At some point, every ex-president – usually having waited a decent political interval – gives his own version of his time in office. It’s partly an attempt to frame history, partly a time to settle scores, always a way to make money by reentering the spotlight, if only briefly.
This is George W. Bush’s week.
His new memoir “Decision Points” will be available in bookstores starting Tuesday. There’s a round of TV interviews – Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno, NBC’s Matt Lauer, Candy Crowley on CNN, radio interviews with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, several appearances on the Fox News Channel.
Some reporters have obtained copies of “Decision Points” and snippets from prerecorded interviews are being advertised, so high points already are being pored over. Among them:
Being photographed flying over the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – without landing to personally assess the damage and comfort residents – was a “huge mistake.”
It made him look "detached and uncaring, no question about it,” he told Lauer.
Should he drop Cheney?
Bush considered dropping Dick Cheney from the ticket in 2006 (perhaps replacing him with then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee) – an idea put forth by Cheney himself, but subsequently rejected by Bush.
Bush writes that he was “blindsided” by the infamous photos of abused prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq – which he hadn’t been shown until the day they were made public on 60 Minutes II. On those nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, he writes: “No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do.”
But there’s no self-doubt about his ordering the US-led invasion of Iraq, nor of his agreeing to the CIA’s request to waterboard prisoners as a form of “enhanced interrogation.” When he was asked whether the partial drowning technique could be used, Bush’s answer was emphatic: “Damn right.”
Bush also writes that he was “blindsided by a financial crisis that had been more than a decade in the making.”
“I assumed any major credit troubles would have been flagged by the regulators or rating agencies,” he writes.
Praise for Obama
There is no criticism of President Obama in Bush’s book, and he praises Obama for his more-aggressive policy on Afghanistan, for his “smart, disciplined, high-tech campaign” in 2008, and for the “calm demeanor” Obama displayed at a special White House meeting during the financial crisis in September of that year.
“I thought it was smart when he informed the gathering that he was in constant contact with Hank” Paulson, he writes. “His purpose was to show that he was aware, in touch, and prepared to help get a bill passed.”
As for John McCain, who’d insisted on that White House meeting though he had little to offer there, that’s a different story. And it reveals a Bush-McCain relationship that has had some very difficult moments dating back to the South Carolina Republican presidential primary in 2000.
Bush thinks McCain’s 2008 campaign would have done better if he (Bush) had been asked to help out – a dubious assertion given Bush’s very low ratings at the time. And since then, Bush reportedly has let it be known through friends that he thought McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was a bad idea.
But in his interview with Oprah, Bush resists commenting on Palin’s qualifications for the presidency. The most Oprah could get out of him was: “You're asking me to wade back into the swamp.”