Saturday, June 04, 2011

Decision Points by George W. Bush

The 43rd US President's memoir conveys quite dramatically some key decisions of his time in office.  The transformation of the Presidency from peacetime to what the former President calls a "war footing" is striking.  The first few chapters focus on Pres. George W. Bush's family life, the decision to run for President, and stem cell research.  Then, he describes learning of the attacks on September 11 while attempting to promote testing in public schools, and the book shifts into a different gear. The former President attempts to describe the way September 11 forced him to confront some stark realities, in a chapter entitled, "A Day of Fire," but it skirts some other important issues.  The use of what Pres. Bush terms "enhanced interrogation techniques" and others have called torture gets some explanation, but Abu Ghraib and the abuses there get about one sentence -- an off-hand reference when someone says Guantanamo is "no Abu Ghraib."


The book is organized thematically, rather than chronologically, but it does focus key chapters on Afghanistan and Iraq.  Its key feature is to focus each chapter on some decisions the President made, and to argue that the country or the world is better off because of that decision.  The stories usually start in the middle of a crisis or problem, as most good stories do, and resolve nicely with a set of facts or figures that are helpfully reassuring.  The more disturbing aspects of Pres. Bush's time in power are sometimes ignored, sometimes deflected -- the potential for abuse in the Patriot Act is acknowledged, but Pres. Bush says that the one big flaw with the act is its name, for example.  The ending of many of the stories is really still being written, though, and Pres. Bush seems content to "let history decide."

Overall, I did feel I got a better sense for how Pres. Bush arrived at some of his decisions in office.  The overall strategy of the Iraq war and Pres. Bush's sense that he was always speaking to the military as one of his audiences, for example, come through.  I'm not sure that he really makes a case for his decisions being right, but no one can deny that his decisions were important.
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