Decision Points is a book I have put off reading for several years but finally got around to. I mainly put it off because I have essentially avoided reading any histories of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as they hit a little close to home for me. I finally changed my mind because I decided enough time has passed. Don’t get me wrong, I was not angry about the wars, I fought in Iraq in 2003-2004 with the Big Red One, at best I am ambivalent. That is a combination of the military historian and the veteran in me. I decided to read Bush’s memoir because I was curious to hear his explanation for the decisions he made.
The book itself is 477 pages of text divided into 14 topical chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter focuses on a specific issue and the decision the president made regarding that issue. Only five of the fourteen chapters deal specifically with the war on terror. The rest cover such topics as education reform, the stem cell debate, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
Regardless of what you think about Bush’s presidency, and there are a lot of people out there who harbor dislike if not hatred for the man, he presents the process and logic behind the decisions he made during presidency in a very straightforward manner in the book. That being said and realizing that there is always some manner of self-justification to be found in a memoir, this is worth reading.
I will focus the review on his logic for the wars and what I think of it. That necessarily means that this is not an unbiased review. I find his logic for the reaction to 9/11 and the reasons for going to war in Afghanistan unassailable. I felt at the time and still do that going into Afghanistan was the right thing to do. He is absolutely correct that the attacks on 9/11 could not go unanswered. He is equally correct that the only way to ensure the security of the US was to go after Al Qaeda where they were and that was Afghanistan where they were given safe refuge by the Taliban.
As to what we did in Afghanistan after the Taliban were toppled, there I have some mixed feelings. Personally, I think that historically nation building is an effort doomed to failure from the outset if the people of the nation being built are not convinced that they were defeated or that at least thought they were liberated. I am not certain that holds true for Afghanistan. The Taliban were toppled but it is certain the people of Afghanistan were not defeated nor is it clear they thought he toppling of the Taliban was a liberaton. There are so many contradictions within afghan society that I believe nation-building is doomed to long run failure. That is clear from the past 15 years although the continuation of American efforts there past Bush’s presidency is not his responsibility.
Where I tend to disagree with him is on the probity of invading Iraq in 2003. Bush says in the book as he said then that all intelligence pointed to Iraq having an active WMD program. I have no reason to doubt that intelligence nor do I believe the president deliberately lied to the American people. My issue with the invasion of Iraq at the time and since is that was and is a strategic distraction in the war on terror that cost lives and treasure to no good result. I suppose you could argue that absent the invasion Kaddafi in Libya would not have come clean but I am not 100% certain that is true.
The book is very well-written and the f9ormer president makes it very clear that he takes full responsibility for the decisions he makes and has no regrets. Some will read this and have their beliefs in Bush confirmed and some may change their minds. Either way, this is a very illuminating book that is well worth reading.