WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush, bursting back onto the public scene a little less than two years after he left Washington in disgrace, has come up with the most self-serving answer yet to some of the most persistent questions about the moral and practical failings of his administration: Buy my book!
Bush repeatedly deflected follow-up questions from NBC's Matt Lauer in an interview aired on Monday night, suggesting that more satisfying answers could be found by purchasing his new $35 memoir.
Big surprise: They can't.
After Bush acknowledged that he approved the use of waterboarding -- an interrogation tactic nearly universally considered to be one of the archetypyal forms of torture -- Lauer asked: "Would it be OK for a foreign country to waterboard an American citizen?"
Bush's response: "It's all I ask is that people read the book. And they can reach the same conclusion. If they'd have made the same decision I made or not."
After Bush insisted that waterboarding is legal, "because the lawyer said it was legal," Lauer remarked: "Tom Kean, who a former Republican co-chair of the 9/11 commission said they got legal opinions they wanted from their own people."
Bush's response: "He obviously doesn't know. I hope Mr. Kean reads the book. That's why I've written the book. He can, they can draw whatever conclusion they want."
But Bush doesn't remotely address Lauer's first question in the book. As for the second, he simply states that "Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution an all applicable laws, including those that ban torture."
Bush on Monday night also got a bit testy when Lauer asked about his initial reaction to news of the 9/11 terror attacks -- and how, on that morning in a Florida classroom, he appeared to freeze.
Bush's response: "Yeah, well, I'm not gonna debate the critics as to whether or not I was in shock or not. I wasn't. They can read the book and they can draw their own conclusion."
In the book, Bush's explanation of that morning is strikingly revisionistic and almost laughably implausible. Keep in mind that during those achingly long seven minutes, so dramatically recounted in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" there was no way to know that further attacks weren't under way. If there was ever a time for a president to leap into action, that was it. But instead he just sat there, as if waiting for someone to tell him what to do. Or, you can believe what he writes in "Decision Points":
My first reaction was outrage. Someone had dared attack America. They were going to pay. Then I looked at the faces of the children in front of me. I thought about the contrast between the brutality of the attackers and the innocence of those children. Millions like them would soon be counting on me to protect them. I was determined not to let them down.
I saw reporters at the back of the room, learning the news on their cell phones and pagers. Instinct kicked in. I knew my reaction would be recorded and beamed throughout the world The nation would be in shock; the president could not be. If I stormed out hastily, it would scare the children and send ripples of panic throughout the country.
And with Bush essentially abrogating responsibility that morning, what happened? Why, vice president Dick Cheney took command from his bunker, of course.
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.