Decision Points is the memoir of former US President, George W. Bush Jnr. An editor’s nightmare, the story is “thematic” and meanders back and forth throughout the former President’s life. Jumping from boyhood to marriage to the White House and back again, it is difficult to build up a sense of how the most notorious politician of modern times developed into the international leader he became.
A patchwork picture does build up of the Republican star’s background with a vivid reference to the part played by God in his life and score-settling on the issue of military service and former rivals. A certain arrogance is betrayed in the way George Bush takes pride in the apology offered by a chaplain at Yale who once told him that his Father had been beaten in an election “by a better man”. Bush offers his own explanation that this was a difficult thing for him to hear at eighteen years old, not considering the fact that the chaplain may have been correct.
A certain lack of humility also becomes evident when the former Chief of Staff explains away Abu Ghraib. Placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of others, Bush misses the point that a culture of disrespect for international law and moral arrogance within American foreign policy may have contributed to a situation in which those lower down the hierarchy felt that they, too, did not need to adhere to international rules on the treatment of prisoners of war.
Instead, Bush explains how he knew nothing until the headlines appeared. His decision not to accept Donald Rumsfeld’s offer to resign is also explained in detail.
One gets the sense that the declaration of war following September 11th was incredibly important. Although it may appear to be a semantic argument, declaring war on terror allowed George Bush to sidestep several important legal safeguards regarding the treatment of captured suspects. Rather than trying terrorists as criminals, they became enemy combatants with very different attendant laws.
Rather weakly, George Bush takes much of his moral authority for the ensuing bloodbath and disregard for international consensus from rescue workers at the site of Ground Zero, who, only a few days after the event, allegedly told the President to “get the guys who did this”. Revenge is an entirely understandable reaction from those on the ground, but one would hope that the President of the US would take a bit more into account when waging war – especially whether Al-Qaeda was real, guilty of the September 11th attack and likely to be stopped by a war.
It may seem strange to question the early indications from intelligence agencies that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks, but given the book’s relation of a catalogue of false alarms and bad intelligence that the President received in the hours immediately after 9/11, it does not seem entirely improbable that the services blamed the wrong people, or misinterpreted the evidence.
The crucial part of the book which has grabbed headlines throughout the world is a section on the mistreatment of prisoners. George W Bush almost goes as far as saying that Abu Zubaydeh thanked the authorities for waterboarding him because within Islam it allowed him to then tell them everything he knew. He also claims that waterboarding was only used on three prisoners.
For those who wish to skip the observations on baseball and Barbara Bush, the important section on water boarding is located on page 171.
For those looking to recreate the career successes of George W Bush, the message is clear: family and connections are the most important aspect of political CV building. Whether Bush is being dry or whether he genuinely did not understand why two whole pages listing family alumni from Yale put him ahead of brighter contemporaries in his class, it is difficult to tell.
Decision Points is a poorly structured and arrogant defence of George Bush’s time in office. It is also essential reading and an important insight into the thought processes of a leader whose appreciation of domestic politics was far more keen than his international outlook.