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A sanitized president

A sanitized president
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First Published: Thu, Dec 02 2010. 08 08 PM IST

Methodical: There are no potshots, name-calling or jibes at opponents.
Methodical: There are no potshots, name-calling or jibes at opponents.
Updated: Thu, Dec 02 2010. 08 08 PM IST
Decision Points | George Bush
As any American school child will tell you, George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the US, a one time alcoholic-turned-teetotaller who found God and his calling by running for the presidency of the world’s most powerful nation. Under his tenure, the world witnessed two wars—one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan—and saw a global transformation in security policies and immigration norms. A world before and after Bush was never to be the same again, and as Bush himself writes in the end, a touch smugly, he’s happy he won’t be around when history delivers the verdict on his presidency.
Methodical: There are no potshots, name-calling or jibes at opponents.
In giving us the story of his life in Decision Points, Bush is acutely aware that the reader is likely to be less intrigued by a straightforward chronology than a peek into what prompted him to do much of what he did. For that reason, he has cleverly sectioned the chapters around “decision points” allowing him to lay bare his rationale for Afghanistan, stem cell research, Katrina, and Iraq, while skipping over the nuclear pact with India, Dick Cheney’s contentious connection to oil money, and his unsound environmental policies. Unfortunately, Bush, doing what he sometimes rarely did in person, sticks to the script. His arguments, not always sound or convincing, are methodical and plodding. The overall effect is of a wayward college student trying to convince a sceptical admissions board of his worthiness. Bush in person, live and unscripted, was given to such wonderful buffoonery that there was rarely a dull moment during his presidency (tellingly he struggled in high school English). Here, filtered through the heavy hand of a cautious editor, his prose sinks, weighed down by mundane details which, even though presidential in scope, fail to enchant.
There are no potshots, name-calling or wicked jibes at opponents. This is the kind of clean, smear-free campaigning that would have had Karl Rove in a tizzy (described incidentally as a lovable mad scientist—“intellectual, funny, and overflowing with energy and ideas”). In Bush’s memoirs, it’s quickly apparent that God, and his parents, get top billing, followed by his family, his cabinet and a host of international leaders that he considers “good friends” and seem largely picked by who supported the Iraq war. Little wonder than former UK prime minister Tony Blair is his best friend, followed by former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and the Saudi Arabian royal family (any mention of oil is conveniently missing). Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, France’s Jacques Chirac, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the UN are not. When Bush gets snippy, the punches are tempered. The UN is described as cumbersome and irrelevant, The New York Times in general terms of amazement (because they would place journalistic scoops over national security), Al Gore as stiff and aloof. Even after Schroder’s justice minister compares him to Hitler, Bush is restrained in reaction. “Once the trust was violated, it was hard to have a constructive relationship again,” he says a bit woefully.
The worst moment of his presidency is when he is accused of not caring about the plight of black people during the Hurricane Katrina disaster response. His proudest, little surprise, is the capture of Saddam Hussein. Amazingly then, Bush spends little time describing Saddam’s capture, his euphoria or what followed during his hanging. He is similarly reticent about providing a convincing explanation about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD). “In retrospect, of course, we all should have pushed harder on the intelligence and revisited our assumptions,” he writes, almost as if this were revelatory. China and Pakistan, both contentious relationships, are glossed over, described as merely “complex” and then brushed under the rug. The most revealing chapter is strangely also his least trumpeted achievement in America—at a time when the US was struggling with financial burden, Bush announced a $15 billion (around Rs68,400 crore) aid package for fighting AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
By the end, a Bush hater will find much to reinforce their cause, but perhaps also soften their barbs. For all his fumbling disasters, Bush did manage to strengthen security and bring good to many parts of the world. The ubiquitous names that became synonymous with his tenure—Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, jihad—were around much before Bush brought them to the forefront, and for that he cannot be blamed. It’s likely then that only die-hard Bush fans or those morbidly curious about his time in office, will pick up this hefty tome. Others who’ve received it as a gift will be happy to know that it doubles as a nifty doorstop.
Nayantara Kilachand is the founder of Mumbaiboss.com
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Dec 02 2010. 08 08 PM IST