As some of you may have seen, I reviewed George Bush’s book, Decision Points, for The Guardian.
Both for those of you tempted to read the book, and those who are not, I thought it might be helpful to put up here the notes I tapped on my blackberry as I was going through it. Obviously I was taking notes in part to assist the review once I started to write it. But it might also serve as a bit of an edited highlights, as well as a longer guide to the book as a whole than a review can ever be.
En passant, can’t help thinking that David Cameron will regret his treatment of Lord Young, and the contemptuous manner with which he spoke of him yesterday. Bush’s chapter on personnel might make interesting reading for the Prime Minister.
History – says takes time for judgement to settle.
Wants to ‘give readers a perspective on decision making in a complex environment’
First chapter on stopping drinking. Laura key to making him see might be problem.
God’s first mention on Page 2.
Addictive personality – chocolate, running, to replace drink.
Calls his father Dad and his mother mother. Dad has his disciplined side, Mum less bridled.
Death of sister from leukaemia.
On learning French ‘If only Chirac could have seen me.’
Unconditional love of parents.
History teacher Tom Lyons – invited to White House.
Still angry re Dan Rather forgery story.
Parents were in the WH the day Nixon resigned. Bush Snr turned down London and Paris for Beijing (ambassador)
Influence of Billy Graham.
One of his more embarrassing drunken moments. Asked friend of parents ‘so what is sex like after fifty?’ Recalls meeting her years later. ‘Well, George how is it?’
On deciding to run ‘I knew how hard it was to win. And I knew how much it hurt to lose'(Bush senior’s defeat).
Worries re kids … ‘I had learned that being the child of a politician is tougher than being a politician yourself.’
Major goals … says Reagan won the cold war. Bush snr ‘liberated Kuwait and guided Europe to unity and peace’
Kent Hance the only person who ever defeated him at the polls … going for Congress. ‘I learned that allowing your opponent to define you is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in a campaign.’
Early distrust of press.
Signed a bill mandating insurance companies to cover patients with mental illness.
As Governor, interesting relationship with Democrat Bullock who said after Bush had been governor for 18 months that he would be next president.
Bush first Texas governor elected to consecutive four year terms.
Jeb and George both governors at same time.
Passage from Book of Exodus that made up his mind to run for WH. His daughters ‘why do you want to ruin our lives?’
Ch 3. Interesting insight into style. Karl Rove was against Cheney as running mate. He got Cheney in to hear the reasons to his face.
Accidentally names Christ as most influential political philosopher.
Prays by phone with regular preacher pre debate with Gore.
Reckons he lost 2m votes through revelation re past drink driving during campaign.
Gore conceded’ then unconceded. ‘ Says he won but it didn’t feel like it.
Rumsfeld was Condi’s idea!
Constantly trying to calm differences between State and Pentagon … ‘nothing worked.’ …’what started out as creative tension had turned destructive.’
Abu Ghraib ‘low point.’ Rumsfeld wanted to resign over it. Also Cheney had offered to step down as running mate at one point for second term run.
Liked Rumsfeld because he ‘shared my view of the war on terror as a long term ideological struggle’.
Rumsfeld son was fighting drug addiction.
He asked Cheney to tell Rumsfeld when finally he moved him on.
Interesting passage on the pressure placed on friendship with Cheney over his refusal to pardon Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby re role in intel leak.
4. Stem cells. Got letter from Nancy Reagan post R Reagan Alzheimer’s.
Added busts of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Churchill (loaned from TB) to Oval office.
On Stem cells deliberative and measured. Really weighing pros and cons. Worrying. Attacked more from right than left.
Reminds us US presidents always attacked – someone suggested Washington should be guillotined. Lincoln was called a baboon. But he reckons Bush Snr, Clinton and he fared worse.
‘The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of twenty-four hour cable news and hyper partisan political blogs, was deeply disappointing’ … says toxic atmos puts people off going into politics.
September 11 … good description of immediate, and also of huge frustrations re not being able to go to DC.
At the school where told, Ari Fleischer held up a sign ‘don’t say anything yet’
First reaction included ‘Terrorism against our nation will not stand’. Bush Snr had said ‘aggression v
Kuwait will not stand.’ Bush Jr notes said ‘succeed’ not ‘stand’. Wonders if buried in subconscious?
Prayed alone on Air Force One.
‘While my emotions might have been similar to those of most Americans, my duties were not’.
First act as ‘war leader’ to authorise shooting down of planes which refuse to land when challenged by intercept teams.
Secret service refused to let him go to Washington. ‘I had the most powerful job in the world yet I felt powerless to help them (the US people)’
Frustration at poor comms. Fog of war. Endless rumours that had to be checked out.
Car driver that day ‘probably the closest I came to death.’
Immediately felt this became the No 1 challenge for govt.
4000 flights grounded in just over two hrs
Nations which harboured terrorists were going to be deemed responsible for them. A new doctrine
Admired the skill and ruthlessness of the pilot who flew the plane into the Pentagon
He and Laura getting ushered out of bed and taken to bunker cos WH was thought be under attack
Acknowledges the call for bin laden dead or alive was a mistake
Set clear goals. No more strikes on US. Make clear new kind of war. Help recover and ensure no economic shutdown
TB ‘strong and never wavered. Became closest ally.’
Two worries early on – complacency. And worried re attacks on US Arabs and Muslims.
Trying to avoid crying as he made speech.
Moved by visit to NY and the demand that he act against the perpetrators. ‘George do what it takes’
Threat of botulinum toxin/anthrax.
He practised before throwing the first pitch at the Yankees in the world Series.
Wished Congress had not renamed the new anti-terrorism act (his name) the patriot act.
Denies wanted to erode civil liberties. Cfs himself favourably to Kennedys listening in to Luther King calls. But frustrated secret services could listen in to calls in Pakistan but not US.
Shoebomber Richard Reid showed threats were ‘frighteningly real’.
Describes Guantanamo as ‘least worst option’ as place to house terror suspects. Sets military tribunals in the context of previous presidents.
He refers to two techniques for interrogation (section on Abu Zubaydah) that went too far.
Says AZ provided info on AQ. Also location of one of 9/11 planners.
Khalid Skeikh Mohammed ‘proved difficult to break. But when he did, he gave us a lot’.
Thousands captured. About hundred placed CIA programme. Third questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded. Defends it.
Claims it led to attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf being foiled.
Denies they used torture. Suggests he was always at pains to be fair and legal.
People who felt they were not going hard enough in immediate aftermath later claimed they went too far. Faced resignations from Justice dept and FBI re the extension of anti terror.
Cites Truman who never really cared what critics thought. Left office with ratings in the 20s. Now seen as a great.
CIA had to suspend interrogation programme after court rulings.
Says his ‘most meaningful accomplishment’ as president was that seven and a half years after 9/11 there were no more attacks.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz both wanting to do Iraq early. Tenet and Powell both against. Cheney also seems to have been in ‘not now’ position.
He felt previous Presidents, including his dad, had allowed Al Qaida to see weakness in US response to terrorism. They had interpreted response as weakness and an encouragement to more brazen attacks.
At that stage saying he hoped to resolve Iraq diplomatically. Unless he received linkage to 9 11.
Announced war in Afghanistan with TB watching gallery.
Putin helped at first.
‘Reporters of my generation tend to see everything through the prism of Watergate or Vietnam.’ A month in, first Vietnam quagmire line used in media.
Wrote personal letters to almost five thousand families of soldiers killed.
Says AQ and Afghanistan never even figured in the debates with Gore. Bush against nation building. But now he was doing it.
Joyful as Afghans elect Karzai.
All sorts of military and civil plans. But it didn’t really work. And corruption real problem
Two tiered war. Those who fought and those sent troops with such restrictions the generals said they just took up space
Pakistan. Helped. But Musharraf either would not or could not fulfil all his promises.
Despite security worries, Bush stayed overnight. Played cricket with Inzaman-al-huq.
Karzai and Musharraf insulting each other at dinner in white house.
Says could point to change for the better but Bin Laden still there and govt struggling.
8. Iraq. He calls the mtg to order war ‘a meeting I had hoped would not be necessary’.
‘For more than a year I had tried to address the threat from Saddam without war’.
The exchange of letters with his dad suggest both that he would rather not have had to do it, and also worried re Iraqi loss of life as well as US.
Sets out history. Dad kuwait. Saddam not complying. Building arsenal. Messing around inspectors. Clinton attacks re no fly zones. Reminds us Clinton’s Iraq Liberation Act was policy of regime change.
Sept 11 changed the pace. Could just about tolerate NFZ attacks and bluster pre 9/11. Not the threat post. .. says virtually every major intel agency in the world had reached the same view. Saddam had
WMD and capacity to produce more.
TB ‘closest partner and best friend on the world stage’.
Trimdon visit ‘Mad cowboy disease’ poster.
‘Above all TB had courage’
‘Like me Tony considered Saddam a threat the world could not tolerate after 9/11′.
Clearly suspects Putin and Chirac were as much motivated by commerce as the threat. Former Soviet bloc countries strong cos knew about tyranny.
Heavy re Schroeder. When German justice minister made loose comparison between Bush and Hitler (saying he used foreign policy to divert from domestic) ‘trust was violated’.
Worried re equipment for troops in event of CW/BW attack.
P236 on re threats.
Intel that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.
Explains going down UN route though speech itself ‘like speaking to a wax museum’.
Quotes from Republican and Democrat at the time reminds there was near consensus in the belief the threat was real. Majorities in both houses for action larger than for the Gulf War.
Tenet said evidence was ‘slam dunk.’ Like TB, intel flow pointing to more and more evidence.
Clear from conversations with dad and letter to daughters how much he was trying to avoid war.
243 Bush Snr ‘you know how tough war is son and you’ve got to try everything you can
to avoid war’.
Letter to daughters Barbara and Jenna ‘I am working hard to keep the peace and avoid a war. I pray that the man in Iraq will disarm in a peaceful way’.
Clear he went for what became known as the second resolution for UK/TB as much as anything. This time with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Condi ranged against.
Bush offered to go without UK. TB said no. Bush says heard echo of Churchill/courage.
Hard to see Iraq chapters as rush to war. ‘Diplomacy did not feel rushed. It felt like it was taking forever’
Re human rights ‘I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the US. But I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights’.
Azores summit, Condi to Bush as TB and team left ‘hope it’s not the last time we see them’. Following UK Parliament vote closely.
Said he had promised to uphold UN and meant it. Give SH one more final final chance and he is even more emboldened.
252. He knew cost would be high. But so was cost of inaction. Meant taking a gamble every major intelligence agency was wrong.
Said to Aznar no victory dances. ‘Mission accomplished’ banner behind him on warship was a mistake by staff.
Admits ‘bring ‘em on’ was a mistake. Ditto UBL dead or alive.
Re WMD ‘If I wanted to mislead the country into war why would I pick an allegation that was certain to be disproven shortly after we invaded the country?’ Democrats and others now critical had access to same intelligence. Not keen on Kerry.
Thinks no coincidence Libya gave up WMD after seeing how seriously we pursued Iraq.
Saddam was more worried Iran would think him weak if he admitted to no WMD.
Ch 9. Interesting relationship with Ted Kennedy. Big on education, faith groups. Sang with prison choir.
Disappointed re failure to deliver social security and immigration reform. Felt he failed on both.
Frank about mistakes re Katrina handling. Frustrated at power structures which meant hard for federal govt to take over, even when obvious they should.
Says allegations of racism in response (Jesse Jackson and others) hurt more than allegations of lying re WMD. Worst moment of presidency.
Interesting picks AIDS/Africa as one of his key decision points. Detailed. Both daughters working in Aids/Africa causes now. Sees Bono as friend. Big disagreements with Chirac.
12. Surge. As Republicans were asking for troop withdrawal, he was considering sending more in the surge. Again took time and knew attacks would be from left and right. But says it worked.
Vicious re Arafat. Corruption and lack of commitment. Re terrorism involvement ‘Arafat had lied to me. I never trusted him again. In fact I never spoke to him again’. Concluded peace not possible with Arafat there.
Bush first US President to call for Palestinian state as a matter of policy – against advice of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell.
Middle East and Iran well-known analysis.
Putin said he was ‘hot-blooded.’ ‘No, Vladimir, you’re cold-blooded.’ Relationship started ok, ended badly. Cf TB.
14. Financial crisis. Not as dramatic a chapter as some of previous crises. Hank Paulson from a family of Democrats. HP’s mother cried when she heard he had joined the Cabinet.
Epilogue. Afterlife. Going from 100 to ten mph.
Says some decisions right, some wrong, always did what he thought best.
More refs to presidents who are judged better after death than in life. Eg eulogies to Reagan the dunce who was seen to have won Cold War. History judgement important to him.