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
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue