Bush once ‘heard echo of Churchill in Blair’s voice’

Former US president George W Bush tells more in new memoir ‘Decision Points’.

London: Former US president George W Bush has finally lifted the self-imposed purdah he had donned after retirement from the office, in his new memoir ‘Decision Points’.

The book contains candid accounts of 9/11, Iraq and Hurricane Katrina and offer insights on leaders from Tony Blair to Vladimir Putin by Bush.

It starts with a chapter on his well-known battle with alcohol with the opening line as “It was a simple question, `Can you remember the last day you didn`t have a drink?’”

But that’s just the beginning. His insights into and asides about the political and military battles of his presidency are likely to be a lot more interesting.

Bush writes about Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and the only major Western ally to stand by him resolutely during the darkest days of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I called Tony and expressed my concern," he writes. "I told him I`d rather have him drop out of the coalition and keep his government than try to stay in and lose it,” The Telegraph quoted him as writing.

When Blair replied, “I absolutely believe in this. I will take it up to the very last," Bush says, "I heard an echo of Winston Churchill in my friend`s voice. It was a moment of courage that will stay with me forever."

The former US president reveals that the relationship survived one lively disagreement - he and Cherie Blair, a human rights lawyer, argued heatedly about the death penalty over dinner at Chequers, the prime minister`s retreat.

“About halfway through the meal, the death penalty came up. Cherie made clear she didn’t agree with my position. Tony looked a little uncomfortable,” he writes.

“I listened to her views and then defended mine. I told her I believed the death penalty, when properly administered, could save lives by deterring crime. A talented lawyer whom I grew to respect, Cherie rebutted my arguments. At one point, Laura and I overheard Euan, the Blairs’ bright 17-year-old son, say, `Give the man a break, Mother’.”

Bush also discloses that he considered dropping Dick Cheney as his running mate for the 2004 election because of the widely-held belief that it was the vice-president who was really running the country.

He talks about Iraq`s alleged weapons programmes and the handling of the invasion and its aftermath.

"Nothing worked," he notes ruefully, to cool the "squabbling within the national security team".

Bush confesses he had "a sickening feeling" when he learned there were no banned chemical or biological weapons in Iraq - undercutting the major pre-war argument for invasion. But he insists that he has no regrets about removing the "homicidal dictator" Saddam Hussein.

There is heavy focus on the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US. After authorising US fighter jets to shoot down suspicious planes - "my first decision as wartime commander-in-chief" - he initially thought that Flight 103 that crashed en route to Washington had been brought down by his order. Only later did he learn that a passenger revolt had forced down the fourth hijacked plane.

But he also admits to some major mistakes, including his slow response to Hurricane Katrina and his approval of a reduction in US troop numbers in Iraq after the invasion - "the most important failure of execution in the war".

Amid the high politics are some telling asides about world leaders. Vladimir Putin, then president of Russia, even indulged in the ultimate "mine-is-bigger-than-yours" boast about the two men`s dogs.