Saturday, January 15, 2011

REVIEW: Decision Points

Decision Points is George W. Bush's memoir. In it he highlights major decisions he faced as President. It is not a chronological look at his two terms in office. His was a consequential presidency on many levels, good and bad and I suspect this format served him well as he recounted his days in the White House.

Overall I didn't find anything revelatory in the book. Most of the subjects and his positions on them were well known and were endlessly hashed out in the public discourse at the time. This to me was a little disappointing. I had hoped for more, I guess.

There's little point in recounting the "decision points" chapter and verse here since we all lived through them. What I can do is give an impression. I had supported President Bush, voted for him twice. I definitely bonded with him in the aftermath of 9/11. I was ultimately disappointed with his presidency on the whole, but I continue to like the man.

The one thing that becomes clear in Decision Points, and its no small thing, is that Bush is a very thoughtful man. He is neither the evil genius nor the blithering dunce he was alternately portrayed as in the hostile media. President Bush was acutely aware that his job was to make decisions on difficult and consequential matters. He took the job very seriously and not with some cliched shooting from the hip cowboy style.

Bush was profoundly affected by the events of 9/11 as you would imagine. Protecting the country from further attack became the central tenant of his presidency. In his every waking moment and I suspect even in his dreams he was waging a war on terrorism. Obviously this overshadowed everything else and the consequences of the actions the administration took to protect the nation cluttered everything inside the White House as well as inside the newsrooms.

The cacophony of dissent once the immediate shock of 9/11 wore off colored every single topic and poisoned the airwaves and headlines for the remainder of his term. He was determined to proceed on the course he had chosen, knowing quite well that it was going to have to be historians fifty years hence that would have final judgment on the decisions he made - including invading Iraq and taking out Saddam Hussein.

The other thing that come out in this memoir was that Bush did not hate his critics, he actually understood their vitriol. Much to the chagrin of his supporters he did not lash out at his attackers or defend himself from the scurrilous lies. This attitude I suspect was deep in his Texas heart and it was not in his nature to feel the need to defend his own honor. Did it serve him well? It's hard to say. Letting your worse critics define you without correcting the record now and then is a tough bet.

Even in his private life he continues to turn the other cheek. He is respecting a time honored tradition that former Presidents shall not criticize their successor - even as he endures his successor trashing his presidency at every turn. There is not one negative reference to President Obama or even President Clinton is this book. He makes it clear that in a 235 year old nation of hundreds of millions people that less than 50 men stood where he stood. Only a few people have ever had that unique understanding of what it took to be President of the United States. He is not about to make President Obama's job harder.

Decision Points was worth reading, but it probably won't change anyone's mind about the man or the President. I came away with the impression that Bush is an intelligent, thoughtful, honorable and yes, also a stubborn man. He made big decisions, some right, some wrong. He admits his mistakes openly and explains (rather than defends) the things he believes he got right.