When George W. Bush Confused Russia’s Warfare in Ukraine With Iraq
The George W. Bush Presidential Middle, in Dallas, is a 226,000-square-foot constructing that homes the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the George W. Bush Institute. It isn’t the form of place you go for unvarnished reality about George W. Bush. Like many establishments of its ilk, it serves up rigorously curated hagiography, amid stately colonnades and a burbling fountain. Guests enter right into a 67-foot-tall atrium referred to as Freedom Corridor; the Defending Freedom Desk is a big touch-screen the place museumgoers can view maps and images from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s a statue of Bush and his father gazing purposefully into the center distance, and a statue of Barney and Miss Beazley, George and Laura Bush’s Scottish terriers, putting an identical pose. Within the library, students can pore via official White Home paperwork to extract fuller, much less flattering tales of the Bush years. However the public-facing picture is a portrait in whitewash. On the library’s web site, a web-based exhibit in regards to the Sept. 11 assaults and their aftermath hails Bush for demonstrating “the power of American resolve.”
It was a shock, due to this fact, when a scathing indictment of the previous president was issued lately at a Bush Middle occasion. Much more sudden was the supply of this blunt speak: Bush himself. Throughout transient remarks at a discussion board on elections and democracy, held final month, Bush stumbled over his ready textual content. He was discussing the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s suppression of dissent. “The result’s an absence of checks and balances in Russia,” Bush mentioned. “And the choice of 1 man to launch a completely unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I imply — of Ukraine. Iraq, too. Anyway.”
Footage of the error unfold rapidly. On social media, the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme music turned the soundtrack for Bush’s blunder. Late-night hosts weighed in. (“That could be a refreshingly lighthearted confession to conflict crimes,” Stephen Colbert mentioned.) Many commentators identified a Freudian slip: the ex-president’s responsible conscience had reared up, unbidden. In any case, the Bush video was a novelty: Hardly ever has a world chief issued so bald a “confession” a few matter of such historic consequence.
It was additionally a style piece. Gaffe movies are ubiquitous clickbait, and politicians’ bloopers are among the many hottest fodder. Bush, famously, is a gaffe specialist, the purveyor of scrambled-hash syntax, madcap circumlocutions, spoonerisms and different “Bushisms” which have haunted the web — or as Bush would have it, internets — for many years. Many Bushisms have entered American lore, taking their place alongside the gonzo poetry of Yogi Berra. It’s Bush who popularized the time period “misunderestimated,” who posed the query “Is our youngsters studying?” who mused “I feel we agree, the previous is over.” In 2009, Bush introduced he would write a memoir to make sure that “there’s an authoritarian voice saying precisely what occurred.”
To the pleasant viewers on the Bush Middle, the Iraq-Ukraine mix-up landed as a Bushism par excellence, a innocent and endearing slip-up. The previous president chuckled, shook his head and joked that he was having a senior second. Sympathetic laughter rippled via the group.
However not everybody was amused. This was a fake pas that informed uncomfortable truths. It makes good sense to confuse Russia’s conflict in Ukraine with Iraq: The 2 occasions have a lot in widespread. Saddam Hussein was no Zelensky, however the Iraq invasion was, certainly, brutal and unjustified. It was a world historic calamity that sowed chaos, unfold torture and resulted in, in accordance with quite a few sources, lots of of hundreds of deaths. The ideology behind Bush’s conflict could have been cooked up within the stolid bureaucratic world of think-tank Washington. However in spirit it was no much less reckless and grandiose than the imperial visions driving Putin’s conquest of Ukraine.
Bush left workplace in 2009 as one of many least common presidents in historical past. At the moment’s Bush is a cuddlier determine, who, we’re informed, likes to putter round his artwork studio, portray footage of canine and American flags. Bushisms have performed a job on this rehabilitation, serving to to recast the erstwhile “conflict president” as a mellow senior citizen who laughs at his personal foibles. A Bush Middle podcast takes its identify from a “Saturday Night time Stay” sketch lampooning Bush’s malapropisms: “The Strategerist.” Final 12 months, Bush appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Stay” to take a quiz, “Bushism or Not?” based mostly on movies of his well-known gaffes. The clips included the extraordinary second at a 2008 Baghdad information convention when an incensed Iraqi journalist threw a pair of footwear on the president. “I used to be very happy with you for dodging these footwear,” Kimmel mentioned. “You’ve got superb reflexes.”
A number of months later, a Bush speech was interrupted by Mike Prysner, an activist and Iraq veteran. “Mr. Bush, when are you going to apologize to the million Iraqis who’re lifeless since you lied?” Prysner screamed. “You lied about weapons of mass destruction! … My associates are lifeless!” Prysner had deliberate to recite some names of the lifeless, however he was hustled out of the auditorium. In America, we aren’t so good at reality and reconciliation. We want Twitter dunks and yuks on late-night TV.
In 2022, the USA is experiencing a collective senior second. Our democracy is getting older and enfeebled. We started the century by imposing regime change abroad; now we fend off a putsch at our Capitol. Bush’s Iraq-Ukraine flub is a marker of those tragic follies and of the decline-and-fall trajectory we seem like touring. It’s additionally a reminder of how many individuals would like to neglect the Iraq debacle altogether. The invasion didn’t, in truth, relaxation on the choice of “one man.” A lot of Washington’s political class — Republican and Democrat, neo-cons and liberal hawks — backed the invasion and the falsehoods that justified it. These conflict supporters shared a selected sort of American hubris and naïveté, an eagerness to disregard the realpolitik behind our interventions within the oil-rich Center East whereas intoning positive phrases in regards to the unfold of freedom and democracy.
That message was not possible to flee within the months earlier than the invasion. We decry Putin’s use of misinformation to advertise the assault on Ukraine. However Bush’s drive to conflict was likewise accompanied by a propaganda push, and lots of journalists and public intellectuals who peddled that occasion line nonetheless occupy influential posts. It’s absolutely disagreeable for them to be reminded of their misjudgments. However the reality has a approach of seeping out, typically in unlikely locations, just like the daises of presidential libraries. Name it a Freudian slip or a mind freeze or historical past having its revenge. Opposite to the Bushism, the previous just isn’t — is rarely — over.
Supply pictures: Display grabs from Related Press
Jody Rosen is a contributing author for the journal and the writer of “Two Wheels Good: The Historical past and Thriller of the Bicycle.”
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