Author: George W. Bush

2010, Crown Publishers

Filed Under: Memoirs, Nonfiction


Two things immediately came to my mind after reading George W. Bush’s Decision Points: a joke and an ancient Chinese novel Journey to the West (His-yu Chi – Xiyou ji). First the joke: once a professional consultant/adviser came across a shepherd with a large herd of sheep. He said to the shepherd, ‘I can tell exactly how many sheep you have.’ The shepherd apparently amazed at the claim asked him to go ahead but the consultant/adviser said that he will charge one of the sheep as a fee for telling him the exact number of his sheep. The shepherd gave it a thought and agreed to the deal. The consultant/adviser then took out his laptop and portable internet connection, got connected to the satellite monitoring system, browsed for the area where they were present, zoomed-in on the herd of sheep, counted them, and after consuming an hour or so told the shepherd that he had 139 sheep. The shepherd confirmed the number and the consultant/adviser took one of the sheep as a fee for the service. The shepherd then said to the consultant/adviser, ‘if I tell you your profession can I have my sheep back?’ Curious, the consultant/adviser agreed. The shepherd said, ‘You must a consultant or an adviser somewhere.’ The consultant/adviser was totally startled and asked the shepherd, ‘Yes I am a consultant/adviser, but how do you know?’ ‘Two reasons.’ The shepherd replied. ‘First, you created a job for yourself when there was in fact no need of it and told me something which I already knew. And the second is that you don’t know a shit about your job, now give my dog back.’

Thomas Cleary, in his introduction to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, mentions Journey to the West – one of the four most extraordinary books of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It is a novel with a magical monkey as its central character. The monkey establishes a territory and founds a monkey civilization. When confronted with a devil, he is strong enough to overpower the devil and manages to steal the devil’s sword. Back home, he starts training his brethren in swordsmanship and also teaches his subjects how to make toy weapons. Then a thought runs across the mind of this magical monkey king and he wonders about the response of his neighbouring nations to their play. He concludes that his neighbours may assume that his nation is planning to wage a war on them and, therefore, initiate a pre-emptive strike against them. In that case, the monkey king thought, his nation would have to go to an actual war with fake weapons. He, thus, starts stuffing his arsenal with real weapons.

After going through Decision Points one can draw strong parallels between the thought process of the above-mentioned monkey king and that of George Bush’s. His decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes have left the world much unsafe than it was before his presidency. Bush’s decisions have not only severely affected the lives of the people of countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan ordinary Americans have also received a heavy thumping. If I were an American it would have given me an extremely sickening feeling that my hard-earned money is first used to ‘attack’ countries thousands of miles away so that I may remain ‘safe’ and once a country is destroyed it has to be rebuilt, again by using my taxes.

One thing which Decision Points makes amply clear is that Bush neither likes to reason arguments not likes to listen to them. He does not like weighing pros and cons of an issue before arriving at a decision and yet arrives at ‘logical conclusions.’ ‘The only logical conclusion was that he [Saddam Hussein] had something [weapons of mass destruction] to hide, something so important that he was willing to go to war for it.’ ‘There was only one logical explanation: Iran was enriching uranium to use in a bomb.’ But the ‘logically concluded’ presence of WMDs could not be corroborated with facts once Iraq had been invaded and Saddam Hussein tried and killed. Soon after the 9/11 attacks Bush called a national security meeting and declared ‘we are at war against terror. From this day forward, this is the new priority of our administration.’ Unlike a visionary statesman he did not bother to ask the reasons of attack, the motives of the attackers, and should the US goes to war against the attackers what would be its likely impact on the peace of the world and especially on the lives of innocent American who had voted him to the office of the president. His approach is not that of appreciating a particular situation but that of situating his appreciation. He arrives at a ‘logical conclusion’ and then asks his consultants and advisers to build arguments in favour of his ‘logical conclusion.’

In his memoirs Bush tries to portray himself as some kind of James Bond. ‘He [Andy Card] told me there had been a bomb threat to the White House. The Secret Service had relocated the vice president, and they wanted to evacuate me, too. I told the agents to double-check the intelligence and send home as many of the White House staff as possible. But I was staying put. I was not going to give the enemy the pleasure of seeing me hustled around to different locations again.’ Like most accounts written by public figures Decision Points is also self-serving.

An important aspect not only of Bush’s personality but of the American system of government which comes to light after reading this book is the dictatorial powers of the president. A president has to select his team to run the administration and if someone like Bush selects his advisers and consultants who had been telling the exact number of sheep to shepherds all their lives he cannot be questioned. Most of these advisers and consultants are understandably from the elite colleges and universities and as William Deresiewicz argues in his brilliant essay, The disadvantages of elite education, it is because of this elite education that they are ‘incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you.’ So a president like Bush would pick up only those who talk and think like him, those who arrive at ‘logical conclusions’ without bothering to listen to and weigh arguments in favour of and against a certain issue. And if someone dares disagree with the ‘logical conclusions’ they can always be fired.

A very important trait of Bush’s personality which has come to light after the publication of Decision Points is his dishonesty and his remarkable ability to unintelligently expose it. Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post has highlighted sixteen instances of plagiarism in Bush’s book. It leaves one amazed at Bush’s chutzpah or probably he deluded himself into thinking that his plagiarism would go unnoticed just like the way he deluded himself that military action in Afghanistan and Iraq would bring freedom and democracy. A particular example of his dishonesty apart from lifting passages from others’ books is where he writes about the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program. The NIE confirmed that Iran had operated a secret nuclear program but in 2003 ‘Tehran halted its nuclear weapon program.’ To Bush this was a bolt from the blue because he had already ‘logically concluded’ that Iran would have to be attacked militarily. ‘The NIE didn‘t just undermine diplomacy. It also tied my hands on the military side. There were many reasons I was concerned about undertaking a military strike on Iran, including its uncertain effectiveness and the serious problems it would create for Iraq‘s fragile young democracy. But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?’ (emphasis added) In this utterly unintelligent manoeuvre he amply demonstrates that his plans of attacking Iran had more to do with some other ‘reasons’ and less with the nuclear weapons. Of course, politicians are not expected to be absolutely transparent but what makes Bush stand out is his ability to expose, albeit unwittingly, his own hypocrisy.

A very important conclusion which can be made after going through the book is that the so-called top intelligence agencies in the world have intelligence only in their names. All the major agencies were convinced that Iraq has WMDs before the invasion. This is quite remarkable that not even a single intelligence agency of Europe of America with their astronomical budgets and state-of-the-art gadgetry was able to have a difference of opinion regarding the WMDs. Or was it that Bush wanted them to show the WMDs in Iraq so that it could be attacked?

Under the garb of freedom and democracy the US is structurally colonising countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan but at the same time these expansionist ambitions of the Americans are showing their ineptness too. It is the lack of understanding of social, cultural, and political dynamics of these countries which makes it difficult for the American decision and policy makers to arrive at a decision which is beneficial to the ordinary Americans.

Decision Points should be read by the ordinary Americans, despite its banal prose and clichés, so that they may know the thought process behind the decisions of a former president. The consequences of many of these decisions would probably outlast the lives of a vast majority of Americans. They should know that while one of their former presidents did whatever caught his fancy he did not like to be judged. ‘Whatever the verdict on my presidency, I‘m comfortable with the fact that I won‘t be around to hear it.’

Similar Reads: A Journey, by Tony Blair.