The Reclamation of George W. Bush Is an American Tragedy
The whole charade plays best as farce. Absurdity incarnate. The sight of former President George W. Bush receiving a medal from Democrat Joe Biden—once an ardent opponent of Bush’s war policy—in Philadelphia for “his work with veterans,” on Veterans Day no less, induced nothing short of a gag from this veteran of two Bush wars—Iraq and Afghanistan.
George W. Bush, after all, led the U.S. military—to which I’ve dedicated my adult life—into two ill-advised perpetual wars, one of which was objectively illegal and immoral. In that war, in Iraq, some 7,000 American troops—including three of mine—were killed fighting in an unwinnable quagmire. Furthermore, though it slipped the attention of an American citizenry best known for its provincial inwardness, at least 250,000 Iraqis—mostly civilians—were killed. In a just world this would be labeled what it is—a war crime—but in this era of American hegemony, the populace simply sighs with apathy.
Now, we are told, it is time to congratulate Mr. Bush on his post-presidency work with the very veterans he created. Somehow, his choice to spend his retirement painting the faces of the misemployed, and often damaged, veterans he brought into being absolves him from the crimes of what this author is certain will be remembered as one of the worst presidencies in history. This fanfare is post-factual and illogical, but it certainly reflects our times.
Only in the era of Donald Trump could such a flawed and ignoble figure as George W. Bush appear gallant. Then again, we should have seen it coming. When a bipartisan consensus of warhawks turned out to share candy and venerate the militaristic legacy of Sen. John McCain—complete with both Barack Obama and George W. Bush as keynote speakers—it was only a matter of time until Bush and his murderous administration were rehabilitated.
And it makes sense that it was Biden who bestowed the medal. “Smiling Joe” might have turned against that failing Iraq War by 2006, but let us remember that Biden—along with Democrats Hilary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid—voted for that very war in October 2002. The whole moment was shameful, and a farcical—if accurate—parody of the entire U.S. bipartisan warfare state. Biden’s boss, Barack Obama, after all, was the very man who chose not to investigate or indict the veritable war criminals in his predecessor’s administration. Obama claimed that he did so in the name of national unity; yet given his own militaristic record, it seems he did so only to perpetuate an American warfare state in the Middle East.
Shame on Joe Biden; shame on Barack Obama; shame on all the elite officials who play politics but refuse to forswear the tactics and policies of U.S. government militarism that has been in business since 9/11/2001. One group, at least, refused to bow to the—little reported—Bush award ceremony: About Face, Veterans Against the War, an organization I’m proud to be a part of, bravely chose to protest the farce in Philadelphia. As they blocked the entrances to the gala (for which tickets started at $1,000 each), these veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan chanted against the expansion of the warfare state and the shameful award bestowed upon Bush. As is so often the case in apathetic America, hardly anyone noticed, and the mainstream media quickly moved on.
This veteran, for one, did not avert his eyes. His eyes teared as he watched fellow veterans—victims of the Bush wars of choice—protest his absurd award ceremony. I thought of Sgt. Alexander J. Fuller, my favorite soldier, who died at the hands of Iraqi Shiite militias who should have been the natural allies of the United States in the “war on terror.” Only Bush—who famously didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Arabs—found a way to lead the U.S. Army into an illogical conflict with them, too.
I’ll never forgive George W. Bush, no matter how many portraits he paints. Perhaps if I was as “good” a Christian as he, I would. But I’m not that guy. Bush’s ill-advised wars stole my friends, my youth, my mental health and my trust in the American state. That can’t be replaced. In my younger years, an emotional 23-year-old version of myself probably wished ill on him and his. I no longer feel that way. I wish only the best for Mr. Bush, his wife and his family. But I, and no serious veteran and scholar of the Iraq wars, will ever countenance his rehabilitation or commemoration.
Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.