Monday 19 March 2018

Bush's book: Charm? No Offensive? Yes

George Bush is busy trying to restore his reputation after his disastrous presidency, but he hasn't a hope, writes John Cooney

John Cooney

Indignant bloggers have been furiously posting suggestions to book-sellers on what to do with George Bush's presidential memoirs, which were published this week.

One wit proposed that Dubya's righteous tome, titled Decision Points, should be stocked in the crime section.

Another wrote: "Put it next to Hitler and Stalin, along with Blair's book. File under famous war criminals."

Two years after leaving the world stage to lead a quiet life at home with his wife Laura, Dubya is back.

His memoir will do nothing to dispel his reputation as the most despised politician in the Western world.

Ten years after becoming the 43rd president of the United States in a disputed ballot that left Democrats questioning his political legitimacy, Bush is peddling his apologia explaining the reasons why he invaded Iraq in order to correct what he says are contemporary misreadings.

As memories of his turbulent times fade, he is gifting posterity with a map to understand his true greatness in history.

Bush is currently in the middle of a charm offensive -- he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show -- and his memoir was serialised in 'The Times' of London.

However, his musings prove that he has lost none of his knack for stirring up controversy over his legacy.

He has created a furore from Baghdad to Timbuktu by revealing that he authorised the practice of waterboarding detainees which he stubbornly claims was not a form of torture, but a timely measure that saved London's Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf from a terrorist attack by Al-Qa'ida.

"All politicians are a bit strange -- in many ways, a bit misshapen," wrote Paddy Ashdown, the former British Liberal Democrat leader, in his memoirs, A Fortunate Life.

This unfortunate story of Bush shows he is the most misshapen US president ever.

One critic has observed that he is a man who would have been very happy had he remained co-owner of a baseball team, eating hot dogs and telling dirty jokes.

If he had hibernated in such blissful obscurity, the world would not have become such a dangerous place.

George Dubya is no John F Kennedy, nor a Ronald Reagan and certainly neither a Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama. Having recently read a biography of Harry Truman, my hunch is that Dubya wants to be a second Harry.

Truman left the presidency widely discredited but rose in public regard as a plain-speaking former president to become an American icon.

Significantly, volume one of Truman's two-part memoir was titled Years of Decision. This bears an uncanny resemblance to Decision Points.

Many Irish people will not buy this book on principle. But I would recommend they should if only to be reminded of the "Green Fool" role played by Bertie Ahern in ingratiating himself with Dubya and in compromising Ireland's neutrality at Shannon Airport.

It is at once essential reading, sometimes revealing and often frustrating. As one critic noted, it's amazing that Bush isn't even weirder than he is.

It portrays the Bush only Dubya sees. He reveals the day his mother showed him the foetus she had just miscarried when he was a teenager. We cannot blame that one on God. Rather on his sentimental bonding with Barbara.

Media attention has centred on his special relationship with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Blair-Bush bonding began in 2001 at Camp David. "There was no stuffiness about Tony and Cherie," he recalls.

"After dinner we decided to watch a movie," George chimes. "When they agreed on Meet the Parents, a comedy starring Robert de Niro and Ben Stiller, Laura and I knew the Bushes and Blairs would get along."

The fateful day after 9/11 in 2001, Bush's first call was to Blair. Their conversation clinched the closest friendship Bush formed with a foreign leader.

In the deluded mind of George "Washington" Bush, Tony was Winston Churchill, both reincarnated to join forces as twin moral crusaders in a wicked world.

Together, they bypassed the United Nations and embarked on their invasion of Iraq under the misbegotten banner of the War on Terror and mistaken intelligence that Saddam Hussein had hidden weapons of mass destruction.

Of Blair, Bush told the equally earthy Alastair Campbell: "Your man has got cojones (balls)."

But it wasn't all plain sailing. Later on, there was an unseemly row between Bush and Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, that nearly bust up the special relationship.

During Blair's 2003 state visit to England, First Lady Laura and Georgie Boy were Blairite house-guests.

Over dinner, Cherie -- a distinguished senior counsel in her own right -- turned adversarial and interrogated the Texan for his advocacy of the death penalty.

Stuck like glue to his electric chair, George defended his position.

Cherie renewed her verbal assault, but Bush overheard Euan, the Blairs' son, prompting his mum: "Give the man a break." She duly desisted.

In Decision Points, we are presented with a cosy picture of how Bush sees himself as a misunderstood but heroic figure.

Bush says he spent zero time watching television but devoted roughly one 10th of his waking hours in his eight years in the White House to reading history books.

In 2006, he brags that he read 95 books totalling 37,343 pages. This portrait of Bush the Bookworm will surely test readers' credibility.

Among works he read were biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain and Genghis Khan. This last one sounds authentic.

However, Bush reads history as a moral tale. History as black and white; "good" sheriffs against "bad" cowboys.

For instance, Abe Lincoln, who reluctantly started the Civil War with the bombing of Fort Sumter in South Carolina to prevent the South's secession and the break-up of the Union -- but who only later pragmatically added the emancipation proclamation of slaves to the North's war aims -- is lauded for his moral clarity and his defence of freedom in the face of tyranny.

As in Blair's recent memoir, A Journey, integral to Bush's Decision Points is his religious belief as a Christian fundamentalist.

Each year he reads the Bible from cover to cover. It was while he was out running, he says, that God got him off the booze. God has a lot to answer for.

Decision Points is published by Virgin Books

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