Thursday, April 28, 2011

Decision Points – A Review of George W. Bush’s Presidential Memoir

I am sure many people will scoff at the idea of reading former President George W. Bush’s recent presidential memoir Decision Points. Perhaps these skeptics will say that the book is just more lies, trumped-up excuses, or inside-the-beltway “spin” from a man who ended his presidency with pretty low poll numbers. But the decision not to read the book because you disagree with some or all of the policies of the man would be the wrong decision in my view. The book may not change your opinion of the man, but it does end up presenting him as a man, who in the end picks up his dog’s poop with a plastic bag just like the rest of us.

Decision Points is candid, informative, and deals in a behind-the-scenes way with issues that were argued about ad infinitum during Bush’s presidency, giving the reader his perspective on why he lead the way he did. You won’t get this take on what happened over the last decade from The New York Times or CNN. He deals with the reasons behind decisions he made concerning his response to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, his decision to take down Saddam Hussein’s regime, his rescue of Chrysler and GM, and the much maligned TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). He also deals with personal issues such as why it was finally time to take responsibility for his life and actions and stop a personally destructive drinking habit.

Here are some of the topics Mr. Bush covers in the 480 page book:
  •  The former baseball team owner talks in detail about his formative younger years and overcoming his negative relationship with alcohol and the effect it was having on his personal and family life.
  •  He talks about his relationships with his wife, his daughters, and his parents.
  • Bush discusses his years as governor of Texas, his decision to run for president, and the two difficult presidential campaigns.
  •  He speaks of his relationships with the people in his administrations like Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Don Rumsfeld, and his reasons behind choosing them for their various positions.
  •  The education reform known as No Child Left Behind is covered in detail along with statistics before and after its implementation.
  • The attacks of September 11, 2001 are discussed and here the behind-the-scenes activities of a president during an unprecedented crisis are informative, enlightening, and emotional.
  • The decision to go to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda is explained.
  • Though extremely unpopular with many people, the context surrounding the Iraq War is again laid out before the reader.
  • Protecting the Homefront was one of the most important things to George W. Bush as president, and he discusses the steps he and his administration took in concert with Congress to successfully protect Americans from another attack.
  • Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history and Bush explains things his administration got right and the things they got wrong.
  • Aid to Africa to fights AIDS and malaria was also important to President Bush but this received little public attention while he was president. He explains in the book that it was one of the most impactful and important things he did.
  • TARP, AIG, and the auto bailout, were attacked from the right and the left in the last year of the president’s term in office. He deals with the decision to go ahead with these actions while placing them in the context and dismal climate that existed at the time.
The book is honest, heartfelt, and often displays a humbleness that many people found admirable in the man when he was in office. Decision Points was written by someone who comes across as a man who had the country’s best interests at heart, and based his decisions on what he felt was the best choice for protecting or supporting the American people. Clearly he was wrong many times, as most presidents have been about some things, and many times in this book he points out the places where he may have been wrong or would have done something different. But he also defends many of the decisions where he feels he was right and acting in the best interests of the American people. He places all the decisions back into the contexts in which they were made, reminding us of the environments and conditions in which the actions were taken.

I did not agree with some of the policies of President Bush while he was in office, including his push for amnesty for illegal aliens, his painfully slow turnaround on implementing the surge in Iraq, his apparent lack of will to concentrate on winning in Afghanistan, and the extreme bailout mentality at the end of his term. But I believe that anyone who is interested in U.S. history, policy, politics, or presidents, whether they agree with this president or not, will benefit from reading this book. I enjoyed getting to know a decent man a little better, and understanding some of the important events of the last ten years with greater depth and clarity.