Biography of George W. Bush (b. 1946), concentrating on the eight years of his presidency.
From the first sentence, accomplished presidential biographer and historian Smith (Political Science/Marshall Univ.; Eisenhower in War and Peace, 2012, etc.) establishes his critical tone: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By miring the country in a disastrous war in Iraq, costing 4,000 American lives and some $3 trillion, allowing torture of “unlawful combatants” and restrictions on Americans’ fundamental issues of privacy thanks to an empowered National Security Agency, the author considers Bush one of the worse presidents yet. Hurtling quickly through his subject’s early life, Smith emphasizes his abysmal school records at Andover and Yale. Indeed, he was coddled as a legacy son “many times over.” His penchant for “coasting” and partying kept him floundering for many years, and his well-placed parents bailed him out continuously, until he apprenticed under Lee Atwater and caught the political bug. Marrying Laura Welch, a Midland, Texas, native and librarian, and becoming a born-again Christian thanks to Billy Graham in 1983 helped center Bush’s ambitions. However, Smith points out how his “religious certitude and his singular determination,” as well as his braggadocio, often swayed his actions more than the advice of more experienced colleagues. Bush relied on sports-minded advisers and hawkish "vulcans" like Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld when the crisis of 9/11 shifted the president’s focus from domestic to foreign policy, which he knew little about. Smith considers it a national shame that he was so insistent on finding a casus belli to invade Iraq—then letting Colin Powell be the fall guy—despite the resistance of the rest of the world and cowing even the Democrats in Congress. Notwithstanding Bush’s global leadership on AIDS, immigration reform, and education, he left a tarnished presidency.
A relentlessly hard-hitting assessment of a president who was a “decider” but “did not wrestle with the details of policy.”