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Has Bush's low profile helped his legacy?

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
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Bush reflects on 'huge disappointment'
  • In his book Bush does not back away from discussing the most important choices of his presidency
  • During his terms Bush swung from highest presidential popularity rating Gallup pollsters ever recorded to the lowest
  • Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder disputes Bush's version of lead-up to invasion of Iraq

"Our Mann in America" is a weekly column discussing the big talking points in the U.S. for an international audience. Jonathan Mann is an anchor for CNN International and the host of Political Mann.

(CNN) -- George W. Bush is back. This time he's selling a book but once again he's getting very mixed reviews.

The former president, who has kept largely out of the public eye in the two years since he left office, emerged this week with "Decision Points," a 497-page opportunity to revisit the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other crucial episodes of his personal life and political career.

"Some of the decisions I made were very controversial," Bush told NBC's Matt Lauer, "and I knew that putting them in the book would create controversy."

In fact, the controversy seems relatively muted this time around. Most Americans would probably rather not relive the arguments or ordeals of the Bush era. His first year in the Oval Office was marked by the worst terror attack ever committed on U.S. soil; his last year, by the worst economic crisis since the Depression.

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In that time, he swung from the highest presidential popularity rating Gallup pollsters ever recorded (90 percent) to the lowest (20 percent).

In some ways, Bush's two years out of the public eye may have helped his legacy.

The popularity of his successor, Barack Obama, has also declined. The Obama administration has benefited enough from Bush's troop surge in Iraq to begin withdrawing forces. It has also mimicked the strategy with a troop surge in Afghanistan. (Republicans haven't forgotten that Obama opposed the surge strategy when it was first announced).

Obama faced his own Katrina earlier this year in the enormous BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, an accident that took 11 lives, soiled a vast stretch of coastline and disappointed many Americans with the administration's apparently slow response.

Right now, Obama is also fighting a popular inheritance from the Bush administration: temporary tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year. Obama doesn't want to see wealthy Americans continue to profit from them at a time when the government is deeply indebted; Republicans argue that keeping taxes low for all Americans is crucial for the economy.

Bush says he supports continuing the tax cuts but beyond that he doesn't discuss Obama's policies in the book (as best I can tell from speeding through it in the last few days) and he has resisted doing it in interviews.

"I don't think it's good for the presidency for a former president to be opining about his successor," he told NBC. "President Obama has got plenty of critics and I'm just not going to be one."

Some of the decisions I made were very controversial and I knew that putting them in the book would create controversy
--George W. Bush

It's the kind of simple language and clear conclusion Bush is famous for. His observations in the book are sometimes as plain and unpolished as" in the presidency there are no do-over."

A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times called it "strangely engrossing." The Wall Street Journal said it "delightful and telling personal observations." The New York Times described it as "part spin, part mea culpa, part family scrapbook, part self-conscious effort to (re)shape his political legacy."

But those reviewers only read the book. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is in it.

Bush writes that Schroeder betrayed him by promising to support the Iraq invasion and then doing just the opposite.

Schroeder's review in German newspaper Der Spiegel?

"The former American president is not telling the truth."

Fittingly for a man who sometimes surprised the world with his remarks, Bush peppers his book with strange details.

He writes that he read 14 different biographies of Abraham Lincoln during his eight years in office, he recounts a conversation about his father's genitals and he finishes the entire effort with an anecdote about cleaning-up after a dog.

But "Decision Points" is primarily about the most important choices of his presidency and he doesn't back away from them. The war for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the use of waterboarding against terror suspects and the Wall Street bailout that even many Republicans have deplored -- all are among the "Decision Points" Bush discusses and defends.

It's hardly a surprise he thinks well of his own decisions or that so many Americans still think so poorly of them.