Monday, September 24, 2007

Bush Is "Substantial Politician...Nobody's Pawn"

Some interesting insights into President Bush, behind his own jokes and big talk, can be gleamed from a review in UK Observer of a new volume on Bush by Robert Draper, which also quotes Bush talking about what he will post-White House :

'I'm gonna build a fantastic Freedom Institute ... I want a place where young leaders: you know, the former Prime Minister of Mongolia, it'd be cool to pay him a stipend, have him come to live in Dallas and write and lecture.' Anything else, sir? 'Well, replenish the ol' coffers ... Clinton's making a lot of money'.

The Bush we meet in these pages is not the George W of parody. We see him make his own way, and fortune, in Texas oils, scant thanks to Poppy (Dad's more of rival than a spur). We see him fight hard for the nomination, win by a dubious whisker and become his own man, choosing Dick Cheney for Vice-President, not having him chosen for him.

We watch him get into the office by 7.30am sharp and work like a beaver (with two hours' mandatory running or cycling factored in). We hear him take charge of meetings starting smack on time, dressing down a late Colin Powell, chewing off his Iraq lieutenants when they can't get the electricity back on, delivering erudite little lectures on Muslim extremism. He makes decent jokes, plenty of them, but this alternative Bush is no joke himself. He can even seem formidable.

But his progress, like his tragedy, comes back to front. The first years in Washington are the good years, listening, careful years (with his vital aide Karen Hughes close by). He's personally staunch after 9/11. He's decisive and passably eloquent. And then it all goes wrong (after Ms Hughes goes back to Texas).

There's his father's unfinished business with Saddam Hussein. There's also an increasing refusal to pause, ponder and adjust. This later Bush is a conviction politician who lacks real convictions, a cock-eyed, stubborn optimist. 'Are you an eight-year man?' he asked his staff after four years were gone, but his own sixth and seventh years have been cruelly revealing.

Draper can't hide the mistakes of a rigid mindset, but at least he sets this President in a different context: as a substantial politician and operator and nobody's pawn.

Don't blame somebody else for the blunders. Bush doesn't. He was responsible, he ruled this roost. But, equally, don't write him off too glibly as a bit of clown. There's nothing buffoonish about the way he shuffles his administration pack (goodbye Andy Card, with a successor already in waiting). And he doesn't blink easily.

'Mr President,' says his National Security Adviser, Steve Hadley, despondent over the latest Iraq policy review, 'you've got to run it.' To which Bush snaps back: 'I am running it.'

Whatever the legacy 16 months hence, it will be his legacy.