43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush is making the rounds after two years of near silence. The occasion is his new book “Decision Points”. I decided to watch some of his TV appearances with as open a mind as possible. But watching Bush is a frustrating experience. You want to like him. He seems a nice enough sort of guy. Consistent with the popular mythology, he appears to not be the sharpest tool in the toolbox. That alone evokes a bit of sympathy for the man. However, as he discusses his eight years in the White House, you find yourself wondering is he deluded or just a liar?
I watched his interviews with NBC’s Matt Lauer and talk show goddess Oprah Winfrey. The latter interview was the more folksy. Heck he almost seemed like a standup comedian. This Bush was easier to like, even if at times you were laughing at him and not with him. The Lauer interview though, paints a different picture. Particularly when it comes to Iraq, the Bush account of things just doesn’t add up. When Lauer asks him if he thinks he missed anything that might have avoided the 9/11 attack, Bush says no, forgetting that all of us have burned into our memory the moment when Condoleezza Rice told Congress that Bush had seen a briefing with the title “Bin Laden to strike within the US”. I’m not one of those to outright blame Bush for 9/11. I do expect however, if he’s going to write a historically accurate memoir that he at least admit that the White House didn’t properly pursue the intelligence they had at their disposal. To make matters worse, Bush said that 9/11 changed his presidency in that it became his first job to protect America from another strike. He seems oblivious to the fact that that was his job in the first place. Before 9/11 it was his job to protect America.
Then there are the nonexistent WMD’s. Bush says that Saddam Hussein’s behavior was consistent with someone who was hiding WMD’s. Matt Lauer then reminds Bush that he called Hussein a “madman” and based on that, how could any reasonable conclusion be based on Hussein’s behavior alone. Bush gave a non-answer that Hussein was power-hungry. Still the point stands that a “madman” has no credibility so other forms of intelligence must be relied upon. According to Bush, the failure of those other forms of intelligence greatly troubled him but he insists that the invasion of Iraq prevented another 9/11. His strange circular, self-fulfilling logic leads me to believe Bush to be more deluded than simply a liar. However, according to David Corn and Michael Isikoff in their book “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War” Bush was not the least bit troubled by the failure to find WMD’s. By that time, the excuse was bought hook line and sinker by the American public and we were knee-deep in war … the mission to attack Iraq was indeed accomplished, even if victory there was uncertain.
It also makes it a bit hard to like Bush when his biggest self-admitted mistakes all involve optics. He says he should have landed in Louisiana during Katrina so it didn’t look like he didn’t care. (Kanye West’s accusation that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” was, according to Bush, one of his low points.) He says he should never have appeared in front a “Mission Accomplished” banner when the war was far from over. Both of these are true but when you preside over an unnecessary war and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, these mea culpa’s hardly pass for deep introspection.
Perhaps the most alarming story to come out of “Decision Points” as told by Bush in the Lauer interview is his mother’s request that he (a very young man at the time) take her to the hospital following a miscarriage and that he transport with her, a glass jar containing the remains of his “brother or sister”. This incident helped to inform his pro-life stance. While it is a compelling experience that would shape anyone’s view of abortion it is also …. let’s be honest … a bit creepy. You have to wonder what Barbara Bush was thinking. It’s hard not to conjecture how that event impacted him psychologically.
Bush’s book will have no impact on history. It has re-opened old wounds and resurrected old debates. History will judge Bush based on his deeds and their consequences. The story of Iraq is not yet fully written. I have always said, if democracy flourishes in the region, history will vindicate George W. Bush and he will be viewed among our more accomplished Presidents. If the more likely scenario of an immutably chaotic region persists, the Bush presidency will never rise above the level of mediocrity.