the failures to contain deteriorating security conditions in Iraq, continuing fights between the Pentagon and State Department, and his frustrations with Mr. Rumsfeld. But while he says that he had “planned to make a change at Defense as part of a new national security team” in 2004, he adds that he simply couldn’t come up with a replacement for Mr. Rumsfeld. He considered and rejected the ideas of putting Ms. Rice or Senator Joseph I. Liebermanin the job, and was rebuffed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who “was enjoying his retirement.”
The situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate over the next two years with more and more soldiers and civilians getting killed and wounded, and in the spring of 2006 a group of retired generals spoke out against Mr. Rumsfeld. “While I was still considering a personnel change,” Mr. Bush writes, “there was no way I was going to let a group of retired officers bully me into pushing out the civilian secretary of defense. It would have looked like a military coup and would have set a disastrous precedent.”
And so Mr. Rumsfeld stayed on in the job until an old friend of Mr. Bush’s from high school and college (whom he had appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board) suggested Robert M. Gates as a replacement. “Why hadn’t I thought of Bob?” Mr. Bush wonders.
Mr. Bush’s portrait of Mr. Cheney reaffirms many reporters’ depiction of him as a steamrolling force for military intervention in Iraq. And Mr. Bush’s description of the momentum toward war echoes that found in Mr. Woodward’s book “Plan of Attack,” in which there was building pressure for action: Mr. Bush says that the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, told him “the uncertainty was hurting the economy,” and that Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia told him “the Middle East wanted a decision.”
But while many books like “The Bushes” by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer and “The Bush Tragedy” by Jacob Weisberg have emphasized the differences between George W. Bush and his father — and No. 43’s need to differentiate himself from No. 41 — the younger Bush takes pains in this memoir to underscore his closeness with his dad.
He says that during family Christmas celebrations in 2002 his father said: “You know how tough war is, son, and you’ve got to try everything you can to avoid war,” and then added, “But if the man won’t comply, you don’t have any other choice.” Later, after Bush the Younger gave the order to go to war, he says that his father sent him a note saying: “You are doing the right thing. Your decision, just made, is the toughest decision you’ve had to make up until now. But you made it with strength and with compassion.”
Mr. Bush says he left office satisfied that “I had always done what I believed was right.” Since then, he says, he’s comfortably settled back into ordinary life. Shortly after moving to Dallas, he writes, he took his dog Barney for an early morning walk: “Barney spotted our neighbor’s lawn, where he promptly took care of his business. There I was, the former president of the United States, with a plastic bag on my hand, picking up that which I had been dodging for the past eight years.”