Virgin Books, £25, 512pp. £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Decision Points, By George W Bush

For the best summary of what made his ill-starred presidency tick, you must persevere almost to the end of this tome of breezy self-justification. George W Bush is reflecting on the final set of crises that crashed around his administration in the autumn of 2008. Russia has invaded and occupied Georgia, Hurricane Ike is battering his beloved Texas, America is fighting costly, seemingly interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the US financial system is imploding in the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. All in all, it was "one ugly way to end the presidency."

But then again, being the most powerful man in the world is not for the faint-hearted. You play the hand you're dealt, the author declares. "I didn't feel sorry for myself. I knew there would be tough days. Self-pity is a pathetic quality in a leader. It sends such demoralising signals to the team and the country." In any case, "the Good Lord wouldn't give a believer a burden he couldn't handle."

To even casual students of the 43rd president, the picture that emerges from Decision Points, Bush's attempt to write the history of his eight years in office before the professional historians do their worst, is familiar. He is a stubborn but basically cheerful man, not given to introspection and second guessing. He is convinced that, whatever happens, he is doing God's work. Along the way, you win some and you lose some.

And the self-portrait offers traits to admire. He is genuinely not given to self-pity. His folksiness, in small doses, can be engaging. Bush bears few grudges and has conspicously resisted the temptation to criticise either his predecessor or successor in the White House, even though they were of the opposite party. The villains of this piece are duplicitous foreigners: Yasser Arafat, Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac and of course, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and all the other bad guys in the war on terror.

Above all, Bush prides himself on his ability to make the tough calls. As the title of his memoir suggests, this is not a conventional autobiography. Instead he tells his story through the prism of 14 decisions, starting with the one when he turned 40 to stop drinking, through Afghanistan and Iraq, and ending with his acceptance, despite his dislike of government intervention, that in September 2008 there was no alternative to bailing out an undeserving Wall Street.

The real problem, however, lies not so much in the decisions themselves as in how they came about - and of this latter process readers will find little in this volume. Bush was a graduate of Harvard Business school, where he learnt about management, particularly "the importance of setting clear goals for an organisation, delegating tasks and holding people to account." On the first two scores, he succeeded too well. On the third, he failed resoundingly.

No one could ever doubt Bush's goals in the wake of 9/11, of protecting America, defeating terrorism and spreading democracy to the four corners of the earth. But having set them, he stayed above the fray. In this book you do not read of real arguments between him and his advisers.

In the case of toppling Saddam – the most momentous decision of all – one top State Department policy maker recently claimed there never was a real discussion of the pros and cons of invasion. Either ignorant or incurious, Bush seems not to have grasped, nor not to have asked about, the perils of ancient Sunni-Shia rivalries in the region, or the possibility that the biggest beneficiary of the US adventure might be Iran, a far more powerful adversary than Saddam ever was. Yet precisely that happened.

Bush the CEO signally failed to prevent repeated boardroom battles between Colin Powell, his Secretary of State, and the tandem of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and Dick Cheney, the most influential vice-president of modern times. The triumph of the latter sealed the primacy of military force over diplomacy in Bush's approach to the world. It brought about a weakening of the State Department that is only now being corrected.

Repeatedly, the former president claims to have been "blindsided," most notably over the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and over the gathering crisis in the banking system. "From the perch of the presidency," he writes of ructions in 2006 within the White House, "it was hard to judge whether the gripes were petty grievances or evidence of a serious problem." In business, a CEO with a similar record of being out of the loop would surely have been kicked from his perch long before.

Certainly, a president can err in the opposite direction – the cerebral and hyper-analytical Barack Obama may be a case in point. But it is undeniable that at crucial moments, Bush simply didn't do his homework, relying instead on gut instinct and instant judgement of people, even (as he famously put it to the journalist Bob Woodward) the guidance of "a higher father."

As for holding people accountable, two instances suffice: the "Heck of a job, Brownie" praise for Michael Brown, the hapless chief of the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina, and his refusal to sack Rumsfeld after Abu Ghraib. Indeed, Bush's clinging on to to his unpopular Defence Secretary until 8 November 2006 may have cost the Republicans control of Congress in the mid-term election the previous day.

Where Decision Points breaks unsuspected ground is over Bush's relationship not with a higher father, but with his biological one. In many respects he is his mother's boy. "I have a feisty and irreverent streak courtesy of Barbara Bush," he writes – even if most of us remember mainly the cockiness and the smirk. There has been much pop-psychologising over his supposed rivalry with the first president Bush, including a suggestion that the son's decision to "take out Saddam" was to prove his wimpish father wrong for not doing so in the 1991 Gulf war.

But throughout the book, "Son" has nothing but tender words for "Dad", while in a private chat during the family's Christmas gathering in 2002, Bush senior tells Bush junior that "if the man won't comply [with the UN], you have no choice" but to go to war. We also learn, incidentally, that the younger Bush acquired his trademark taste for giving people nicknames not from his mother, but his father.

Now Iraq has set the Bush presidential reputations on very different trajectories. The father's stock is rising. He is regarded increasingly as a wise international statesman who knew how to build alliances, and when to stop. "Dubya", however, found it hard to do either. He is generally regarded as a failure in the White House. The 43rd president professes to have no fear of history, which is just as well. Despite the best efforts of Decision Points, its verdict is unlikely to be kind.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little