WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President George W. Bush once considered replacing Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush says in a revealing memoir in which he offers advice on the U.S. economy and admits mistakes on Iraq and Katrina.
Bush’s book, “Decision Points,” is full of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes details of eight eventful years that began with the September 11 in 2001 attacks and ended with an economic meltdown in which “I felt like the captain of a sinking ship.”
Bush wrote of many errors involving the Iraq campaign and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction there, despite numerous intelligence reports pointing to their existence.
“No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn’t find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do,” Bush writes.
The book includes the revelation that the controversial Cheney had volunteered to step down in 2003 so Bush could pick someone else as his 2004 campaign running mate.
Bush wrote that he considered the offer, writing that while Cheney “helped with important parts of our base, he had become a lightning rod for criticism from the media and the left.”
While Bush did not like Cheney’s image as described by critics, accepting his resignation offer would help “demonstrate that I was in charge,” he writes.
Bush said he talked to aides about asking Republican Senator Bill Frist to run with him instead of Cheney, but ultimately stuck with Cheney because he valued his steady hand.
Bush, 64, has largely remained out of sight and kept his opinions to himself since leaving Washington for Texas in early 2009. His job approval ratings at the end of his term were in the 30 percent range.
While his book clearly is an effort to boost his image, he believes it will be decades before a judgment on his presidency can be rendered.
“Whatever the verdict on my presidency, I‘m comfortable with the fact that I won’t be around to hear it,” he writes in the book, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
Bush offers no judgment on his successor, Barack Obama, who repeatedly attacked Bush’s economic policies on the campaign trail this year.
But he rejects accusations, which he said have come for years from both Democrats and Republicans, that he “squandered” the budget surplus left to him by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, when he took office in 2001.
“That never made sense. Much of the surplus was an illusion, based on the mistaken assumption that the 1990s boom would continue. Once the recession and 9/11 hit, there was little surplus left,” Bush writes.
He also defends the bank bailout program that he began and Obama continued, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, that experts credit for saving the U.S. financial system from collapse in late 2008. Many conservatives call the program a waste of taxpayer money.
“TARP sent an unmistakable signal that we would not let the American financial system fail,” he writes.
His advice on getting the U.S. economy back to solid job creation: Cut government spending, address the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare and create the conditions for the private sector, especially small businesses, to generate new jobs.
While a debate rages on whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts, Bush had this advice:
“The financial crisis should not become an excuse to raise taxes, which would only undermine the economic growth required to regain our strength.”
While avoiding a lot of score-settling typical of Washington memoirs, Bush singles out for criticism Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid for a comment Reid made in 2007 that the Iraq war “is lost, the surge is not accomplishing anything.”
“It was one of the most irresponsible acts I witnessed in my eight years in Washington,” Bush writes.
The book, to be officially released on November 9, describes a youthful reliance on alcohol, a drunken escapade at a Willie Nelson concert and a boozy question to a woman at a dinner with his parents: “So what is sex like after 50?”
Years later when he turned 50, the woman returned the favor with a note: “Well, George, how is it?”
Bush quit drinking in 1986 at age 40, found religion and his career took off. He learned he had won the disputed 2000 presidential election on a Supreme Court ruling while lying in bed.
Bush, blamed by many Americans for a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said his initial mistake was failing to communicate his concern for the storm’s victims, many of whom were black.
He said he should not have done an Air Force One flyover of New Orleans while much of the city was under water.
Accusations from critics that he was a racist because of the response to Katrina “was the worst moment of my presidency. I feel the same way today,” he wrote.
Editing by Christopher Wilson