Reading “Decision Points”
Former president George W. Bush’s book “Decision Points” has recently been published. While not exactly an exciting page-turner, the book does provide some insight into the White House for much of the last decade. There are several interesting things that “Decision Points” says.
Firstly, it is fairly obvious that “Decision Points” has been ghostwritten – that is, that most of the words are that of a ghostwriter rather Mr. Bush himself. Indeed, the autobiography sometimes reads quite like former President Bill Clinton’s “My Life.” Again and again, Mr. Bush is “reduced to tears” or “amazed” by Event X or Person Y. Such things also happen with striking regularity to Mr. Clinton in “My Life” (in contrast, President Barack Obama only cries once – when he first hears Reverend Jeremiah Wright make a sermon – in his non-ghostwritten “Dreams from my Father”).
This sometimes makes for less interesting reading. For instance, Mr. Bush – or his ghostwriter – does his best to praise Vice President Dick Cheney as a great man and a service to his country. Given the rumors of conflict between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney in the later years of his term, one wonders whether Mr. Bush really thinks this in his heart.
Despite its ghostwritten status, however, one still finds some interesting insights. Mr. Bush ordered his team to begin planning the Iraq War mere months after 9/11, for instance – something that will not endear him any to liberal critics. Also fascinating is his account of Hurrican Katrina. Mr. Bush talks at some length about the bureaucratic obstacles that prevented the federal government from taking control. Apparently the White House feared that doing this – the image of a Republican president ordering troops into a majority-black city in a state with a history of racial oppression – would create political scandal. Suffice to say that such considerations were probably the farthest from anybody’s mind at the time.
The book, interestingly enough, focuses strongly on foreign affairs. “Decision Points” spends most of its time talking about Mr. Bush’s wars and the aftermath of 9/11; domestic affairs are almost an afterthought. Only when a domestic crisis – stem cells, Hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis – intrudes does Mr. Bush turn his gaze away from the War on Terror. In fact, apart from foreign affairs related to the War on Terror the book is quite sparse. Mr. Bush includes a few pages on Russia and a few on China (aside from America, the two most powerful nations in the world) – but one gets the feeling that he does so only because of how bad it would look if he did not do so.
One wonders how an Obama-written “Decision Points” would be like. It would probably have an inverted concentration on foreign and domestic affairs: domestic affairs would be first, with foreign affairs an afterthought. Mr. Obama would talk about the stimulus, health care, financial reform, the Bush tax cuts (indeed, Mr. Obama probably would devote more time to the Bush tax cuts than Mr. Bush himself), and the economic recession. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be given space only out of necessity, in stark contrast to Mr. Bush’s approach.
Finally, Mr. Bush spends quite a remarkable amount of space defending himself. Again and again the former president – or his ghostwriter – talks about how he regrets how Thing A turned out, or about how he spends a lot of time thinking about whether he could have done Thing B differently (the answer is usually “no.”) At points the book reads like a litany of mistakes Mr. Bush made, with Mr. Bush attempting to defend his decisions at the time.
Some will say, of course, that Mr. Bush’s presidency actually was a litany of mistakes. Indeed, the majority of Americans probably endorse this view. In many ways, the reason that Mr. Bush wrote “Decision Points” was to contest this view. While not very convincing in doing so, it does provide some insight into how Mr. Bush made the mistakes that he did.