The real Bush?

Published : Feb 29, 2008 00:00 IST

The author paints George W. Bush in appealing colours even at the price of his own credibility.

GEORGE W. BUSH is a lame duck President whose popularity ratings are on the decline as failures in domestic and foreign policies mount up. Like him, the author, Robert Draper, is a Texan; a national correspondent for GQ magazine. Bush gave him as many as five sessions of interviews.

As Bob Woodwards books show, Bush gives his time only to people who write in his praise. If Draper could, besides, interview Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Karl Rove it was because Bush gave him a chit of approval; as he had done to Woodward.

Draper writes Lets punch back, Bush said when his aides discussed with him how to handle the release of Bob Woodwards third Bush-related book, State of Denial. Woodwards first of the three, the 9/11-related Bush at War, had been endorsed so enthusiastically by the White House that Karen Hughes instructed Rumsfeld to sit for interviews with The Washington Post reporter, Woodwards second release, Plan of Attack, was slightly less flattering, but still relied so heavily on the vantage points of Bush and other key officials that the White House saw no choice but to embrace it, even going so far as to recommend it to readers on the Bush campaigns website.

But, for State of Denial, the White House punched back, as ordered. Woodward was denounced.

Draper could not have failed to learn the lesson. But while Woodward analysed decision-making, garnishing the account with the tittle-tattle so common in American books, Drapers emphasis is on tittle-tattle and on praise, while covering the flanks with mention of his subjects mistakes.

Draper professes to tell the story of the Bush White House from the inside with a special emphasis on how the personality of a strong-willed Bush shaped the disastrous politics. Every page has anecdotes, dialogues and scenes. To what purpose? You cant possibly figure out the history of the Bush presidency until Im dead. Bush confidently told the author only to ask What is the purpose of this book?

It is impossible to paint his character in altogether flattering terms. Draper renders the next best help. This pen portrait shows Drapers style of approach. As a leader, Bush himself remained a curious case though not among his subordinates, who, with near-unanimity, revered the man down to his gristle. They were conscious, of course, that not everyone shared their admiration, and it pained many of them that their boss finest qualities went somehow unbeheld.

President George W.

And all those qualities were, in fact, there to be seen. Yet, they could also be viewed somewhat less glowingly: the quickness as brusque impatience, the plain speech as intellectual laziness, the strategic vision as disrespect for the process, the boldness as recklessness, the strength as unreflective self-certainty. Neither vantage point was entirely wrong or entirely right. As was the case with Clinton, Bush 41, Reagan, Carter, and perhaps all other Presidents, Bushs virtues and his vices were one and the same.

Bracket him with others to prove that he is no worse: And he was not quite so simple, despite his professed contentedness to be regarded as such. Over time, some of Bushs detractors would see this for themselves, in some close setting that made it impossible for them to dispute. And so okay, he wasnt at all dumb was clearly in charge, clearly up on things, didnt defer to Cheney or Rove, had a way of getting at the heart of the matter . While over the same time frame, a very few of his otherwise admiring lieutenants would quietly descend into reassessment. Wondering: Was a man really all that secure with himself if he felt compelled to assert, over and over, that he never wavered, never lost a wink of sleep, and harboured no regrets? What about his compulsive optimism and was it, in the end worth the sacrifice of credibility?

Bushs certitude seems to have infected his biographer. Did he expect Bushs subordinates to say anything of him that did not express reverence?

He has presided over an administration riven by strife. After 9/11, Draper would have us believe, Bushs tutors Cheney and Rice, now stood back. He didnt need their direction anymore. This is the purpose of the book. To paint Bush in appealing colours even at the price of the authors credibility. Bush likes simplicity and detests nuances: What the hell does that mean? Ignorant, he revels in certitude.

We are invited to believe that Bush was in command but the narrative does not support the assertion. Bush hosted his combatant commanders annually in the Cabinet Room, but never to discuss specific strategy. He had farmed that dialogue out to Rumsfeld, who in turn all but shut out the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] from war policy. Now things were changing. Rumsfeld was at the meeting but so was his successor, Robert Gates. They sat on either side of Bush, facing the chiefs. For the next ninety minutes, the President did something he had never done before: He grilled the military commanders. Look, I want to win, he told them. If we have a chance to win this, I want to win. I dont want to minimize our humiliation or our losses. Because I think its just too important. And I need to know from you how to do it.

The chiefs argued that the war could not be won militarily. Sensitive to the suggestion that the current quagmire bespoke a diplomatic failure, Condi Rice retorted, But we cant win this thing without military assistance,

We have seen Tony Blair strive for posts after retirement. What will, Bush, his mentor, do? Im gonna build a fantastic Freedom Institute, says Bush. It would keep him in the game the author remarks. Far more than he realises, his book exposes Bush as an arrogant incompetent with scarcely any redeeming qualities.

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