The day I became president – but George W Bush still got his way on invading Iraq

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The new presidential Library in Dallas  offers an interactive experience of life in the Oval Office. David Usborne takes the hotseat

I invaded Iraq today. I also made an awful hash of the 2008 financial crisis. How to explain myself? First of all, when I took my hot seat in the Decision Points Theatre at the George W Bush Library here in Dallas there were 23 other guests reliving the trickiest dilemmas of the 43rd President. We acted by majority vote; I got steamrolled. And the pressure! A ticking clock... Four minutes to choose. Welcome to the set of Who Wants to be a Tony Blair?

There is no calling a friend, but information on the topic at hand you get plenty of, some of it even before you reach Decision Points, the niftiest of several interactive exhibits at the new museum.

I am among the initial wave of guests (let’s not call it a surge) pushing through the doors on the first day that it is open to the public. We are all excited, not least the schoolchildren who are just ahead with a special guide. Yes, Dubya himself has showed up to take them round. Inside a cacophony awaits. “You want to be President for a day, do you?’ a chirpy guide inquires. “The Oval Office is this way”. (It’s convincing, even if a construction site outside doesn’t quite conjure the Rose Garden.)

A repeating video in one alcove shows Mr Bush recalling that Mr Blair was his first guest at Camp David. It’s that “special relationship” thing again. From another corner comes Condoleezza Rice, opining that America escaped other attacks after 9/11 because of the “difficult decisions” made by President Bush. She means Iraq and Afghanistan, too.

Of course the highlight is the Decision Points Theatre. It’s why we are here. I have already seen the  loudspeaker Mr Bush used to rally America at Ground Zero days after 9/11. I was there. But here at my touch-screen monitor I have the chance to rewrite history. I am in a commander-in-chief simulator and briefly I have the world’s fate in my hands. Or the 24 of us do. For the next four minutes we will be showered with competing intelligence and advice, as he was.

First, we must collectively choose which of Mr Bush’s favourite four crises we want to tackle: what to do about Saddam Hussein, how to respond to the financial meltdown, whether to order the Iraqi surge or how to handle Hurricane Katrina. We go for Saddam.  

The countdown begins. We must decide whether to “lead an international coalition” to topple Saddam, seek a new UN resolution, or take no action. The gameshow music is interrupted only by the occasional burst of breaking news: Saddam has tested a missile! It flies beyond the 93-mile UN limit!

And so to our advisers, who come in the form of more tabs on my screen. Let’s try “Iraqi academic”. (Uh-oh, you know what’s coming.) “The Iraqi people will support the removal of Saddam Hussein,” declares a man of very serious mien, who is really just an actor. 

Let’s try the CIA; surely they will be more measured. “Intelligence suggests that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. And don’t forget during the Gulf War we discovered that Saddam was much further along in developing nuclear weapons than anyone knew.” This is not going well. We must each move a cursor from “Agree” to “Disagree” as each so-called expert speaks. Moving graph lines on the main screen ahead show which way the crowd is leaning. So I tried, honestly. I barged my cursor to disagree when the official from the Pentagon told me that not invading now would “make America look weak”. I did the same when some alleged UN person said that seeking more resolutions that Saddam would only ignore would ruin the world body’s credibility.

Time’s up, vote now!  The figure of Andy Card appears on the main screen, Bush’s Chief of Staff from 2001 to 2006. We have collectively made our choice. We were leading a coalition. Presumably of the willing, but count me out of that.

But I am not asking for my money back. This was not really about rewriting history but rather corroborating it in Mr Bush’s favour. Those folk who queued with me to be the first inside his post-presidency shrine were never going to press the “take no action” tab. 

Even if there were any waverers, a certain amount of brainwashing was administered before any of us even reached the Decision Points game. We had to navigate the large column, for instance, spelling out the “Bush Doctrine”. “Take the fight to the Enemy,” it said blandly. “Advance Freedom.”

Also helping to move the needle was the “Defending Freedom Table”. Its entire surface is a touch-screen playground designed to walk you through everything Mr Bush faced in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. Videos and photographs swarm the surface when prompted, like the image of a bearded, Satanic Saddam shortly after he is dragged from his underground bunker. Play on this table for long enough and you will learn how things were in Iraq and Afghanistan by the time Mr Bush ended his second term. In short, better.

So, the game show was a fix. But when I returned for a second time, the chosen topic was the financial meltdown. Presumably, my fellow players would do as Mr Bush did – enact a taxpayer-funded bailout of the big banks. But before I know it I am party to another policy disaster: we decide to let the banks fail. Damn, if I wasn’t outvoted again.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee