December 13, 2013


Bush Without Hysteria : Peter Baker's masterpiece of objectivity : a review of Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, by Peter Baker (MATTHEW HENNESSEY, 13 December 2013, City Journal)

The Bush that emerges from Days of Fire is a decent man, a thoughtful executive with a knack for facilitating debate and an unfailing devotion to the trust placed in him by the American people. He feels the weight of his office, and the many impossible decisions he must make, deeply. His capacity for self-reflection and self-correction--though never self-pity--is on full display. "There's a great pressure not to lead--not to act," Bush tells his demoralized national security team during the internal administration debate over the 2007 troop surge into Iraq. "There's pressure to say, 'Oh, well, this is too damn hard, too risky, let's not do it.'" Baker's Bush is a man with a surprisingly well-tuned moral compass, willing to make unpopular choices and suffer the consequent dips in his approval rating. He's not, as the popular bumper sticker had it, the village idiot from Texas who somehow wound up in the White House. "People say Bush needs to see the world as it is," he laments. "Well, I've been here six years now and I see the world as it is, maybe better than most."

Baker's Cheney comes across not as the Darth Vader of caricature, but as a valued foreign policy and defense counselor in the administration's first term and an increasingly peripheral figure in the second. In the summer of 2007, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert visits Washington, pressing the administration to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor. Stung by the failure to find WMD in Iraq and told that intelligence officials can't confirm the site is part of a weapons program, Bush won't commit to a strike. Olmert turns instead to Cheney, whom Baker calls "a receptive audience." Cheney is gung-ho, making an impassioned case before the president and his advisers. "It would rock the North Koreans back on their haunches in terms of thinking they could peddle their nuclear technology and get away with it," he says. Bush remains disinclined, but opens the questions to a vote. "Does anyone here agree with the vice president?" he asks. According to Baker, "not a single hand went up." The Israelis bombed the site anyway, but Cheney was humiliated, and you get the sense that Bush knew he would be. [...]

Though Baker gives Bush more credit than most, his treatment falls well short of hagiography. Bush was great in crises, Baker notes, but he was often responsible for causing them. He devastated Iraq before stabilizing it with the surge. He fumbled the Katrina response before ultimately getting it right (eventually earning praise even from Democrats, such as Al Gore's campaign manager, Donna Brazile). He presided over financial collapse before stabilizing the economy with the Troubled Asset Relief Program. "In other words," Baker writes, Bush "was at his best when he was cleaning up his worst."

Granted, he should have cracked down on derivative fraud, but how could he have prevented a 30 year dictatorship and a hurricane in a city below sea level.

Posted by at December 13, 2013 6:32 PM

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