For my wife and me, vacation planning includes selecting books to read. In order to limit the luggage weight (we are yet not Kindle people), we try to find books of mutual interest. Two that we agreed upon were the memoirs of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Together, it was a commitment of 1,150 pages, but we were up to the challenge.
Several friends had recommended GWB’s book, yet it was still a tough decision to select it. I was and still am very much a Bush man, but I generally stay away from memoirs. I prefer to read biographies with the detached analysis of a third party. Since the administrations of Messrs. Bush and Blair overlapped in time, and because I have a deep respect for Blair as a stand-up gentleman, I felt pairing the two would be fascinating. I also wanted to read Blair’s perception of the Bush years’ major issues, such as the war on terror.
At 477 pages and the shorter of the two, Bush came up to bat first. My impression of his book is that it is eminently readable, well-organized and well-written – not well-written in the manner of a Philip Roth novel, but clear, concise and communicative. After all, that’s what it was written to do – communicate.
My wife actually read it first, and on more than one occasion, stated "If the Bush haters only read this book, they would …" I rolled my eyes, knowing that the Left's irrational hostility towards GWB could never be assuaged. However, if you are a Bush-lover or an independent thinker, you gain the true sense of the man by reading the book. He is humble, reverent and respectful. He identifies clearly what he would like to have redone, and where he thinks he could have done better. As Tony Blair wrote in his book, you finish knowing that Mr. Bush’s efforts as President were honest and what he believed were in the best interests of the country.
I was most proud of the positions that Bush took on stem cell research and the war on terror. Bush’s stance on the use of stem cells was extremely well thought-out and based on established science. He did not neglect the effects of the scenario presented by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. I consider myself scientifically literate, having read (among others) Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time as well as the books of Dr. Richard Feynman, and nobody will ever convince me that Bush's decision was not thoroughly and scientifically derived. Of course, his assumptions – and the resulting policy – were found to be accurate in 2008.
The most significant flaw in Mr. Bush's policies related to the Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) plan. I fully endorsed the policy at the time and still do. Nowadays, offering someone medical insurance without prescription drug coverage is akin to giving someone transportation via horse-drawn carriage. The plan should have never included the donut hole that not only allowed Democrats to criticize the plan, but then allowed them to return later as heroes to close it. It should also have been paid for by an increase in Medicare tax rates. It may be less costly than originally anticipated, but it is still not paid for.
After 9/11, Bush immediately understood the threat of international terrorism, and correctly realized the scope and depth of the problem. There is very little that I would have changed on this critical issue during his presidency, a sentiment affirmed by Mr. Blair who, to his credit, came to the exact same conclusions as President Bush. Blair saw clearly the challenges that lay ahead, as well as what needed to be done. He refers to his commitment to “stand shoulder to shoulder" with the Americans in the struggle against Islamic terrorism, and he kept that commitment for the entire duration of his leadership.
Though I can speak highly of Mr. Blair, I cannot do the same for his book. It was not only 200 pages longer than the Bush memoir, but also much denser in words per page. If ever a book needed editing, it was this one, and the book was a perfect example of why I usually avoid these types of publications. Mr. Blair makes clear that he felt a kinship with Bill Clinton and it shows it in his writing. Though I avoided suffering through the 1,008 pages of Mr. Clinton’s self-indulgence, it was difficult to remain unscathed by Mr. Blair’s excessive rambling.
I focused on the portions of the book where Blair reminisces about 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; however, there was another part that was particularly revealing. Blair was PM when he convinced his pal, President Clinton, to get involved in the Balkans, despite the fact that America clearly felt that the Europeans should handle the issue. After all, it was in their own back yard, and these were minor countries at war – not a major nation-state. But Blair made it clear that he expected no help from the remainder of Europe and turned to the U.S., not unlike Churchill in 1940. It is instructive for us all to understand that in today’s world, unless America comes forth to take action against evil, no action will be taken at all. It was also fascinating to read of Mr. Blair's love for America. In some ways, he favors America over his own country because of the ability of someone to rise from an inglorious beginning and yet still reach the pinnacle of our country.
Mr. Blair endorses what Mr. Bush says about the most important issue of our time. He validates the decisions that were made and the justification for his actions, including Iraq. Blair clarifies the moral courage and the serenity with which GWB made his decisions. Quite often, they worked through those decisions in unison.
We must be grateful that a man of Blair’s stature was leading our closest ally during this difficult time. If he were similar to Jacques Chirac of France or Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, the world would be a lot different today. Despite Mr. Blair’s verbosity, the pairing of the two memoirs was ultimately a rewarding experience.