To the loves of my life:

Laura, Barbara, and Jenna

INTRODUCTION1 Quitting2 Running3 Personnel4 Stem Cells5 Day of Fire6 War Footing7 Afghanistan8 Iraq9 Leading10 Katrina11 Lazarus Effect12 Surge13 Freedom Agenda14 Financial Crisis




n the final year of my presidency, I began to think seriously about writing my memoirs. On the recommendation of Karl Rove, I met with more than a dozen distinguished historians. To a person, they told me I had an obligation to write. They felt it was important that I record my perspective on the presidency, in my own words.

“Have you ever seen the movie Apollo 13?” the historian Jay Winik asked. “Everyone knows the astronauts make it home in the end. But you’re on the edge of your seat wondering how they do it.”

Nearly all the historians suggested that I read Memoirs by President Ulysses S. Grant, which I did. The book captures his distinctive voice. He uses anecdotes to re-create his experience during the Civil War. I could see why his work had endured.

Like Grant, I decided not to write an exhaustive account of my life or presidency. Instead I have told the story of my time in the White House by focusing on the most important part of the job: making decisions. Each chapter is based on a major decision or a series of related decisions. As a result, the book flows thematically, not in a day- by-day chronology. I do not cover all of the important issues that crossed my desk. Many devoted members of my Cabinet and staff are mentioned briefly or not at all. I value their service, and I will always be grateful for their contributions.

My goals in writing this book are twofold. First, I hope to paint a picture of what it was like to serve as president for eight consequential years. I believe it will be impossible to reach definitive conclusions about my presidency—or any recent presidency, for that matter—for several decades. The passage of time allows passions to cool, results to clarify, and scholars to compare different approaches. My hope is that this book will serve as a resource for anyone studying this period in American history.

Second, I write to give readers a perspective on decision making in a complex environment. Many of the decisions that reach the president’s desk are tough calls, with strong arguments on both sides. Throughout the book, I describe the options I weighed and the principles I followed. I hope this will give you a better sense of why I made the decisions I did. Perhaps it will even prove useful as you make choices in your own life.

Decision Points is based primarily on my recollections. With help from researchers, I have confirmed my account with government documents, contemporaneous notes, personal interviews, news reports, and other sources, some of which remain classified. There were instances in which I had to rely on my memory alone. If there are inaccuracies in this book, the responsibility is mine.

In the pages that follow, I have done my best to write about the decisions I got right, those I got wrong, and what I would do differently if given the chance. Of course, in the presidency, there are no do-overs. You have to do what you believe is right and accept the consequences. I tried to do that every day of my eight years in office. Serving as president was the honor of a lifetime, and I appreciate your giving me an opportunity to share my story.

t was a simple question. “Can you remember the last day you didn’t have a drink?” Laura asked in her calm, soothing voice. She wasn’t threatening or nagging. She did expect an answer. My wife is the kind of person who picks her moments. This was one of them.

“Of course I can,” came my indignant response. Then I thought back over the previous week. I’d had a few beers with the guys on Monday night. On Tuesday I’d fixed myself my favorite after-dinner drink: B&B, Benedictine and brandy. I’d had a couple of bourbon and Sevens after I put Barbara and Jenna to bed on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were beer-drinking nights. On Saturday, Laura and I had gone out with friends. I’d had martinis before dinner, beers with dinner, and B&Bs after dinner. Uh-oh, I had failed week one.

I went on racking my memory for a single dry day over the past few weeks; then the past month; then longer. I could not remember one. Drinking had become a habit.

I have a habitual personality. I smoked cigarettes for about nine years, starting in college. I quit smoking by dipping snuff. I quit that by chewing long-leaf tobacco. Eventually I got down to cigars.

For a while I tried to rationalize my drinking habit. I was nowhere near as bad as some of the drunks I knew in our hometown of Midland, Texas. I didn’t drink during the day or at work. I was in good shape and jogged almost every afternoon, another habit.

Over time I realized I was running not only to stay fit, but also to purge my system of the poisons. Laura’s little question provoked some big ones of my own. Did I want to spend time at home with our girls or stay out drinking? Would I rather read in bed with Laura or drink bourbon by myself after the family had gone to sleep? Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty, or was alcohol becoming my god? I knew the answers, but it was hard to summon the will to make a change.

In 1986, Laura and I both turned forty. So did our close friends Don and Susie Evans. We decided to hold a joint celebration at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. We invited our childhood friends Joe and Jan O’Neill, my brother Neil, and another Midland friend, Penny Sawyer.

The official birthday dinner was Saturday night. We had a big meal, accompanied by numerous sixty-dollar bottles of Silver Oak wine. There were lots of toasts—to our health, to our kids, to the babysitters who were watching the kids back home. We got louder and louder, telling the same stories over and over. At one point Don and I decided we were so cute we should take our routine from table to table. We shut the place down, paid a colossal bar tab, and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning with a mean hangover. As I left for my daily jog, I couldn’t remember much of the night before. About halfway through the run, my head started to clear. The crosscurrents in my life came into focus. For months I had been praying that God would show me how to better reflect His will. My Scripture readings had clarified the nature of temptation and the reality that the love of earthly pleasures could replace the love of God. My problem was not only drinking; it was selfishness. The booze was leading me to put myself ahead of others, especially my family. I loved Laura and the girls too much to let that happen. Faith showed me a way out. I knew I could count on the grace of God to help me change. It would not be easy, but by the end of the run, I had made up my mind: I was done drinking.

When I got back to the hotel room, I told Laura I would never have another drink. She looked at me like I was still running on alcohol fumes. Then she said, “That’s good, George.”

I knew what she was thinking. I had talked about quitting before, and nothing had come of it. What she didn’t know was that this time I had changed on the inside—and that would enable me to change my behavior forever.

It took about five days for the freshness of the decision to wear off. As my memory of the hangover faded, the temptation to drink became intense. My body craved alcohol. I prayed for the strength to fight off my desires. I ran harder and longer as a way to discipline myself. I also ate a lot of chocolate. My body was screaming for sugar.

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