Second-Guessing George W. Bush

Exclusive: At the heart of the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and the Bush Family’s frantic efforts to rehabilitate its image is a novel approach toward putting visitors on the spot by putting them in Bush’s shoes as he faced tough choices, a challenge that Robert Parry agrees to take on.

By Robert Parry

The strategy at George W. Bush’s presidential library for fending off criticism of Bush’s controversial indeed criminal decisions is to put a visitor on the defensive with the question: “Well, what would you have done?” The idea is to get the average person to sympathize with the 43rd president’s predicament and thus judge him more leniently.

The New York Times reported that “the hypothetical exercise, which includes touch screens that let users watch videos of ‘advisers’ before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Mr. Bush did, revisits the most consequential moments of his administration.”

The George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, is set for dedication on April 25 and opening to the public on May 1.

So, let me take a crack at what I would have done if I were in Bush’s shoes or what I think he should have done.

First, if my primary qualification to be president was that my dad had held the job, if I had failed at nearly every job I ever had because I was a throwing-up drunk through my 40th birthday, if I were thoroughly unprepared in my understanding of American constitutional principles and in my knowledge of world events, I would never have run for such a powerful office.

To do so would be reckless and irresponsible. Who knows? I might have ended up getting a lot of innocent people killed, driving the United States deeply into debt, and wrecking the world’s economy.

Second, if I did run for the office and lost the national popular vote by more than a half million ballots, I would have let the local officials in Florida do their job and count all the votes in that swing state as accurately as they could. I would not have turned to my brother’s cronies in Florida and my dad’s friends on the U.S. Supreme Court to thwart the will of the American people.

As we now know, a full count of Florida votes that were regarded as legal under state law would have given Florida narrowly to Al Gore. I would have accepted that judgment rather than dispatching rioters to block a recount in Miami and then getting five Republican partisans on the Supreme Court to block the state from completing its vote count. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

Taking Advice

Third, if I had run despite my lack of qualifications and if I had stolen the election, I would have listened to the advice of outgoing President Bill Clinton who urged that the federal budget surplus be safeguarded to assure Social Security and Medicare for the Baby Boomer generation. Or at least we could have continued paying down the debt, which was projected to completely disappear over the next decade.

I wouldn’t have blundered forward with an ideological plan to slash taxes mostly to benefit the rich and to throw the federal government back into an ocean of red ink. I also wouldn’t have followed right-wing orthodoxy and cut back on regulation of banks and other major economic institutions.

Fourth, I would have listened to professional counterterrorism experts who warned about a growing threat from al-Qaeda terrorists. I wouldn’t have blown off increasingly dire CIA threat analyses like the one delivered to my ranch in Texas on Aug. 6, 2001, the one that read: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” I would have ordered an all-hands-on-deck assessment of the risk and what to do to stop the impending attack.

Fifth, if the 9/11 attacks occurred anyway, I would have concentrated on bringing the perpetrators to justice with a minimal level of additional violence. If the Afghan government was willing to turn over Osama bin Laden and other conspirators and would agree to shut down al-Qaeda bases, I would have pursued that possibility.

If there was no way to get bin Laden and his terrorist associates through traditional legal channels and an invasion became necessary, I would have stuck to the goal of effecting their capture. If bin Laden and his men were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, I would have provided the military resources (requested by U.S. Special Forces) to finish the job then and there, rather than abruptly diverting the Pentagon brass toward planning for an invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.

Sixth, under no circumstance would I have drummed up a fake case for invading Iraq. Not only was Iraq innocent of 9/11 and unconnected with al-Qaeda, but an unprovoked invasion of a country is a violation of international law.

At the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II, U.S. prosecutors proclaimed aggressive war “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” I would not have mocked international law, but rather embraced it as the most effective way to build real peace and cooperation in the world, including addressing the existential threat of global warming.

Seventh, I would have trusted FBI interrogators to extract useful intelligence from al-Qaeda detainees without resorting to the disgraceful practice of torture. I would have slammed the door on the psycho babble from CIA contractors about “learned dependency” and shown the door to John Yoo and anyone else spouting legal mumbo-jumbo justifying “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

As President of the United States a nation that has a proud history of rejecting the barbaric practice of torture, even enshrining in the Constitution a prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” I would have summarily fired anyone suggesting such a thing and ordered the prosecution of anyone who committed such a crime.

Eighth, I also would have sent packing anyone who suggested that the President has “plenary” or unlimited powers during wartime, even a “war” as amorphous as the “war on terror.” And I never would have used such an imprecise and insidious phrase, since it suggests a never-ending war against an emotion or a tactic, not some definable enemy.

Ninth, I wouldn’t have allowed my political operatives to attack the patriotism of fellow Americans just for disagreeing with me. On the contrary, I would have insisted on a full and free debate on an issue as weighty as going to war. I would have repudiated any suggestion that the debate should be constrained through intimidation.

There would have been no winking at supporters who threatened the Dixie Chicks nor nodding toward subordinates who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame as part of a whispering campaign to discredit her husband for questioning one of the false claims about Iraq (a lie about Iraq seeking uranium in Africa that I would not have included in my 2003 State of the Union speech in the first place).

Tenth, having stumbled through the first four years of my presidency with nearly 3,000 Americans dead from a preventable terrorist attack, with two open-ended wars bleeding the U.S. military, with tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead and many more grievously injured, with scandals over torture, with the federal surplus transformed into a huge deficit, and with the economy on increasingly shaky ground I would have proved beyond a doubt my initial observation about my unfitness for the office.

Thus, I would announce that I would not seek reelection. In that way, I would be spared my later decisions about how to respond to Hurricane Katrina, how to oversee the worsening violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how to regulate the Wall Street banks.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

27 comments for “Second-Guessing George W. Bush

  1. Mark
    April 25, 2013 at 10:37

    As an answer to your last point about seeking reelection, I would quote this documented sociological effect :
    Could it be more fitting ?

  2. Blenny
    April 24, 2013 at 10:39

    And you can add one more: “I would not have allowed that devious lying Cheney, whose job it was to vet VP candidates, to nominatehimself for Vice President”

  3. Mark Harris
    April 23, 2013 at 21:28

    Well said, that’s all I can say, Well Said!

  4. Bruce
    April 23, 2013 at 11:56

    But All THAT would have thwarted Poppy/Company imperatives.

  5. Jym Allyn
    April 23, 2013 at 09:31



    The choir says, “Amen.”

  6. Dan Noble
    April 23, 2013 at 07:48

    Well done, Mr Parry. My only criticism of your article is that you failed to mention the fact that the only book in W’s library is “The Pet Goat.”

  7. Paul G.
    April 23, 2013 at 03:53

    P.S. What an ugly building!!!

    • Bruce
      April 23, 2013 at 12:00

      Yeah, worth Half A $BILLION!? Must have been “hardened” to survive a Dallas NUCULAR “magic bullet”!

  8. Paul G.
    April 23, 2013 at 03:52

    Brillian summary of the W. catastrophe. However, I have three points: you would not have allowed your VP to run a practice exercise with NORAD that covered up the real hijackings. Secondly, such a reasonable and rational candidate would be unlikely to get enough corporate and wealthy donors to buy the office, which is what it amounts to now. Finally, a POTUS who defies the MIC, neo-cons. and the whole hegemony around the world crowd would likely end up like JFK or impeached on some trumped up bogocity.

    And I would add, the idea of someone who has an attention deficit and is as anti-intellectual as W. having a library has got to be the ultimate oxyMORON.

  9. Otto Schiff
    April 23, 2013 at 01:14

    Instead of being prosecuted and probably convicted at least of the crime
    of torture, this excuse of a president is happily retired and
    probably lying in his library.
    We do have to blame the electorate.

  10. Lucille Barish
    April 22, 2013 at 22:20

    I agree with all points and further point out that another article here today said we gave up our freedoms for safety, a Faustian deal, which left our country a mockery of freedom with no safety possible. The Boston bombing only shows how easy it is to commit acts of terror anywhere in this country. And all the cameras could not spot it before it happened. And with all of our cruel and stupid missteps under Bush – and sadly, now under Obama, we have made this country and the world much less safe – with rage coming at us, rightly, from all directions. Such stupidity is beyond belief

  11. Frances in California
    April 22, 2013 at 19:40

    C’mon, y’all!!! This installation won’t last one whole day. Just let the wise-acre high-school geeks apply their symbolic logic and it will really be over by lunch time! Watch them take it down the next day and put up a sign that reads: Closed for Repair. When it reopens it will not be interactive . . . I would LOVE to be a fly on the wall, waiting for the Treky to come in and say “Kobayashi Maru”, see it topple like kids’ toy blocks!

  12. abi
    April 22, 2013 at 18:07

    A quibble on point 10. If I were Bush, I would say that if the vaunted American voters were dumb enough to vote me to a second term in spite of the other 9 points, then they deserved what they got.

  13. Carl Franklin Firley
    April 22, 2013 at 17:29

    While George W. Bush proved himself unfit for public office well in advance of his election to President, don’t overlook the gross stupidity of the U.S. Congress who voted for his war in Iraq. With Hans Blix being freely permitted to investigate the possible existence of WMDs; with AWACs planes in the skies over Iraq, Satellites overseeing every move of Saddam Husein’s army, Saddam’s airforce either destroyed or in Iran; his anti aircraft batteries demolished, and a defeated army …. how could he possibly have been a threat to the USA? Clearly, every Senator voting for the war must have been transfixed by the need to raise money for the following election. Only this preoccupation can justify their approval for this unnecessary war begun by this politically successful moron.

  14. rosemerry
    April 22, 2013 at 16:21

    I hope I would not have just assumed Osama bin Laden and Islamic terrorists (including lots of Saudis who miraculously survived the plane journeys) had perpetrated an act that my VP was obviously party to, that I would not have spent months looking for “cells of homegrown terrorists” who were arrested and imprisoned, that I would have ensured that draconian laws were NOT quickly passed without being read, by “elected members” scared into fear of another Pearl Harbor.

  15. Chris Jonsson
    April 22, 2013 at 16:04

    Here’s something to add to your list. I would not have built the largest, most costly American Embassy in a country with which we engaged in war. Then the embassy paid for by the American taxpayers was left behind when Americans pulled our of Iraq. That is unless it was a gift for the oil companies.

  16. buzz conrad
    April 22, 2013 at 15:04

    This is so well written and thorough. But I’m still not letting GW off the hook on the 911 suspicions. There’s too many unanswered questions.

  17. Republicult
    April 22, 2013 at 14:40

    These are great! It’d be a surprise if the library presents all of those topics to visitors to contemplate and make decisions.

  18. incontinent reader
    April 22, 2013 at 13:47

    Great, great article. I hope every visitor to the Bush mausoleum takes up the challenge with the same jaundiced eye and passion.

  19. sam enderby
    April 22, 2013 at 13:22


    • Chris Jonsson
      April 22, 2013 at 16:06

      Don’t leave out Poppy Bush. He’s a genetic criminal too.

  20. Morton Kurzweil
    April 22, 2013 at 12:54

    I am old and losing my memory. It won’t be long before I will believe I am eligible for running for the office of President.
    When my brain begins to show signs of Teaheimers disease I will have enough ignorance to be a decider.

  21. Murray Dobson
    April 22, 2013 at 12:26

    One of the best concise summaries of the worst Presidency in American history that I have read.

  22. Terry Washington
    April 22, 2013 at 12:11

    Whilst it can be argued that we should NEVER “Monday morning quarterback” Presidents(Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, both Bushes , Clinton and now Obama), I think it is worth noting EVEN AT THE TIME,”waterboarding” (and other forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques”) constituted torture under not just international but US domestic law- ie the War Crimes Act of 1996 and SURELY Bush must HAVE KNOWN this!

  23. Willliam Atkinson
    April 22, 2013 at 11:41

    This should be printed in a nice format, framed, and given pride of place as a display in the lobby of the Bush Library.

  24. hjs3
    April 22, 2013 at 11:11

    Way too kind…

  25. F. G. Sanford
    April 22, 2013 at 11:08

    Easy for you to say. If you were a sociopath with an eighth grade command of the English language and a track record for draft-dodging and evading the law, I bet you’d be singing a different tune. You honest, educated informed hard working people are all alike. Never a kind word for us “deciders”.

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