This wont' be a traditional book review because I won't just evaluate the book as a piece of literature. I also want to evaluate the way the Bush writes about himself and how (and if) it corresponds to his public image and I will also without any hesitation put up my own opinions about Bush's political choices. This might be a bit unfair, but Bush is a prominent political figure and his a big boy so I think he can take a few critical opinions from one anonymous blogger. ;)
The way this will work is I will go on reading the book and write opinions about each chapter I read. So let's start.
This chapter mainly deals with Bush's story before presidency. It was very informing and opened his personal history. The name of course derives from his drinking problem and how he got over it and finding faith. Still I do not understand how Bush can and was able to pull off the regular guy image. He is the son of a president, educated in the best schools in the country, fighter pilot and a business man. Tell me what part of that is regular. I will tell you. Nothing. This guy must be quite talented and intelligent. Nobody can get this far in life with just the help from his dad. The chapter features quite personal story of how George and Laura struggled to get children.
Bush has taken part in many elections before his own presidential campaign. Of course there are his own gubernatorial races, and maybe most important campaign that he has followed was his fathers presidential campaigns. Bush knew what he was doing when he ran for president and he had experience about how it is to run for president. Also he had the connections needed to be successful. This chapter was rather boring.
The name of the chapter tells a lot about this chapter. It might be interesting to someone who has followed White House for a living, but for us normal folks it does not provide anything that interesting. However there is one exception to the rule. Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell apparently were not the best of pals. That is quite interesting. The second big issue in this chapter is the recount fiasco that took place after the elections. Bush writes rather briefly about this very important event. In the end the supreme court decided that there would be no time to count all the votes and that the result would stay as it is. Does this mean that the democratic process was disregarded just because the country needed a new president?
Before the book jumps to 9/11 and such the memoir focuses on what Bush was up to in the first half of 2001. Stem cells was such a heated topic in U.S. Again, I must admit that I had a bit of a wrong picture of the situation and the decision Bush made. Having read the chapter you could almost be of the opinion that Bush with his conditional and conservative decision regarding stem cell research could have pushed the scientific community to search alternative ways for creating stem cells.
Day of Fire
I remember when I came from school and started to watch BBC World and saw that a passenger plane had hit one of the WTC towers. How can a passenger plane go astray and hit skyscraper? What kind of technical malfunction could cause this? Aren't planes equipped with technology that should avoid this kind of things? I never even imagined that it could be terrorism. Then I saw as the second plane hit WTC. Little by little information started to come that a third plane had crashed to Pentagon. The shock and confusion was just gigantic. How can some one do this? Bush has been criticised for what he did during on 9/11. The situation was potentially extremely dangerous and reading this made my understand how unexpected the events were. There was not that much new information the events of 9/11 in the chapter. The chapter is more of a narrative in style. Most of the interesting stuff is still classified could can not be published. The only somewhat interesting piece of information was the fact how bad the communication equipment of Air Force One were. Funny that nobody realised that the president may want to give someone a call while he is being evacuated.
It is just completely impossible to imagine how terrible the situation was 9/11. All the time you would get reports on new possible terrorist plots. How do you react to that? Again, this helped me better understand the circumstances in which Bush made decisions. Another Bush's decision that was criticised during the time was the creation of Department of Homeland Security. Again based on what Bush writes on this book it was perfectly logical decision. 9/11 revealed that different departments of the government responsible for security were unable to exchange intelligence data due to legal restrictions. This section of the book also cover the extremely controversial subject of special CIA interrogation tactics. Especially water boarding got unanimously condemned. I always thought that water boarding was widely used as an interrogation method. Bush states that out of the roughly 1000 terrorists caught after 9/11 only 100 were subjected to CIA's interrogation tactics. Out these hundred around one third were subjected to the hardened interrogation methods. According to Bush in the end only three people were subjected to water boarding. I do not know if these numbers are correct (how could I) and they only cover numbers from CIA. What I would really like to know is what the army and army intelligence have done to gather intelligence. Remember the photographs taken in Abu Ghraib.
Again this chapter is more of a narrative piece of text. Bush tells what he did and how difficult it was to make the decisions, which of course is the case. There were couple of points that I still found very odd. Bush claims that he was able to turn Pakistan ally in four days. Did they have a choice. Secondly he mentions as an achievement that after initial bombings of Afghanistan US dropped 37 000 meals to the civilians. 37k meals is really not that many. It is better than nothing, but compared to suffering that the war caused it just seems a bit pointless. Not to deny the progress Afghanistan has experienced after the overthrow of Taleban. I was very surprised about how openly Bush tells about the strained relationship between Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf. So far this has been the most revealing bit I've read in the book.
Unsurprisingly the longest chapter of the book is dedicated to Iraq. It is impossible to forget the controversy that preceded the war. Does Iraq pose a threat? Is Saddam manufacturing weapons of mass destruction? What ever you may have thought about the war Bush did have one very good point for starting the war. Iraq had been ignoring UN resolutions for years. They denied UN inspectors access to suspected production sites of WMDs. Bush writes in the book that he saw the situations also as a question of UNs authority and that is a very good point. Bush admits that the intelligence reports on Iraq's WMD-programs were partly inaccurate. I am just wondering how that can be. Bush also writes that several other intelligence agencies had reported that Iraq potentially has weapons of mass destruction. How can the whole intelligence community fail in such a monumental manner? Are they just guessing. Could it have been that some agencies fed disinformation in order to advance the political aims of the country it represents and this misinformation was cited and re-cited in many reports.
In this chapter Bush writes about his efforts on trying to reform education, health care and the pension system. It was fun to read about these projects but I am afraid all of it was just surpassed by the was on terror.
I really appreciated the fact that Bush quite openly tells about how he saw the rescue efforts after Katrina. Basically Bush waited a week before he decided to send in troops from the National Guard without permission from the state's governor. I think he was rather swift in his decision although for some victims of Katrina it was too long.
The Lazarus Effect
I had almost forgotten Bush's AIDS programme. It seems to have done lot of good. The Wikipedia article I read states some irregularities in the reporting activities and states that some of the funds may not have gone to helping people suffering from AIDS. Bush did do a lot to help AIDS patients and made large contributions to the fight against aid. Nobody can deny that.
As the violence in Iraq grew Bush was thinking of ways to quench the violence. His solution was to send in more troops even though it was a highly unpopular move. Most people thought that it would have been better to pull out troops from Iraq and let the Iraqis sort things out amongst themselves. David Petraeus, who Bush appointed to command and lead the surge, did pretty good job. The acts of violence decreased dramatically and people in Iraq felt at least a bit more safe. The surge worked and probably prevented Iraq from falling in to state of total civil war. I agree with Bush that quitting would have been the least responsible thing to do.
This chapter cover wide range of topics. It covers most of the initiatives Bush made on solving the conflict between Isreal and Palestine, trying to end the North Korean nuclear programme and expansion of Nato. I must say that my appreciation for Bush grew as I was reminded that it was him who at least tried to introduce an independent Palestine and encouraged the Palestinian people towards democracy. Sometimes I feel that it might have Bush who sowed the seeds for Arab spring by over throwing Saddam Hussein and showing that people in middle east do not need to be ruled by cruel dictators. Of course, in Tunisia the uprising was more about high food prices and unemployment, but still. What surprised me most in the chapter was the very harsh criticism towards Vladimir Putin. I did not expect that he would criticise the leader of one nation so much. The criticism is, naturally, has it's reasons and is not unfounded.
Bush's last term ended in 2008. It was also the year when US was hit by the worst economic crisis since the great depression of 1930s. Bush explains that the decisions he made were purely pragmatic. He would have preferred that the companies that got in trouble would have gone bankrupt. He's main argument seems to be that he did not want to see tax payers suffer from the mistakes and neglect of some few Wall Street executives. That is a very respectable principle. He also lays out evidence that he was aware that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could potentially cause trouble and his administration had warned these companies about their risky practices.
Even though Bush argues that the economic down turn of early '00 and the direct economic impact 9/11 had eaten away the surplus that the previous government had left him the fact to the matter is that Bush's government took enormous amounts of debt and the trade imbalance of US was at all time high as he left office. As he was focusing on the war on terror (two front wat) the economy of United States was left to survive on it's own.
Final words (my words not his)
Reading this book made me respect some of Bush's decisions and understand in what kind of situations he made them and how he saw them. The language of the book was not the most flexible and polished as I had expected.
I recommend that you give this book a read it gives an opportunity to understand what happened during 2000-2009. Quite a lot of happened during those years, to say the least.