At times I have been accused of being an apologist for former President George W. Bush. Rightfully so, I must add. That’s why I have been looking forward to reading Bush43‘s memoir, Decision Points.
The book starts out with a frank, introspective look at Bush’s struggle to overcome his problem with alcohol. Most telling was his failure at Laura Bush’s urging to remember a day when he had not had a drink. Unable to do so, he begins to realize that he just might have a problem. From my perspective, it was a surprising way for an ex-President to kick off his memoir. But it conveyed the obvious importance that struggle was to his future success. It also helps to understand his reliance on Laura’s strength and wisdom. They were married just three months after they met!
Of course the linchpin event of George Bush’s presidency was the attack of September 11, 2001. Through all the smoke, fire and loss of life from that day comes the one pledge that overshadowed the rest of his presidency.
Yet after 9/11, I felt my responsibility was clear. For as long as I held office, I could never forget what happened to America that day. I would pour my heart and soul into protecting the country, whatever it took. (page 151)
This is the prism through which one must view his subsequent decisions and actions, both here and abroad. Afghanistan was a no-brainer; but going into Iraq was a dicier decision that resulted in a major distraction from the Afghan operation.
However a decade after Operation Desert Storm, the Saddam Hussein situation required a solution. The international community, the U.N., and the Clinton Administration had been convinced that Hussein had WMDs; and the reliance on no-fly zones was not the solution to Hussein’s cruelty, oppression, and perceived threat to the region. That no WMDs were found does not diminish the validity of these widely held beliefs.
President Bush’s 9/11 pledge also explains the decisions to house captured terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, The Patriot Act, creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the development of the Bush Doctrine and the Freedom Agenda. And no matter where you stood on the pro-con scale as the Bush Administration enacted these measures, they are still in place two years after President Barack Obama entered The Oval Office!
The book’s tone is straight-forward and conversational. My impression was that the book read much the way his speeches and national addresses sounded (minus the ill-timed gaffes). Those who regarded President Bush as a fumbler and stumbler would be impressed by GWB’s efficient style. I found the book to be an easy and enjoyable read.
The common thread throughout the book is how Bush43 approached the problems and decisions he faced. Oft times criticized for not being naturally inquisitive, he relied heavily on experts and leaders in applicable fields of research and study – both from within his administration and in industry and academia – when facing complex issues and problems. And when it came to making a decision, GWB viewed all situations through his strongly held core values. Although he was not pretentious in his religious beliefs, his beliefs were the foundation of those values.
And yet President Bush was capable of making sound value-based decisions that were not restrained by the desire to pander to his political base. An example was his decision on stem cell research. Despite the fervent wishes of the religious right, GWB was adamant in his commitment to seek out all sides of the controversy. His final decision was based on several factors: stem cell research offered the potential for monumental breakthroughs in medical research; research was already progressing on several dozen stem cell lines (per the National Institute of Health), and the number of lines in development were plentiful for current and future medical research. His decision to allow federal funding for existing stem cell lines, while affirming the dignity of human life and preventing the use of federal funds for future stem cell harvesting was a practical and compassionate solution to a difficult problem.
If the measure of a good compromise is the reality that neither side is entirely satisfied with the solution, then George Bush certainly hit the mark with stem cell research. A good leader can never be burdened with the concept that he must please everyone all the time.
Several other aspects of the book were very interesting; some surprised me:
- As Governor of Texas, GWB was renown for his ability to work across the aisle. Something that was essential as a Republican Governor with a State House and Senate headed by seasoned and well-respected Democrats. In fact, Bush and Lt. Governor Bob Lubbock – a Democrat – respected each other to the point where Lubbock not only endorsed Bush for his second term as Texas Governor, he predicted that Bush would be the next President of the United States!
- Laura Bush was a real cutie when she landed GWB! (See third page of the first photo section.)
- The Bush Administration committed $15 billion over 5 years to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. After a 2003 visit to AIDS-ravaged Uganda, Bush was inspired to push the country to do more in fighting the disease. He envisioned the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as a medical version of The Marshall Plan. In addition to testing, counseling and treating tens of millions for AIDS, there was also considerable commitment to eradicate malaria.
- During the 2008 presidential campaign and the banking crises that resulted in the Toxic Asset Recovery Program (TARP), Republican candidate for president, Arizona Senator John McCain insisted that The White House host an emergency meeting of both candidates, the leadership of both parties in the House and Senate, and the Bush Administration. Expecting McCain, who instigated the meeting, to address the issues and how Congress could support TARP, the President was astounded at McCain’s silence in contrast to Barack Obama’s succinct analysis of the program.
In my opinion, anyone interested in politics and government whether a supporter or critic of President George W. Bush would enjoy reading a Commander-in-Chief’s view of his eight years in The Oval Office.
DISCUSSION TOPIC: The Bush Doctrine included the concept that America’s interests would be maximized by promoting freedom and democracy wherever possible. It supported fledgling democracies in the Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. And it lent encouragement and support for dissidents and reformers in places like Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.
“America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”
Given the uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, etc., can the argument be made that the Bush strategy of supporting democratic reforms in that region has been much more successful than illustrated by the novice democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan?