Book Punctures Myth That Bush Never Doubted Iraq Policies

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Monday, 28 Oct 2013 08:53 AM

By Elliot Jager

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"Days of Fire," a new book by White House reporter Peter Baker about the George W. Bush presidency, focuses heavily on the relationship between Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, describing Bush as sometimes profoundly depressed over failures in Iraq, The Economist reports.

Describing the book as "the best account yet of a failed presidency," the magazine reports that during his last days in the White House, Bush asked several historians for advice on writing his memoirs.

They were surprised first by his overall serenity, then by his defensiveness when it came to discussing Cheney.

Bush became despondent — almost clinically depressed — at times during the Iraq war, even responding numbly when given the good news that a senior al-Qaeda figure had been killed, Baker writes.

Baker depicts Bush as sometimes maddeningly passive, failing to press aides on specifics and policy alternatives. He could be obstinate about re-evaluating decisions in the face of new evidence, out of fear of being perceived as irresolute.

While publicly the president sounded certain of his course in Iraq, private doubts affected internal debate.

Baker writes:

"Bush was not one given to reflection, at least not out loud. Yet one day," in 2008, "he seemed in a rare introspective mood. Sitting in the Situation Room while waiting for another meeting to begin, the president looked at Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, who had succeeded Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and harked back to the critical days of 2003, before he launched the war that had become so problematic.

"'You know,' he recalled, 'when I made the decision on Iraq, I went around the room to everybody at that table, every principal. You in? Any doubts? Nothing from anybody.'

"For Bush, it was a rare moment of doubt. Was he ruing his own flawed judgment? Bitter that he had been led off track by advisers? Or both?"

Still, Baker portrays the former president as more pragmatic than critics credit him with.

"In the view of several officials," The Economist reports, "Bush's inner certainties were tempered by his biography. They see in him a former drinker's faith in redemption and second chances."

Baker shows an eight-year progression of mutual disillusionment, as Bush and Cheney "found their assumptions buffeted by reality, and reacted very differently."

By 2007, for example, Cheney was pushing for the United States to bomb Syria's nuclear reactor, while Bush was adamantly opposed. (The facility ultimately was destroyed by the Israelis.) They also fell out over Bush's refusal to pardon Cheney's top aide, Scooter Libby, who had been convicted of perjury.

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