Presidential memoirs are regarded as a premier source of insight into the inner workings of government, and former President George W. Bush’s new book, Decision Points, effectively provides that insight. The book describes relationships between members of the administration, gives the President’s take on a number of important issues and illuminates the way our former leader during his time in office.
Unfortunately, the book leaves a disappointing impression. After reading it, I was convinced that Bush must be either ignorant or dishonest, because his descriptions of his time in office and of the world at large were far from fair.
According to Decision Points, Bush did virtually nothing wrong during his time in office, and there was little he could even have improved upon. He seems to think that his domestic and foreign policies left the country in a better position in 2009 than when he took office in 2001.
Bush’s most egregious mischaracterizations are in regard to the Middle East.
“The most dramatic advances for freedom came in the Middle East,” he writes. “In 2001, the region saw terrorism on the rise, raging violence between Palestinians and Israelis, the destabilizing influence of Saddam Hussein … and little progress toward political reform.
“By 2009, nations across the Middle East were actively fighting terrorism … Iraq was a multi-religious, multi-ethnic democracy and an ally of the United States. The Palestinian people had an increasingly peaceful government … momentum toward a democratic state that would live side by side with Israel in peace.”
Though there have been significant advances in some Middle Eastern countries, the region remains in turmoil. With each individual country he mentions, Bush grossly overstates progress and neglects to mention negative developments, many of which are related to his own policies.
Iraq might now be a democracy, but it also remains a site that still claims the lives of U.S. troops. The war there has been the largest source of instability in the region, and it has turned terrorists like Muqtada al-Sadr into politicians, distracted military resources from the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and helped turn Iran into an increasingly powerful threat to U.S. interests.
The future of Iraq remains uncertain; it seems likely that after the scheduled troop withdrawal at the end of this year, the young Iraqi state might not be strong enough to withstand the various internal pressures it faces.
Lebanon, meanwhile, might have kicked out Syrian troops, but its democracy continues to harbor Hezbollah, one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. Hezbollah currently holds 14 seats in the Lebanese parliament and, according to a recent report by The Economist, deployed 40,000 to 50,000 rockets along the Israeli border last summer.
The Palestinians have also elected a terrorist organization, Hamas, which currently controls Gaza. On the Israeli side, the governing coalition has become increasingly dependent on the counterproductive ultra-Orthodox settlers movement, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu very little room to reach a prospective peace settlement. Clearly, peace is further off than ever.
This trick by Bush — overstating accomplishments, understating failures — is a pattern throughout the book. Bush would have us believing that the No Child Left Behind Act is a piece of civil rights legislation. That he made all the right decisions in the aftermath of Katrina, but wishes that others had not gotten in his way so he could have made them sooner.
Decision Points isn’t entirely bad. Bush comes off as a decent man, one with genuine intentions and strong moral convictions. If the book gives an honest assessment of his presidency and its effect on the United States and the world, then he clearly lacks the type of understanding necessary to govern properly.
“I believe that it will be impossible to reach definitive conclusions about my presidency for several decades,” he writes.
It is too early to pass final judgment on the Bush administration. But if Decision Points is an accurate indication of how Bush thought about the challenges he faced in office, then it might not be too early to judge that he lacked the skills necessary to be a good president.
Daniel Charnoff is a senior majoring in international relations (global business). His column, “Through the Static,” runs Fridays.