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A candid look at George W. Bush -- more revealing than he intended
on November 26, 2010
"Decision Points" is an insightful look into the Bush Presidency. Indeed, it is perhaps a more in-depth look at George W. Bush than Bush the author intended for it to be. "Decision Points" is written by Bush himself. However much editing he got, the book reads as the authentic voice and thoughts of George W. Bush himself, not some ghost writer. I read the book as one who was deeply disapproving of many aspects of the Bush Presidency and Administration, by way of disclosure. I will explain what Bush unintentionally tells us about himself in the latter paragraphs of this review, so don't anticipate a pro-Bush review here.
First of all, I think that it is fair to say that all but the most dogmatic and biased readers will come away from "Decision Points" with a better opinion of Bush than they went into it with. I know that I did. One gets the impression that Bush tried to do his best when making critical decisions that had no easy answers. The book explains the decision to invade Iraq, for example, a decision widely vilified and condemned now, in the terms and context that existed at the time Bush made the decision. Every Western intelligence service and politicians across the political spectrum believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was inclined to eventually use them. In a post-911 world, this scenario set the stage for Gulf War II, which was popular with both Republicans and Democrats at the time. Even John Kerry voted for it before he voted against it.
Another issue that Bush got a raw deal from the popular press on was Hurricane Katrina. Bush wanted to Federalize the National Guard and put boots on the ground long before Katrina actually hit, but was stymied by Lousiana Governor Kathleen Blanco who evidently had a visceral dislike of the military, and who was indecisive and ineffective -- and who refused to give the required state permission. She put political calculation ahead of the welfare of her state, with horrifying results. Bush correctly recounts that not until an Army general was in command of the Katrina relief effort did it become effective. Louisiana, perhaps the most corrupt of American states, was a study in dysfunctional government during Katrina. Bush also mentions that Louisiana Senator Landrieu was so airheaded and emotional that the other government officials dealing with Katrina repeatedly told her to shut up. Bush willingly took the fall for incompetent Louisiana politicians and showed himself as lacking the ability to function as an effective leader.
Unintentionally I think, President Bush shows himself in this book to have been a feckless and incompetent, if well-meaning, political leader. How he managed to botch his explanation to the American people about Katrina is one of life's great mysteries, especially given the fact that he does a pretty good job in "Decision Points." In the Valerie Plame affair, Bush tersely explains that the Special Prosecutor knew within days who had outed Plame (who was nothing but a clerk--she was no covert operative)--but nevertheless he kept the investigation going for a year. Why was the prosecutor not brought up on charges of malfeasance and prosecutorial misconduct for this? Instead, Bush let his staff risk jail on trumped-up charges (Karl Rove narrowly averted being charged. Scooter Libby got jail time for having a bad memory.) An effective political leader such as, say, Bill Clinton, would never have allowed these things to happen. Remember how effectively Clinton neutralized Ken Starr in the court of public opinion.
Another example of Bush's incompetence as a leader is his failure to control his own State Department. He blithely recounts that the second and third echelons of the Department of State were deeply hostile to his Administration. An effective leader would have purged them, and the anti-Bush factions would have been assigned to, say, the Antarctica desk or the like. That is what John F. Kennedy did, to great effect, when he took over after a Republican administration. Bush did nothing, and he admits in his book that this internal disloyalty, which went far beyond healthy and open debate, undermined his Presidency for eight years. The man has an amazing blind spot which manifested itself repeatedly as an inability to decisively control his own Administration.
One must give Bush credit for admitting to numerous mistakes in "Decision Points." But what comes shining through all of this is the undeniable fact that Bush lacked the ability to function as an effective political and executive leader. He lacked the ability to use the "Bully Pulpit" of the Presidency to go over the heads of the media and communicate directly to the American people. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both had this ability, and both are remembered as effective Presidents. Bush lacked this communications talent, and will not be as well remembered or regarded.
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