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Rehab for a President
January/February 2011

The President and his "mad scientist": George W. Bush with Karl Rove 

Cutting troop levels too quickly was the most important failure of the execution of the Iraq war," admits President George W. Bush in his impressive and highly readable autobiography. "Ultimately, we adapted our strategy and fixed the problems, despite almost universal pressure to abandon Iraq. It took four painful, costly years to do so. At the time, progress felt excruciatingly slow. But history's perspective is broader. If Iraq is a functioning democracy 50 years from now, those four hard years might look a lot different." History's perspective is indeed much broader, and this contribution to the record will weigh heavily with historians when they come to reconsider Bush's presidency. 

Decision Points puts a cogent and persuasive case for the vigorous prosecution of the War Against Terror, using intelligence material not hitherto publicly available. It is also a very human book, written with verve and humour and the occasional mea culpa like the one quoted above, very unlike the ruck of normal political memoirs. Whether you supported the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan — as I did and still do — or think of them as disastrous, I suspect you will like Bush's personality by the end of this book. You might perhaps feel a twinge of guilt for having believed the viciously unfair caricature of him hawked about by the liberalmedia, anti-war movement and left-wing politicians, cartoonists, comedians and propagandists. 

How Bush has retained his breezy good nature through the most prolonged and systematic character assassination for a generation is anyone's guess, but he has. He even tells gags against himself that he must know will be picked up and used by his enemies. Writing of his attendance as a baby at his father's university commencement ceremony, for example, he writes: "It wouldn't be the last time I slept through a Yale lecture." Of his last Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, he writes: "He had a distinct way of speaking that could be hard to follow. Some say his brain was moving too fast for his mouth to keep up. That didn't bother me. People accused me of having the same problem." Of dresses featuring his face that were worn by hundreds of Tanzanian women during his visit to Dar es Salaam, Bush jokes: "For some reason, these didn't catch on back home."

The reason that he blithely gives hostages to fortune in this book is that he genuinely feels relaxed about the way that the fullness of time will rehabilitate him and his role. "Self-pity is a pathetic quality in a leader," he writes. "It sends such demoralising signals to the team and the country. As well, I was comforted by my conviction that the Good Lord wouldn't give a believer a burden he couldn't handle." I recently asked President Bush what the Almighty could possibly have had against him personally by sending him such mistakable signs of His displeasure as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Osama bin Laden staying at large. This led to a theological discussion in which it became quite clear that Bush was a believer in human free will, while also believing in occasional divine intervention. The references to the Almighty in this book might unnerve secular Britons, but as his fascinating chapter on stem-cell research reveals, he never allowed his faith to overcome reason and logic. 

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