November 26, 2010

George Bush--the Decider

Perhaps not what you want to read on the day after Thanksgiving, but it is still better than reading that the right is now convinced that socialists almost killed Thanksgiving, because for them, private property is magical--like tax cuts. Sigh.

But back to the Decider. George Packer has a great review of Bush's "memoir" that will make you remember probably more than you wanted. But as Packer points out, the book probably reveals more of the Bush flaws than he intended to reveal. Oh, his supporters will not see them, but they are as much present in the book as they are in Bush's sad life as President. His lack of ability to grasp ambiguity or nuance is ever present:
The structure of “Decision Points,” with each chapter centered on a key issue—stem-cell research, interrogation and wiretapping, the invasion of Iraq, the fight against AIDS in Africa, the surge, the “freedom agenda,” the financial crisis—reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it’s over, and there’s no looking back.
But more disturbing, I think, than his lack of critical thought about those key decisions, is his complete lack of introspection even now. During his administration, I found it amazing that Bush could never admit error. The Buck didn't even come close to his desk. Any failures were the fault of so many other people, but never his. I was always amazed by that, and the fact that so many conservative Christians seemed to make excuses for that fact. What they saw as arrogance in me, for example, they saw as strength with Bush. Packer notes that Bush constantly caricatures opposing views--they are never legitimate or possibly equal choices that he simply doesn't choose, they are the lesser arguments of people who's motivation is not as good as his own.

Ultimately, I see Bush as a tragic figure--a man in way over his head who could never quite make sense of his own inadequacies. That is a difficult thing for all of us, of course. It is not easy to recognize your failures and limitations. I know others like him, but in them, the consequences are not as tragic for others.
Yet “Decision Points”—indeed, the whole trajectory of Bush’s Presidency—suggests that he had the information but not the character to face it. “I waited over three years for a successful strategy,” he says in a chapter called “Surge.” But what sort of wartime leader—a term he likes to use—would “wait” for three years, rather than demand a better strategy and the heads of his failed advisers? “Only after the sectarian violence erupted in 2006 did it become clear that more security was needed before political progress could continue,” he writes. It’s a statement to make anyone who spent time in Iraq from 2003 onward laugh or cry. During the war years, Bush fell in love with his own resolve, his refusal to waver, and this flaw cost Iraqis and Americans dearly. For him, the war remains “eternally right,” a success with unfortunate footnotes. His decisions, he still believes, made America safer, gave Iraqis hope, and changed the future of the Middle East for the better. Of these three claims, only one is true—the second—and it’s a truth steeped in tragedy.

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