New Yorker trashes Bush memoir, over and over again: ‘Was Bush this incurious all his life?’

By John Byrne
Thursday, November 25, 2010 9:25 EDT
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If it were a question of the George W. Bush maxim “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” The New Yorker‘s George Packer is against us.

In a sprawling, multi-thousand word review of Bush’s new memoir, Decision Points, Packer is generous with aquiline, laser-like criticism. He begins by predicting the book’s rapid demise (“Decision Points” will not endure) and concludes equally as sharp.

“During his years in office, two wars turned into needless disasters, and the freedom agenda created such deep cynicism around the world that the word itself was spoiled,” Packer writes. “In America, the gap between the rich few and the vast majority widened dramatically, contributing to a historic financial crisis and an ongoing recession; the poisoning of the atmosphere continued unabated; and the Constitution had less and less say over the exercise of executive power. Whatever the judgments of historians, these will remain foregone conclusions.”

Packer is quick to catch Bush’s lies — one of which he refers to as “historical revision.”

He writes, “Even the story of Bush’s admission to Harvard Business School, in early 1973, is an occasion for historical revision. Bush describes a dinner at a Houston restaurant with his father and his brother Jeb: ‘Dad and I were having a discussion about my future. Jeb blurted out, ‘George got into Harvard.’ After some thought, Dad said, ‘Son, you ought to seriously consider going. It would be a good way to broaden your horizons.’’ According to many accounts, including Bill Minutaglio’s well-regarded biography ‘First Son,’ the conversation took place in the Washington, D.C., study of George, Sr., after a thoroughly plastered George, Jr., had driven his car and a neighbor’s garbage can onto his parents’ driveway, staggered into the house, and challenged his disgusted father, ‘You wanna go mano a mano right here?’”

The reporter also says Bush admits part of his motivation for authorizing waterboarding — simulated drowning which most have described as torture — was revenge.

“By Bush’s own account, revenge was among his chief motives in sanctioning torture,” Packer writes.

Quoting Bush, he pens: “I had asked the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government to review the interrogation methods, and they had assured me they did not constitute torture.” The President had been told what he wanted to hear by loyal subordinates, but, his memoirs make clear, he did not consider the moral and practical consequences of authorizing what most people who were not senior legal officers in the Bush Administration would describe as torture.”

A quotation Packer draws from Bush’s book reveals the former president as similarly incurious.

“I called Condi from the secure phone in the limo,” Bush writes. “She told me there had been a third plane crash, this one into the Pentagon. I sat back in my seat and absorbed her words. My thoughts clarified: The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war. My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.”

Packer lays it on thick throughout his four page review, which is worth reading in full. Following are some of Packer’s zingers.

- There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened.

- In Bush’s telling, the non-decision decision is a constant feature of his Presidential policymaking.

- Very few of its four hundred and ninety-three pages are not self-serving.

- The rare moments of candor come at other people’s expense.

- What’s remarkable about “Decision Points” is how frequently and casually it leaves out facts, large and small, whose absence draws more attention than their inclusion would have.

- What he cannot explain is why he allowed Iraq to descend into a nightmare of violence, year after year, until, by 2006, millions of Iraqis were fleeing the country. Perhaps he didn’t know what was going on.

- “Only after the sectarian violence erupted in 2006 did it become clear that more security was needed before political progress could continue,” he writes. It’s a statement to make anyone who spent time in Iraq from 2003 onward laugh or cry.

- Was Bush this rigid and incurious all his life?

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