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Back in the swamp

Mark Mardell | 03:48 UK time, Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I haven't seen the book yet, but both George W Bush's interview with NBC and in the Times are much more interesting than I expected.

It is the nature of these things that we pull them apart in the search for news headlines, but it is the texture, style and nuance that is really engaging.

He is promoting his biography Decision Points and defending his most controversial pivots for posterity, while denying that is the case. George W Bush told NBC that he hadn't given any interviews for two years because he didn't want to be back in the swamp... but he now finds himself knee deep in familiar waters.

When you boil down the actual defence of each policy they are rather predictable. The near drowning of al-Qaeda prisoners, waterboarding, to get information? The lawyers said it wasn't torture and he'd do it again because it saved lives.

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No-one was more saddened and angry than he was but he wouldn't apologise because that would suggest the war was wrong and the world was a better place without Saddam Hussein.

Bailing out the banks? He couldn't worry about the angst it caused friends to see a free marketer intervening - he had to stop an economic depression.

But it is his primary purpose that is revealing. At one point he says: "I am a deliberative person", and he is out to counter the image of a politician who made snap decisions on gut instinct alone, when brains rather than intestines might have been a better guide to action.

He says at another point, when it is suggested to him that Vice-President Dick Cheney pushed him to invade Iraq, saying: "Are you going to take care of this guy or not", that he was reflective. "I was a dissenting voice: I didn't want to use force." He says at that stage he turned Mr Cheney down.

He clearly feels that he hasn't got enough credit for the apparent success of the surge in Iraq, pointing out: "I am the sort of person, the tougher it got the more willing I was to make a tough call."

He is also clearly offended that some saw him as the puppet of Mr Cheney and top presidential adviser Karl Rove. He shrugs it off saying Mr Rove knew he wasn't the president's brain and Mr Cheney knew he wasn't running the White House. But the body language is prickly, hurt and awkward.

Whether that is because there's some truth in it, or because there's none and that's even more irritating, I can't tell.

He can afford to be more discursive than any politician in office who'll find their words carved into potentially career-destroying soundbites.

These longer exchanges are revealing. Early on he tells the interviewer that he has heard all the "psycho babble" about his relationship with his father, President George HW Bush - that it was about competition, that he wanted to overshadow his dad. He dismisses this saying it is a much less complex relationship than that, based on love.

He continues that he decided to run for president in large part out of admiration for his father and "the truth of the matter was the final motivating factor was my admiration for George Bush and I wonder if I had what it took to get in the arena the way he did".

He concludes that he hopes history will judge him a success, but he will be dead before that happens. It is certainly true - whether you see him as hero or villain, you are unlikely to be swayed by the words on the page or the interview, but it was certainly a more interesting hour than I had expected.


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