In George W. Bush's book Decision Points, the former President tells a story of his presidency based on his own say-so. In my book Family of Secrets, based on five years of research, hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, I reveal a very different one.
BUSH: Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld pushed him to invade Iraq. He portrays himself as a reluctant warrior who had qualms about resort to force.
BAKER: Bush was already looking forward to invading Iraq years earlier. Bush told his own contracted ghostwriter, back in 1999, when he was not yet even the GOP nominee, that if elected president he would invade Iraq. The reason? Score political points and secure high poll numbers. Bush confided his belief that successful presidents needed to win a war, and he thought Iraq would be an easy one.
BUSH: A religious conversion changed his life.
BAKER: In a way, yes; but not as Bush's account implies. Bush's "conversion" came after a key Bush family political adviser warned that it was impossible to win the presidency without embracing the sentiments of America's huge bloc of fundamentalist Christians.
BUSH: He was mortified by the disaster that resulted from Hurricane Katrina (and takes some responsibility for the slow response)
BAKER: The incompetence of the federal government was the result of willful neglect of FEMA, the agency in charge of response. Bush and his team were interested in weakening and defunding agencies like FEMA, and outsourcing their functions and budgets to friends and supporters.
BUSH: His father did not have much influence with him, beyond being generally supportive offstage.
BAKER: Father and son were joined in the family enterprise from the start. Their respective ventures in the oil business were connected to covert intelligence operations. Most of the key figures in bringing Bush to power and keeping him there were associates of his father.
Those are just a few of the problems with the Bush narrative. But the principal failing of Decision Points is that it skips over so much that is crucial to understanding the man and his presidency. It is not accidental that, like his father, George W. chose not to write a full-bore memoir that would have brought this broader focus into play.
Here are a few examples of what Bush has chosen not to tell us:
- A Good Cleaning Saves a Presidency: Two generations of George Bushes, working together, used a simple dental exam to cover up the son's disappearance from the military during the Vietnam War. The trick has successfully deflected inquiry for nearly four decades.
"A Higher Father": George W. Bush's claim that he didn't ask his father for advice on Iraq but rather turned to a "higher father" for guidance was a story most of the media found too good to check. Reporters also recited faithfully the supposed generational schism between father and son that cast George W. as a genuine rough-hewn Texan, unlike his father, whose political career was hobbled and re-election bid foiled in part because he could never shed his establishment trappings. In fact, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush were not just close--they were partners in complex political and intelligence operations that are to this day completely unknown to the public.
Oil the Presidents Men: A close friend of George W. Bush helped provide cover for W's disappearance from the Texas Air National Guard unit in which both served. He then was rewarded with a lucrative assignment as middleman between Saudi oil interests and the Bush family, that included financing of the illegal Iran-Contra operation and an alliance with a clan called Bin Laden.
Land of Opportunity: One of the strangest companies ever to appear in the oil business, tied to the CIA, foreign dictators, money launderers, and illicit caches of gold, helped fund George W. Bush's rise to the presidency.
The Loan (ar)Ranger-- A group of individuals seeking favor with the administration of Bush's father subsidized George W. Bush's stock holdings in the Texas Rangers baseball team. They created a lucrative virtual no-show job that associated him with a popular local sports franchise and also with a business success. Later, Bush sold his Rangers stock at a big gain to a man he enabled to profit off University of Texas pension funds--and who ultimately put the Rangers into bankruptcy.
Back in the Saddle, Temporarily: The Crawford ranch was a favored venue for photo ops of a president supposedly more at home clearing brush than behind a White House desk. Yet George W.--a product of Eastern establishment pillars such as Philips Andover, Yale, and Harvard-- bought the ranch shortly before he ran for president, and rarely visits it now that he's back in Texas.
Making (Up) The Grade: Bush's future Education Secretary faked the Texas school performance numbers that helped persuade voters that Bush was the man to fix the nation's schools.
An Eye for Talent: Bush touted his environmental convictions during his presidential campaign. Then he turned the Environmental Protection Agency's most polluted region over to a car dealer who had helped Bush earn a fortune off the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Lemons Into Lemonade: The Bush forces went into the 2004 campaign with a major vulnerability -- evidence that, after a plum position in the Texas Air National Guard enabled him to avoid Vietnam, he disappeared from the final third of his obligatory -- if cushy -- Guard stint. With Bush facing media inquiries from an aggressive CBS News and a daunting threat from John Kerry, a Democratic opponent with a bona fide war record in the jungles of Indochina, the then-president's disinformation machine went into action. In the end, John Kerry was politically wounded and CBS anchorman Dan Rather professionally destroyed. News organizations abandoned intensive scrutiny of Bush, and he squeaked through to another term.
Keyboard Kops: George W. affected a Bubba persona that the media generally bought, and that gained him slack for gaffes and incompetencies. But when it came to strategy and tactics, he actually was sly like a fox. He once confided to an adviser how naïve journalists are, and how easy to fool. His example: hide tactical information "in plain sight" for reporters to "find" and report as inside dope.
A Bush In Your Future? Notwithstanding George W. Bush's purported Texas isolation and his general silence since leaving Washington, the Bush family enterprise remains as viable as ever. Members of their circle work in the Obama administration, while his brother Jeb gears up for a possible national campaign of his own--raising the prospect of a third Bush in the White House. Meanwhile, through Decision Points, the upcoming George W. Bush presidential library/democracy "think tank", and the active role of his lieutenant Karl Rove in orchestrating a GOP comeback, they are already rewriting past history--and defining history yet to come.