Now that all the hoopla has died down over the
release of President George W. Bush's Decision Points it is a good time
to review the book and recall some forgotten history. In his introduction Bush
described his book as thematic, not a traditional autobiography. Many will
enjoy this format as I did. This also explains why the review presented here is
not in chronological order.
I have never been enthralled with the Bush Presidency. With that bias I sincerely wanted to hear what this man had to say.
Unfortunately, I was dismayed with the early chapters of the book as he emphasized his born again Christianity. Ordinarily, Christian leaders, excluding the Pope, of course, do not wear their religious beliefs on their sleeves due to unintended consequences. In my limited experience Bush appears to be unique in that type of presentation. One unintended consequence of that approach is the implication that if one is only doing the will of God, then one can do not wrong. This is an anathema to a democratic people, particularly a nation that encourages the freedom of all religions, or even the lack of one.
He writes, "When I ran for president, I decided to make a nationwide faith-based initiative a central part of my campaign." He then adds later, "I was always wary of people who used faith as a political weapon suggesting they were more righteous than their opponents." He then cites his favorite Biblical verse, Matthew 7:3. Apparently, he was unaware of the contradiction of his statements. Perhaps, this is an example of the pot calling the kettle black.
Later, he mentioned his 2003 State of the Union Address in which he described a British intelligence report that Iraq "sought to buy uranium from Niger." He then states, "The single sentence in my five-thousand word speech was not a major point in the case against Saddam," dismissing the authority of the President of the United States in making such a statement. He then adds, "The British stood by the intelligence." This simply is not true. British intelligence shared the information, information not being intelligence, but British intelligence was very skeptical and they said so. Bush's own intelligence agencies were extremely skeptical. The State Department's small intelligence unit was also quite leery of the information as well. The Niger/Iraq connection was not used in Secretary of State Colin Powell's indictment against Iraq in his presentation before the U.N. Security Council in Feb. 2003.
There was a moment during his chapter, "Day of Fire," September 11, 2001, that I nearly wept because I remember. He described the support our nation received after that horrendous day, support from Canada, Italy, China, France, Japan, and Germany, leaving out many others who offered their support, including Iran, Russia, and numerous Muslim nations. He then wrote, "The coalition of the willing in the war against terror was forming, and -" for the time being -" everyone wanted to join [emphasis is mine]." That is somewhat true of the U.S.-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan in Oct. 2001, but that support evaporated with his unilateral decision to attack Iraq. Initial support for that invasion amongst our major allies included Britain, Italy, and Spain. First, Spain dropped out, then Italy, and finally our 51st state and loyal ally, Britain. The "coalition of the willing" in Iraq now numbers one nation, the United States.
On page 187 he described "George's plan" regarding the invasion of Iraq. George's plan? George was George Tenet, Director of the CIA. That is truly remarkable in two ways. It is rather odd for the director of the CIA to develop war plans for an invasion. That responsibility normally falls under the auspices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also, "George's plan" entailed sending less than 1500 ground troops to secure Afghanistan, a region roughly the size of Texas. There is little doubt that contributed to the fact that we are still fighting this war in its tenth year.
Later, Bush tries to explain away how "we allowed bin Laden to slip the noose at Battle of Tora Bora. He states, "If we had ever known for sure where he was, we would have moved heaven and earth to bring him to justice." How about moving in two infantry divisions?
Next, he tries to describe the achievements of Operation Anaconda, or the first six months of the war. Today, the paragraph reads as though he is living in a dream world. He also attempts to prove a negative, stating that one of his accomplishments was that there were "" no retaliatory attacks on our homeland." Many detest the term , homeland. More importantly, there is no definitive proof that his invasion of Afghanistan precluded any attack on American soil.
He then tries to gain the sympathy of the reader for the fallen in Afghanistan by recalling Abraham Lincoln's letter to Lydia Bixby of Massachusetts who lost five sons in the Civil War. Ah, come on, cut me some slack here, gees.
Finally, he admits his error in judgment, well, sort of. He states, "This strategy worked well at first. But in retrospect, our rapid success with low troop levels created false comfort, and our desire to maintain a light military footprint left us short of the resources we needed. It would take several years for these shortcomings to become clear [emphasis is mine]." This, of course, begs a question. How is it that he, Rumsfeld, and the JCS did not know that less than 1500 troops could not secure Afghanistan and its rugged terrain? They might have consulted a lieutenant in basic training " or a history teacher. Afghanistan did not gain the reputation of the graveyard of empires for nothing.
To his credit, later he explains the result of his folly as the Taliban administered payback. Bush writes, "My CIA and military briefings included increasingly dire reports about Taliban influence. The problem was crystallized by a series of color-coded maps I saw in November 2006. The darker the shading, the more attacks had occurred in that part of Afghanistan. The 2004 map was lightly shaded. The 2005 map had darker areas in the southern and eastern parts of the country. By 2006, the entire southeastern quadrant was black. In just one year, the number of remotely detonated bombs had doubled. The number or armed attacks had tripled. The number of suicide bombings had more than quadrupled."
One can grudgingly dismiss the Afghan war as pure folly. Egregious errors of judgment by political and military leaders are common in war. Clausewitz referred to it as the "fog of war." One cannot so easily dismiss the American pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, which has proven to be an unmitigated disaster as compared to folly. The aggression against Iraq violated American laws, international laws, the U.N. Charter, and the Nuremberg Charter. In addition, the war was based entirely on false premises, intelligence products created by micro-managed intelligence units within the CIA and the Pentagon. So it is, with respect to the war in Iraq, I sought answers from former President Bush.
His chapter on Iraq began dramatic enough. "On Wednesday, March 19, 2003, I walked into a meeting I had hoped would not be necessary." The following paragraphs read like a bad movie script that would be rejected by Hollywood as too melodramatic. It began with "Each commander answered affirmatively."
"Tommy [Franks] spoke last. "Mr. President,' the commanding general said, "this force is ready.'"
"I turned to Don Rumsfeld. "Mr. Secretary,' I said, "For the peace of the world and the benefit and freedom of the Iraqi people, I hereby give the order to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom. May God bless the troops.'" I have a hard time picturing a hardened politician saying that to a cynical and somewhat abrasive Secretary of Defense.