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Russ Baker

Russ Baker

Posted: November 14, 2010 04:05 PM

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.

[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 422-23

W. told Mickey Herskowitz, then his ghostwriter, about what makes a successful leader. Prominent among them, the future president of the United States confided, was the benefit of starting a war. ... "He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," Herskowitz told me in our 2004 interview..."It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade . . . if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed, and I'm going to have a successful presidency.' "

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.

[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 399-401

The beauty of the religious right as a political bloc was that it provided a large pool of voters that often acted in unison.... Despite the Bush family's traditional aversion to its culture, Rove and the other strategists knew that they had to have that bloc.

In March 1987, after years of reading and vetting religion adviser Doug Wead's memos, W. finally met the influential evangelical. He quickly developed a close relationship with the man he came to call "Weadie."...One day, the two were sitting in W.'s office on Fourteenth Street in Washington, discussing strategies for approaching various evangelicals. "We're going through a list of the names of these religious leaders,"Wead told me in a 2006 interview, "and . . . W.'s not into details at all . . . His eyes glaze over in thirty seconds; you got to be right to the point, quick. We're going over these leaders and how his dad can win them over one by one, discussing different strategies. And he looks down the list and bing! He sees this guy's name, the guy with the cross. He says, tell me about him, tell me about this guy." The guy was Arthur Blessitt.... In fact, W. was playing dumb with Wead, because he already knew all about the fortuitously named Blessitt. He had met him in April 1984 when the itinerant minister had come to Midland on a crusade, while dragging a giant cross through America....
However, Wead had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn't be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, "spiritual counselor to presidents," would do perfectly. ...After W. began recounting the story of a private spiritual chat with Graham, the establishment's favorite minister admitted to one journalist that he didn't remember the encounter with Bush at all.

 

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