Jeremy's Reviews > Decision Points

Decision Points by George W. Bush
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Jan 31, 2011

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Love him or hate him, this book is worth reading.

Bush seems to have been vindicated in several areas that were controversial during his presidency, especially stem cell research and the surge in Iraq. There are other areas for which he takes responsibility, including public perception of the Katrina response and the failure of immigration reform. He seems to have done some honest soul searching for things he could have done differently if he had them to do over again. He does a lot more explaining than justifying, meaning he sticks to his guns when he thinks he’s right and admits failure when he thinks he wasn’t.

This book is extremely serious at times, but also has some solidly humorous bits and interesting anecdotes. Apparently when Vlad Putin was showing off his dog to W, he said that his dog was bigger, stronger, and faster than W’s dog Barney. When W told this story to Prime Minister Harper of Canada, Mr. Harper said, “You’re lucky he only showed you his dog.”

I was none too impressed with the chapter on the financial crisis. It was quite a disappointment that after being willing to take on something as unpopular as Social Security reform he would turn around and cave to legacy pressures by bailing out the banks and auto companies. It’s clear he just didn’t want the house of cards to fall on his watch. He kicked the can down the road and he knew it.

As an aside, I love how easy it is for people to obfuscate when talking about economics. Let’s take the sentences below for example. I’m going to replace the words purchasing equity with giving money, and the world capital with money, in order to demonstrate the utter tautology of the message:

“Purchasing equity would inject capital – the lifeblood of finance – directly into the undercapitalized banking system. That would reduce the risk of sudden failure and free up more money for banks to lend.”

“Giving money would inject money – the lifeblood of finance – directly into the under-moneyed banking system. That would reduce the risk of sudden failure and free up more money for banks to lend.”

See? Had he not used all the fancy jargon, you might not have realized how difficult it is to understand that if you give banks money, they will have more money. Never mind where the money is coming from or if there are any better uses for it. Banks need money, see? Or else… they wont have money.


In March 2002… the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) mailed a letter notifying a Florida flight school that it had granted student visas to Mohamed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi. The person opening the letter must have been shocked. Those were the two pilots who had flown airplanes into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

That is the nature of the presidency. Perceptions are shaped by the clarity of hindsight. In the moment of decision, you don’t have that advantage.

After the Cold War, the United States gave up on Afghanistan. The result was chaos, civil war, the Taliban takeover, sanctuary for al Qaeda, and the nightmare of 9/11. To forget that lesson would be a dreadful mistake.

“The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world… Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction… Saddam will strike again at his neighbors. He will make war on his own people. And mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them.” Bill Clinton (1998)

The Middle East was the center of a global ideological struggle. On one side were decent people who wanted to live in dignity and peace. On the other were extremists who sought to impose their radical views through violence and intimidation.

Whenever I heard someone claim that we had rushed to war, I thought back to this period. It had been more than a decade since the Gulf War resolutions had demanded that Saddam disarm, over four years since he had kicked out the weapons inspectors, six months since I had issued my ultimatum at the UN, four months since Resolution 1441 had given Saddam his “final opportunity,” and three months past the deadline to fully disclose his WMD. Diplomacy did not feel rushed. It felt like it was taking forever.

President Shuster [of Slovakia] had tears in his eyes as he described his nation’s pride in helping liberate Iraq. I kept that moment in mind when I heard critics allege that America acted unilaterally. The false charge denigrated our allies and pissed me off.

If I wanted to mislead the country into war, why would I pick an allegation that was certain to be disproven [sic] publicly shortly after we invaded the country?... Nobody was lying. We were all wrong.

By the time I left office, fourth- and eight-grade math scores had reached their highest levels in history. So had fourth-grade reading scores. Hispanic and African American students set new records in multiple categories. The gap had narrowed in exactly the way we wanted: All students improved, but minority students improved the most.

Social Security’s return [is] 1.2 percent.

Social Security was especially unfair to African Americans. Because their life expectancy was shorter, black workers who spent a lifetime paying into Social Security received an average of $21,000 less in benefits than whites of comparable income levels.

In the five years since I proposed reform, the Social Security crisis has grown more acute. The projected bankruptcy date has moved from 2042 to 2037. The shortfall in Social Security – the cost of fixing the problem – has grown more than $2 trillion since I raised the issue in 2005. That is more than we spent on the war in Iraq, Medicare modernization, and the Trouble Asset Relief Program combined. For anyone concerned about the deficits facing future generations, the failure to reform Social Security ranks among the most expensive missed opportunities of modern times.

According to one study, the benefits of trade are fort times more effective in reducing poverty than foreign aid. When I took office, America had free trade agreements in place with three countries… By the time I left, we had agreements with seventeen.

“For us, the most important thing is, let [Obama] be as good a friend of Africa as President Bush has been.” President Kikwete of Tanzania

“I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis… I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.” Cindy Sheehan (2004), founder of Code Pink

If anything, the consequences of defeat in Iraq would be even worse than in Vietnam. We would leave al Qaeda with a safe haven in a country with vast oil reserves. We would embolden a hostile Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. We would shatter the hopes of people taking risks for freedom across the Middle East. Ultimately, our enemies could use their sanctuary to attack our homeland.

“This war is lost, the surge is not accomplishing anything.” Harry Reid (2007)

Critics charged that the freedom agenda was a way for America to impose our values on others. But freedom is not an American value; it is a universal value. Freedom cannot be imposed; it must be chosen. And when people are given the choice, they choose freedom.

“I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.” Walid Jumblatt, Lebanese political leader

“I read the Bible, but I don’t trust what it says.” President Jiang Zemin of China

The unemployment rate… averaged 5.3 percent during my presidency, lower than the averages of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
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Reading Progress

January 31, 2011 – Started Reading
January 31, 2011 – Shelved
February 9, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Toe (new)

Toe I love the word-replacement game. It highlights the absurdity of some arguments in a novel way. You should do that more often.

message 2: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Adleta Jeremy, you're reviews are always thoughtful and full of keen insight into what is behind the words that are on the page! I feel that you take a scapel to every book you read and are able to get past the fatty outer layer to the meat that is hidden in the author's rhetoric. Another excellent review! Well done, Sir!

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