George W. Bush is sitting on a hotel sofa in front of a south-facing window on a sunny November morning. His presidential memoir, "Decision Points," is No. 1 on amazon.com and is expected to be No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. "I've got a very comfortable life," he says.
"Decision Points," as the title suggests, does not purport to be the full story of Bush's life or his administration. It "provides data points for future historians."
Contrary to stereotype, Bush admits some serious errors up front. He failed to see the "house of cards" in the financial sector that led to the crisis of September 2008.
He should have addressed the immigration issues rather than the Social Security issue when he had political capital from his 2004 re-election victory. He should have stopped in Baton Rouge, La., or returned to Washington rather than fly over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and he should have deployed active-duty troops earlier to keep order.
Against this list, he also takes time to spotlight accomplishments that neither his supporters nor critics have been talking much about. He argues that his decision to fund experiments only using embryonic stem cells obtained from existing lines has been vindicated by advances in research on adult and other non-embryonic stem cells.
His Millennial Challenge foreign aid reform encouraging free market development is a clear advance over failed aid policies. And his PEPFAR program combating AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
But some significant material is left out. An early chapter on Iraq ends with the blunder (as Bush admits) of the "mission accomplished" banner in May 2003; a later chapter recounts how he decided we were losing there in spring 2006. What about the three years in between?
The main goal, he writes, was progress in holding elections, which occurred, and that he thought the "light footprint" strategy could succeed. When casualties kept rising, he says, "At first you hope it's a spike, then it's a trend." He decided it had failed in spring 2006.
In the meantime, he writes that he wanted to avoid LBJ-style "micromanaging" and, although he notes he read Eliot Cohen's book "Supreme Command," he apparently didn't follow its recommendation of continual and sometimes acrimonious interaction between commanders in chief and combat generals.