November 21, 2010

W, THEY HARDLY KNEW YE:

Decision Points by George W Bush – review (Alastair Campbell, 11/19/10, guardian.co.uk)

The reactions Bush provokes sometimes make me think the public don't mean it when they say they want politicians who speak as they find. I remember a dinner in the White House where Bush said he had pleaded with German chancellor Gerhard Schröder not to fan anti-Americanism in his re-election campaign. Schröder said he wouldn't. Then, struggling in the polls, he did. Schröder fares badly in this book.

Yasser Arafat fares worse, not least over corruption. I remember Bush telling us he had warned the PLO leader that if he lied to him about involvement in terrorism, he would not get back in the White House. "Arafat had lied to me," he writes. "I never trusted him again. In fact, I never spoke to him again." Obstinacy, stupidity, or a politician saying what he would do, and then doing it – that trait we are supposed to want in our leaders?

The Bush-haters will say this is just the usual thing of American presidents doing Israel's bidding. But as he points out proudly, he was the first president publicly to call for a Palestinian state as a matter of US policy, against the wishes of the powerful trio of Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld (I was surprised to learn Rumsfeld's appointment was Condoleezza Rice's idea, by the way). [...]

For a British audience, however, the dramatic accounts of his first, judge-settled election win, September 11, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq are likely to be the most relevant chapters, and they go in some depth into how he handled each one. But I found myself more interested than I expected to be in the "Stem Cells" chapter, as he explains how he came to his compromise position on research, seeking to reconcile his faith, his politics and the enormous different pressures he was coming under. Likewise his chapter on hurricane Katrina is not a bad contribution to the body of work on crisis management.

On Katrina as elsewhere (including on Iraq, on domestic policy and on his habit of shooting from the lip), he is not shy in admitting mistakes or in expressing frustrations at constantly being described as the most powerful man on the planet, yet often feeling powerless. Similar frustrations spill out in his inability to hold together the foreign policy team, with the Pentagon and the State Department regularly at odds. This theme emerges most dramatically perhaps when the secret service refuses to allow him to go to Washington after the September 11 attacks. "I had the most powerful job in the world, yet I felt powerless to help them [the American people].


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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2010 12:14 PM
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