By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 1:53 AM
Former president George W. Bush writes in a new memoir that he briefly considered dropping his vice president, Richard B. Cheney, from his 2004 reelection ticket but said he still considers Cheney a steady adviser who helped him achieve his goals.
The memoir, which was leaked to several news outlets in advance of its formal release next Tuesday, details Cheney's advocacy of war with Iraq. It says he asked Bush at a luncheon whether he was "going to take care of this guy, or not," referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Bush writes that he still considers the war justified and said he believes it left America safer, despite the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib that prompted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to offer his resignation privately to Bush. He said he turned Rumsfeld's offer down because he feared the change in leadership would send a bad signal to U.S. troops.
The former president defends his handling of some of the most intense controversies of his presidency, acknowledging at one point that he personally approved the waterboarding, or simulated drowning, of alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a practice that the CIA has since forsworn and both President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have described as torture barred by international law.
"Damn right," Bush said he told the CIA when they sought his permission.
He offered his regrets for flying over New Orleans to survey the post-Katrina damage, a move that provoked criticism, and says that he mistakenly brought too many troops home from Iraq too soon. But he has described as "disgusting" the televised accusation from recording artist and producer Kanye West that his response to Katrina was tainted by racism, calling that one of the low points of his tenure.
The book, titled "Decision Points," is focused on key moments in his life, including his decision to stop drinking after some embarrassing conversations in bars. Bush said he realized as his daughters got older that, if he did not stop, they would think it was okay to drink and drive. And he said that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq gave him a "sickening" feeling that persists.
Bush says he considered dropping Cheney in favor of then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) but appreciated the fact that Cheney helped him "do the job" at the White House. The two men disagreed over Bush's decision to fire Rumsfeld because the war in Iraq was going badly, and over Bush's refusal to pardon Cheney deputy I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby after Libby's conviction for lying about his role in the Valerie Plame affair. But Bush said they have patched up their friendship since then.
He also praises Obama for deploying more troops to Afghanistan and defends the 2008 bank bailout that has been attacked by many Republican candidates for Congress this year, arguing that it sent a useful signal that the economy would not be allowed to fail.