by George W. Bush
(Click for Amazon book review)
OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
This book is Bush's first public discussion of his presidency since leaving office. Hence it represents his preliminary presentation of his legacy as president. There is plenty of material here on which political critics will disagree; Bush only addresses some of them. Perhaps a future book by Bush will address more of the political criticisms -- books about Bush most certainly will!
The title of the book, "Decision Points", provides Bush's framework: he explains in detail how many of his major decisions as president came about, including some decisions prior to his presidency. This does provide details that were previously unknown (such as comparing his "call to run" for the presidency with Moses' call from God to lead, p. 60-61). But mostly it provides for justifications of his decisions, some of which are intensely unsatisfying. We'll group these justifications into three categories:
Justification by Transparency
This is a positive kind of justification, which is presumably Bush's intent in exposing the details of his decision points. The purpose of transparency is to let citizens understand why Bush decided what he did, whether they agree or not. Bush opens the book with an important example: his admission at age 40 that he was an alcoholic (p. 1-2). Bush further details his DUI arrest (p. 25); why he kept it secret (p. 75-76, for his daughters' sake); and how he finally overcame alcoholism (p. 31-34, via faith in God). If Bush's political decisions were as transparently justified as his alcoholism, this book would be viewed as a self-portrait warranting understanding and sympathy, and this review would be unflinchingly positive. Alas, Bush does not apply the same level of transparency to his political life as he does to his personal life.
Justification by Assertion
Bush seems to believe that documenting other people saying what he wants justifies that he's right. When one is president, one can get anyone to say anything -- they're derisively called "yes-men," and most leaders, recognizing that yes-men are sycophantic toadies, attempt to avoid them . Bush, in contrast, quotes them. Worse, Bush cites yes-men saying yes as evidence that his decision was correct on really important decisions.
For example, on p. 163-164, Bush explains the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which is the secret NSA's warrantless search program for which Bush took immense criticism. Bush says, "I wanted to ensure that there were safeguards to avoid abuses. I had no desire to turn the NSA into an Orwellian Big Brother." Ok, that's a good idea -- so how does Bush conclude those safeguards were put into place? "On the morning of Oct. 4, 2001, Mike Hayden [the NSA Director] and the legal team came to the Oval Office. They assured me the Terrorist Surveillance Program had been carefully designed to protect the civil liberties of innocent people." (p. 164). That's it -- that's Bush's whole justification for taking care to avoid Orwellian abuses. If Mike Hayden and the legal team assert that it protects civil liberties, then ok, it protects civil liberties!
That's not an isolated example. Bush applies the same logic to justify denying civil rights to prisoners at Guantanamo: "The Justice Department advised me that the prisoners brought there had no right of access to the US criminal justice system." (p. 166). Bush does not explore whether holding prisoners without rights is APPROPRIATE; his justification is simply that it's LEGAL, and then only because the Justice Department asserts so. His discussion of Guantanamo's appropriateness (p. 166-167) centers on how Guantanamo is a "model prison": ignoring that Bush's dungeon, despite being a clean and well-lit dungeon, is still a dungeon.
Bush applies yet another justification-by-assertion to torture. To justify waterboarding, Bush writes that many members of Congress "became fierce critics… charging that Americans had committed unlawful torture." (p. 171). Bush's justification follows: "That was not true. I had asked the most senior legal officers in the US government to review the interrogation methods, and they had assured me they did not constitute torture." In other words, "If my yes-men say yes, then the answer is yes!" Bush seems to believe that the American people will be satisfied with that as an explanation.
Bush's worst justification-by-assertion comes on that same topic from Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner subjected to waterboarding. Bush writes that Zubaydah's "understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation only up to a certain point. Waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold, fulfill his religious duty, and then cooperate. 'You must do this for all the brothers,' he said." (p. 169) If one tortures enough, even the torture victim can become a yes-man. Bush cites on p. 163 his desire to avoid an Orwellian Big Brother. George Orwell's classic "1984" concludes with the protagonist praising his torture and his torturer, just like Zubaydah praises waterboarding: "He loved Big Brother."
Justification by Apology
During his presidency and especially during the 2004 debates, Bush had a lot of trouble admitting mistakes. In this book, he still does. There are SOME cases in which Bush does admit mistakes, but in most cases they're only partial admissions:
Bush's apologies feel half-hearted and more like a justification than a true "mea culpa." For example, on p. 260-261, discussing his poor use of the term "Bring 'em on" to challenge the Iraqi enemy, Bush claims "the comment was intended to show confidence" but "left a wrong impression." Yes, it did; but that "apology" sounds like the henpecked husband in couples therapy who says, "I'm sorry that made you angry." It addresses the RESULT rather than the CAUSE. It would be nice to hear Bush say, "Invading Iraq was a mistake because thousands of people died based on bad evidence and even worse justifications. I'm sorry that my legacy will be overshadowed by this still-ongoing tragedy, and I wish I had never invaded in the first place." Then all the other justifications would make sense. But that does not happen in this book; maybe Bush's later books will come closer to what the American people have come to understand as the whole story of Iraq.
- p. 180: "could have avoided some of the controversy by seeking legislation on military tribunals" (he implemented them by presidential order instead).
- p. 257: The "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Lincoln was "a big mistake." Bush points out it was targeted at the USS Lincoln's crew, not all of Iraq, but Bush has admitted a mistake here.
- p. 262: On the failure to find WMD in Iraq, Bush says, "Nobody was lying. We were all wrong" in claiming Saddam had WMD. That's a good start on admitting how the US drew that erroneous conclusion, because many, many Bush supporters STILL say, in 2010, that Saddam DIS have WMD (just google "Saddam WMD in Syria" and you'll get 260,000 pages about it. Maybe Bush's admission that he was wrong will quiet that crowd).
- p. 268: On "what went wrong" in Iraq, Bush claims we withdrew troops too quickly. That's true, but there's so much more surrounding that -- the public's distrust of Bush because of the failure to find WMD and Abu Ghraib and "Mission Accmplished" -- which Bush does not explore. Nobody gave Bush a page limit in this book, but he seems to think our attention span is too short to explore the surrounding details.
-- Jesse Gordon, OnTheIssues editor-in-chief, November 2010
| OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)
George W. Bush: Destruction of human embryos is a slippery slope.
George W. Bush: I was first president to fund embryonic stem cell research.
John Kerry: Criticized ban on stem cell research; Bush claims no ban.
Orrin Hatch: Benefit of saving lives outweighs destroying stem cells.
Ronald Reagan: 2001: Nancy pushed Bush on stem cell research for Alzheimers.
Strom Thurmond: Benefit of saving lives outweighs destroying stem cells.
Budget & Economy|
Barack Obama: McCain calls 2008 White House meeting; but Obama has package.
George W. Bush: Cut growth of spending each year except DoD, DHS, DVA, & SSA.
George W. Bush: 2008 TARP bailouts: Bear-Stearns; Fannie Mae; AIG.
George W. Bush: Well-being of Main St. directly linked to fate of Wall St.
George W. Bush: To avoid another crisis: faith in free markets & free trade.
John McCain: OpEd: Financial crisis gave best chance for 2008 comeback.
George W. Bush: Lent $25B to auto companies from TARP money.
Dick Cheney: Aggressively sought Scooter Libby pardon in 2007 & 2009.
George W. Bush: Death penalty, when properly administered, saves lives.
George W. Bush: Only a change on the inside allowed quitting alcohol.
George W. Bush: 1976: DUI resulted in $150 fine & no driving in Maine.
George W. Bush: 1995: Should have disclosed DUI during Texas jury duty.
Ann Richards: 1993: Robin Hood redistribution from rich districts to poor.
George W. Bush: NCLB: focus on accountability instead of spending.
Ted Kennedy: Worked with George W. Bush on No Child Left Behind.
Kathleen Blanco: Refused to authorize federal involvement in Katrina.
Al Gore: In 2000 debate, supported nation-building while Bush did not.
Bill Clinton: Substantial debt relief & trade for poor African countries.
Donald Rumsfeld: 2003: France & Germany are Old Europe; allies are New Europe.
George W. Bush: I changed my mind on need for Afghan nation-building.
George W. Bush: New approach in Africa: partnership instead of paternalism.
George W. Bush: UN is cumbersome, bureaucratic, & inefficient.
George W. Bush: Bush Doctrine's fourth prong is Freedom Agenda.
George W. Bush: 2006: Hamas promised clean government, not war with Israel.
George W. Bush: 2008: NATO membership after Ukraine's Orange Revolution.
George W. Bush: Free market provides fairest way to allocate resources.
George W. Bush: Don't block agreements based on nativism & isolationism.
George W. Bush: AGOA: eliminate tariffs on most African exports.
George W. Bush: 1990s: $750,000 punitive damage cap in Texas tort reform.
George W. Bush: Draw House districts by panel of non-partisan elders.
Colin Powell: Recommended $200M for UN Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS.
George W. Bush: PEPFAR: $15B "medical Marshall Plan" to fight AIDS in Africa.
George W. Bush: 5-year $1.2B malaria-eradication program in Africa.
Tommy Thompson: Recommended $200M for UN Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS.
Charles Schumer: 2001: PATRIOT Act is balanced and reasonable.
Donald Rumsfeld: 2004: Offered to resign over Abu Ghraib.
George W. Bush: 2004: Abu Ghraib was low point of presidency.
George W. Bush: 9/11: CIA missed something big, despite bin Laden PDB.
George W. Bush: Former librarian Laura disliked PATRIOT Act library snooping.
George W. Bush: 2001: Overturning FISA review authorized by war resolution.
George W. Bush: International observers called Guantanamo a "model prison".
George W. Bush: Careful legal review concluded waterboarding is not torture.
George W. Bush: Moscow Treaty: cut 2/3 of nuclear warheads by 2012.
John Ashcroft: Major purpose of PATRIOT Act: eliminate "The Wall" at CIA.
Joseph Lieberman: 2002: Made case to Bush for new Homeland Security Department.
Patrick Leahy: 2001: Removed parts of PATRIOT Act that hurt liberties.
Chuck Hagel: Tamper-proof ID and rational middle ground.
George W. Bush: We're a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws.
Mel Martinez: Tamper-proof ID and rational middle ground.
Principles & Values|
Al Gore: OpEd: Stiff and aloof candidate, but formidable and tough.
Bob Dole: OpEd 1996: After first Baby Boom president, no reaching back.
Colin Powell: 2000: Selected for State because admired at home & abroad.
Dick Cheney: 2004: Offered that Bush run for re-election with another VP.
George Bush Sr.: 1970: Ran for Senate unsuccessfully a second time.
George Bush Sr.: 1988 cover of Newsweek: "Fighting the Wimp Factor".
George W. Bush: 1977: Met Laura in July; proposed in Sept.; married in Nov.
George W. Bush: Religion in youth more a tradition than spiritual experience.
George W. Bush: More than anyone, understood what run for president meant.
George W. Bush: 1999: Felt call to run like Moses called to lead.
Gerald Ford: 1980: Reagan considered offering "co-presidency".
Howard Dean: OpEd: Pres. Bush hoped Dean would get Dem. Nomination.
John Kerry: OpEd: Bush & Rove saw flip-flop theme as key opening.
John McCain: Bush: "I didn't campaign for McCain because he didn't ask".
John Roberts: 1990s: Argued dozens of cases before Supreme Court.
Ronald Reagan: 1980: Victory in New Hampshire primary sealed nomination.
Ross Perot: OpEd 1992: caused "two-front battle" in Bush election fight.
George W. Bush: Spent political capital addressing "third rail".
George W. Bush: Personal accounts reduce racial disparity of retirement.
Paul Ryan: Only younger members in Congress support reform.
George W. Bush: 1989: temporary sales tax increase for new Rangers stadium.
Paul O`Neill: 2002: Belittled Bush tax cuts to financial community.
George W. Bush: 2000: Internet has not redefined business cycle.
War & Peace|
Colin Powell: 2001: Counseled against Iraq at same time as Afghanistan.
Colin Powell: Pre-9-11 goal: Keep Saddam in his box.
Dick Cheney: 2001: Counseled attacking Iraq after Afghanistan.
Donald Rumsfeld: 2001: Counseled attacking Iraq at same time as Afghanistan.
George W. Bush: 2003: No WMD, but it was not a major point against Saddam.
George W. Bush: Greatest regret: not bringing bin Laden to justice.
George W. Bush: Pre-9-11, Saddam was a manageable problem, but not after.
George W. Bush: "Mission Accomplished" banner was a big mistake.
George W. Bush: "Bring 'em on" comment left wrong impression.
George W. Bush: Biggest failure of Iraq war: cutting troop level too quickly.
George W. Bush: Saddam wanted everyone to believe he had WMD; & everyone did.
George W. Bush: 2006: troop levels for victory in Iraq, not victory in polls.
George W. Bush: 2006: For first time, worried we might not succeed in Iraq.
George W. Bush: 2007: Fully fund troops, with no timetable for withdrawal.
George W. Bush: 2008: Trivialize shoe-throwing journalist to avoid frenzy.
George W. Bush: 2002: Palestinian peace not possible with Arafat in power.
George W. Bush: Prevent Iranian nukes to avoid WWIII.
Harry Reid: OpEd: 2003 Iraq vote unmistakably authorized war.
Harry Reid: 2007: War is lost; surge not accomplishing anything.
Hillary Clinton: OpEd: 2003 Iraq vote unmistakably authorized war.
Howard Dean: 2006: Just plain wrong that we can win Iraq war.
Joe Biden: OpEd: 2003 Iraq vote unmistakably authorized war.
John Kerry: 2003: Believed Saddam had deadly arsenal of WMD.
John McCain: 2007: No guarantee with surge; but no surge surely fails.
John Murtha: 2006: We are causing the problem in Iraq.
John Rockefeller: 2003: Believed Saddam had biological & chemical weapons.
Joseph Lieberman: 2002 UN report on Iraq: a "12,000-page 100-pound lie".
Joseph Lieberman: OpEd: Cast aside by his party for supporting the Iraq war.
Mitch McConnell: 2006: Bring some troops home from Iraq or GOP loses seats.
Ted Kennedy: Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.
Tom Daschle: 2001: Counseled caution on use of term "war" on terror.
Welfare & Poverty|
George W. Bush: 1996: faith-based groups change lives; secular ones can't.
George W. Bush: Armies of compassion receive payment in another form.
The above quotations are from Decision Points,
by George W. Bush .
Related books, debates, and candidates:
- George W. Bush's main page
- George Bush Sr.'s main page
- Dick Cheney's main page
- John McCain's main page
Other books by George W. Bush:
- A Charge To Keep, by Gov. George W. Bush
- Blueprint for the Middle Class, Bush's Budget Plan
- Bush's 230-page policy outline
Debates between Bush & Gore (presidential race, 2000):
- Presidential debate, Boston Mass.
- Presidential debate, Washington U., St. Louis MO
- Presidential debate, Wake Forest U., Winston-Salem NC
Debates in the GOP primary, 1999-2000):
- Republican Debate at Dartmouth University
- Republican Debate in Des Moines, IA
- GOP Debate at UNH-Durham
- GOP Debate in Johnston Iowa
- GOP debate in Los Angeles, California
- Republican Debate on CNN's "Larry King" Show
- Republican Debate in Manchester, NH
- GOP Debate at Calvin College, Michigan
- Republican Debate in New Hampshire
- Republican Debate in Phoenix, AZ
- GOP Debate in West Columbia SC