I think the presidents’ notes and letters constitute some of the most valuable writings of any president in all of American history. And by the way, only a fraction of those notes are in the book.
And why do you think they are important?
Well, they are more than “stream of conscious” they are “stream of heart.” As he conducts business, congratulating a birthday or issuing instructions to a staffer, he is also talking about what is going on around him. It’s a twitter diary before twitter. Communications reduced to a few words. But they reveal more than dates and times, they reveal how the president feels about what is happening and what is being said. And most presidents and politicians guard their feelings.
Give me some examples.
His mounting disgust over Saddam Hussein’s treatment of Kuwait. Which led to a great miscalculation on the latter’s part. It was the same miscalculation that Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega made. Bush, Sr. has a tender heart but a will of iron. You can read the notes and see that war was coming.
What notes in the book are the most revealing to you?
The president’s constant comments on his pain and deep feelings about the criticism of his son. Both men, father and son, would rather be attacked themselves than to see the other attacked.
And there are layers of irony in that because some historians will judge one or the other president wrong on Iraq. Either the father was right to leave well enough alone, after driving Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Or the son was right to have a war and get rid of the tyrant, even though Iraq became an Islamic Republic and with that unintended consequences, such as Christians being drven out for the first time in 2,000 years. One can argue either way.
How will history judge Bush, Sr.?
In the interest of full disclosure, I served in his White House. But I can tell you that observers in the former Soviet Union credit him as much as Reagan with the collapse of their empire which for us meant the end of The Cold War, and the end of the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Under Bush, Sr. there was a very real chance of a counter revolution. And he had pressure on every side to act. But he wisely invoked Napoleon’s dictum, “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” And in the end, he finished what Reagan started.
There are many football teams that do well for three quarters and then lose the game at the end. George H. W. Bush, won the last quarter of the Cold War and that sealed the deal.
See Doug Wead on CNN speaking to this topic.