I recently finished Decision Points by George W Bush. It is an interesting read — well worth the $18.99 Amazon is charging (or, better yet, the $14.99 that I paid to read it on the Kindle).
Bush discusses major decision points in his presidency, having to do with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the response to 9/11, the fiscal crisis that arose at the end of his presidency, and many others.
In many places, Bush acknowledges where his assessments went wrong. For example, after he said of Vladimir Putin that “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush wryly says: “In the years ahead, Putin would give me reasons to revise my opinion.”
Some of his admissions don’t go far enough, in my view. Bush is defensive about not catching Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, and claims he is not at fault. That may be, but I think there is plenty of evidence that his administration had bin Laden in its grasp, but devoted insufficient troops to the task of tightening the noose, allowing local warlords to let bin Laden slip through the cracks. See, for example, the evidence provided in Jon Krakauer’s book about Pat Tillman: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.
The book has some amusing lines. For example, after the 2004 election, Bush says he hugged a group of senior aides, and then gave Dick Cheney a hearty handshake, explaining: “Dick isn’t really the hugging type.” Speaking of hugging, Bush says in the midst of a discussion of his unprecedented (and too-often forgotten) fight again AIDS in Africa that he had been told by the director of an agency fighting AIDS that Bush was “the first world leader he had seen hug an African with AIDS.”
One passage I found very interesting related to his handling of Katrina. Bush says he should have taken a far more active role early on in the crisis. He says that, despite the fact that responsibility for responding to the disaster lay initially and principally with the mayor and governor, the president nevertheless needed to get out front of the crisis and show he was a leader. It is a lesson that many could learn — I was reminded of it, for example, when Chris Christie went to Disney World during a major blizzard in New Jersey. If you want to be a leader, you have to show it at moments of crisis, and this is a lesson Bush imparts well by discussing where he failed to follow this advice.
The book is well-written, and the picture that emerges is of a man far smarter than he is given credit for by the numbskulls of the left. His presidency was not perfect, by any means, but now that Barack Obama is in charge … yes, we miss you, Mr. President.
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