George W Bush is not an idiot. He was more dangerous than that.
That is what comes across from the former US president’s memoir, Decision Points.
The book is an evangelical confession of Bush’s righteousness. “Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty or was alcohol becoming my god?” he asks at one point.
And he seems to have “borrowed” sections of the text wholesale from various journalistic accounts of his time in office—in particular from Bob Woodward’s book, Bush at War.
But while utterly self-serving, the book is also revealing.
Bush plays down how much his wealthy roots gave him a leg up by dwelling on his Texan upbringing.
He seems to think it matters little that he went to Yale, had a grandfather in the Senate and a father heading the CIA who then became president.
If he weren’t a Bush, he wouldn’t even have been part-owner of the Texas Rangers football club (his only “job”).
That is important because Bush was an establishment right winger who was part of a project to turn back any limited gains that workers made during the 1960s.
He saw himself as the cowboy to make America great again. It was hokum—but not idiotic.
People sometimes mistake Tory mayor of London Boris Johnson for a mere buffoon, rather than seeing him as a foul and spiteful right winger. In the same way, some believe Bush was simply a fool doing the bidding of the military industrial complex and the oil industry.
Of course he did indeed do their bidding. But he was a conscious and dangerous player.
Bush says that he moved from drunk playboy to politics because, “I worried about America drifting left, toward a version of welfare-state Europe, where central government planning crowded out free enterprise. I wanted to do something about it.”
Bush’s version of his presidency is of a resolute hand on destiny. He sees himself driven by an unwavering belief in what he calls “the freedom agenda”—religious faith mixed with false Texan good ol’ boy machismo.
“My blood was boiling,” he writes, describing his reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. “We were going to find out who did this and kick their ass.”
Beyond the carnage that kicking ass meant, there is the admission about torture. When then-CIA director George Tenet asked whether he had permission to waterboard terror suspects, Bush replied, “Damn right.”
Bush writes that about 100 “terrorists” were placed in the CIA interrogation programme and that about a third “were questioned using enhanced interrogation”.
The worst thing about Hurricane Katrina, according to Bush, is that Kanye West called him a racist. And Katrina was all the fault of the Democrats anyway.
On Iraq, Bush says he regrets that “we did not respond more quickly or aggressively when the security situation started to deteriorate after Saddam’s regime fell”. He adds that “cutting troop levels too quickly was the most important failure of execution in the war”.
Bush claims he has “a sickening feeling” every time he thinks about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bless.
He justifies Guantanamo Bay, stressing that prisoners were given “a personal copy of the Koran” and access to a library among whose popular offerings was “an Arabic translation of Harry Potter”.
There is not an ounce of real regret or even concern for the victims of the “war on terror”.
And the account of the arrival of the financial crisis is tedious and uninformative.
In fact one gets the impression that is Bush’s view of the whole recession—that it is slightly dull compared to war.
Bush says he left office satisfied that “I had always done what I believed was right.”
The last anecdote of the book, appropriately enough, is about dog shit—as were the preceding 477 pages.