WASHINGTON -- My agents report that President George W. Bush even now is contemplating memoirs. When it comes to writing memoirs, I humbly submit that even a commander in chief should take counsel from an editor-in-chief, especially if the editor-in-chief is an admirer.
As the retiring president heads back to Texas, he might bear in mind that his presidency was unusually turbulent. His memoirs will be the record of a president whose time in office began and ended with two stupendous crises that only Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan experienced in modern times, though the chronological orders of their crises were more orderly. They moved from financial crisis to geopolitical crisis. Mr. Bush's first crisis came in his first year, with 9/11 -- a contemporary Pearl Harbor more treacherous than the first Pearl Harbor. His second came in his last year, the subprime mortgage day of reckoning -- the credit freeze -- ultimately the worst financial crisis in a century.
In recent interviews, Mr. Bush has sounded glum. As an editor, I advise him to review the facts and take heart. Both of his crises originated in his predecessor's administration. His memoirs must make that clear. In fact, it is his duty to set the record straight. Gentleman that he is, Mr. Bush is going to have to find the right tone in laying out that fact. He must not appear to be defensive or to be scapegoating. After all, he arrived at the White House after America's foolish holiday from history. It is perfectly appropriate that in the holiday's aftermath, its revelers be held accountable.
There is not much he can say about the subprime reckoning except that his 2002 budget was critical of the excesses of Fannie and Freddie. In 2003, his secretary of treasury was equally critical and called for regulation, to which Rep. Barney Frank retorted, "I do not think we are facing any kind of a crisis."
On the other hand, the 43rd president should have a lot to say about his response to 9/11, the war on terror, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Those were the major undertakings of his administration, but given his apparent glum humor, I am not sure he will address those matters with the requisite confidence. Early this month, he told ABC News that his "biggest regret" as president was how he handled intelligence estimates of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush, the post-9/11 world was a world that demanded from you "action this day," and you passed the test.