Unapologetic Bush bursts back on to the scene
Barack Obama’s predecessor is on a media blitz to promote his memoirs, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington
A STRANGE thing happened in the US this week. While Barack Obama was in Asia, still reeling from his midterm election defeat, George W Bush burst back onto the scene, filling newspaper columns and television air time with a blitz of interviews to promote his memoir, Decision Points, which was published by Crown yesterday.
As he carried America back to 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, “W” was his same old brash and unapologetic self. Bush says he was “sickened . . . when we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. In an hour-long interview on Monday night, Matt Lauer of NBC asked him whether he ever considered apologising to the American people for the lies about WMD.
“I mean apologising would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. And I ... I don’t believe it was the wrong decision,” Bush replied. He adopted his old friend Tony Blair’s justification for the Iraq war: “I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom.”
Nor did Bush have any regrets about waterboarding and other forms of torture practised under his administration. Bush reveals in his book that he personally gave the order for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to be waterboarded – a torment to which “KSM” was reportedly subjected 183 times. “I said, ‘find out what he knows’,” Bush said.
He claims he asked whether the techniques were legal. When assured they were, “I said, ‘use ’em’.” Bush believed waterboarding was legal “because the lawyer said it was legal”. Bush never asked himself what more he might have done to prevent the 9/11 attacks: “Well, we just didn’t have any solid intelligence that gave us a warning on this. We didn’t have any clear intelligence that said, you know, ‘Get ready. They’re gonna fly airplanes into New York buildings’.”
As mentioned in the Washington Post, on August 6th, 2001, Bush received an intelligence briefing entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” which said al-Qaeda intended to hijack aircraft.
When he was in the White House, Bush fancied himself a “decider”. His book reconstructs his life as a series of decisions: to quit drinking when he was 40; to take Dick Cheney as his presidential running mate; to invade Iraq.
Yet Bush often gives the impression of indecision. He claims he “didn’t wanna use force” in Iraq in 2003. He sat impassively for seven minutes after he learned of the 9/11 attacks, while a children’s story was read to him in a Florida school. When Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, Bush dithered, asking himself, “how’s it going to look if – if a Republican president usurps the authority of a Democratic governor and declares an insurrection in a largely African American city?”
Bush acknowledged only two mistakes in the interview: celebrating the “end” of the Iraq war in 2003, under a banner emblazoned “Mission Accomplished”; and being filmed peering through the porthole of Air Force One at the devastation of New Orleans in 2005. The worst moment of his presidency, Bush said, was hearing the rap singer Kanye West say he didn’t care about black people.
Amid the turgid, ghost-written prose, there are a few interesting anecdotes in Decision Points. When he was a teenager, Bush drove his mother Barbara to the hospital after she suffered a miscarriage. She showed him the foetus in a jar, which he says strengthened their relationship.
That relationship was strained by Bush’s alcohol problem. At Bush’s parents’ home in Maine, after drinking too much, he asked an attractive guest: “What is sex like after 50?” The reaction at the dinner table was “not only silence, but like serious daggers”. Bush dismissed as “psychobabble” speculation that he felt the need to compete with his father. “W” grew emotional when the interviewer read from the letter his father wrote to him when he became governor of Texas.
Bush has refrained from criticising Obama. “I didn’t want to get back into what I call ‘the swamp’,” he explained. “The other reason why is I don’t think it’s good for the presidency for a former president to be opining about his successor.” In his book, Bush nonetheless praises Obama for sending more troops to Afghanistan. For all Obama’s criticism of the Bush administration, he has handled the wars much as his predecessor did, even retaining Bush’s top general, David Petraeus, in Afghanistan. Nor has Obama shut down the prison at Guantánamo. All of which goes a long way to explaining why Bush is staging a comeback. In a CNN/Opinion Research poll last month, 47 per cent of respondents said Obama was the better president; 45 per cent preferred Bush.