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Of course, the one issue that will define this president when the long view of history looks back at his administration is Bush’s response to Islamic terror. Bush carefully describes the multi-faceted issues that he had to deal with while crafting America’s strategy and how he dealt with the great decisions: balancing civil liberties versus rooting out domestic terror cells; how to deal with enemy combatants; rooting out the Taliban in Afghanistan; and ensuring that Saddam Hussein was neutralized. In some cases, politics came into play, but not often. Decision Points makes it clear that Bush would give political realities considerable weight when it came to domestic issues, but he was loath to compromise when it came to fulfilling his oath to protect and defend America. He would err on the side of caution when it came to protecting the nation and its citizens and if that provided ammunition to opponents in Congress and the media, he could care less. He would rather be criticized for doing too much than for his fellow Americans to suffer because he did too little.
This attitude, more than any other, inflamed Bush’s enemies on the Left. Most politicians share a particular characteristic with young children: they yearn to be noticed. Yet, when it came to the war on terror, George W. Bush rarely bothered to take his opponents’ concerns into account. He duly noted them, explained why they were wrong and moved steadily on. His focus was on protecting the nation, protecting our troops and minimizing the threat of terrorism – period. In his way, Bush was as single-minded about pursuing a goal as any president in history. That focus allowed his opponents to claim that Bush was either dangerously obsessed, or – more often – too dim to grasp the important issues they were raising.
There are villains and heroes aplenty in the tale. Yasser Arafat’s naked duplicity clearly disgusted Bush, while Tony Blair’s loyalty inspired him. He bemoaned the weakness of will of the many American politicians who wanted to abandon a fight that the president had warned would be long and hard at the outset, but the strength of others, like Senator Joe Lieberman, shines through. From the confusion of the attacks on 9/11, to taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan, through the decision to wage war in Iraq, Bush’s recounting of his role in the war on terror is the most fascinating part of Decision Points. One particular decision point — implementing what is known as “the surge” deserves special attention.
From the beginning of the war in Iraq, Bush and his advisors worried about having too many Americans involved in the conflict. They were concerned that an overwhelming American force would appear like an army of occupation to Iraqis and the Muslim world, rather than an army of liberation. Thus, the initial invasion force was less than half of that which invaded Kuwait during the first Gulf War. Bush’s commander in Iraq, General George Casey, along with many advisors, stuck to the plan. They believed that a minimal American presence was essential if Iraqis were to establish self-governance. For a while, that strategy worked. But the situation began to deteriorate, and when the Golden Mosque of Samarra was bombed in February 2006, what had been a dangerous situation quickly dissolved into chaos. Faced with the prospect of complete failure, the president had to make what was probably the toughest decision point of his life:
General Casey – like General Abizaid and Don Rumsfeld – was convinced that our troop presence created a sense of occupation, which inflamed violence and fueled the insurgency. For two and a half years, I had supported the strategy of withdrawing our forces as the Iraqis stepped forward. But in the months after the Samarra bombing, I had started to question whether our approach matched the reality on the ground. The sectarian violence had not erupted because our footprint was too big. It had happened because al-Qaeda had provoked it. And with the Iraqis struggling to stand up, it didn’t seem possible for us to stand down.
Bush ultimately promoted the Army’s premier counterinsurgency expert, General David Petraeus to take charge in Iraq. He gave him more troops, not less, ignoring both conventional wisdom and political pressure. The president’s opponents, including the current occupant of the White House, howled that Bush was pursuing a dangerous, disastrous policy. The president’s opponents were wrong. The surge in troops and the leadership of General Petraeus culminated in a stunning victory, one that members of all parties now acknowledge. The free people of Iraq, if no one else, recognize the debt of gratitude that they owe to America and its stalwart men and women in uniform.
Decision Points is full of such stories. Each gives us a desperately needed glimpse of the world of governance that extends beyond politics and punditry. It’s a book that should be required reading for everyone, regardless of political persuasion. For anyone who doesn’t understand how decisions are made shouldn’t criticize the decisions that are made. In George W. Bush, we had a leader who may not have always made the right decision, but there should be no doubt that he made each decision for the right reasons.
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