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It’s always the right time to call George W. Bush a war criminal

If George W. Bush is not going to stand trial for war crimes, he should at the very least stop appearing in public to weigh in on unjustified wars, as he did this week when he accidentally referred to the “wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.”
 
by Chip Gibbons 
 
Part 1
 
On January 20, 2009, the United States completed a changing of the guard. As was customary, the outgoing president attended the new president’s swearing in before flying out of town. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews made an uncharacteristically lucid remark about George W. Bush’s flight from Washington: “It’s going to be like the Romanovs, too, and I mean that. There’s a sense here that they are fallen from grace, that they’re not popular, that the whole family will now go into retreat.

Matthews’s remark raised objections from his fellow talking heads. Keith Olbermann (yes, that Keith Olbermann) reminded him that many predicted Richard Nixon and those around him would be similarly exiled, only for them to reemerge as public figures in the years after Watergate. 

Let’s not even put George W. Bush anywhere in the category of Richard Nixon,” Matthews retorted. “Richard Nixon was tragic, and he made terrible mistakes, he did wrong things, but he was a major president.

Richard Nixon may very well have been, as Matthews asserted, “trickier” than Bush. Yet Matthews was ironically whitewashing Nixon, referring to him as a president who made major accomplishments while tragically making mistakes — foreshadowing the contemporary rehabilitation of Bush.

During the Donald Trump years, Bush was bizarrely celebrated as a sort of anti-Trump, with a majority of Democrats viewing him favorably. Recently, Bush, lacking any sense of self-awareness, has reemerged to condemn Russia’s illegal and morally abhorrent invasion of Ukraine. His gaffe this week, where he confused Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine with his own invasion of Iraq, reveals why he probably should have gone into hiding.

In a speech at his presidential center, Bush condemned Putin for rigging elections and suppressing dissent, saying, “The results are a lack of checks and balances in Russia and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean, of Ukraine.

As someone who was politicized by Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and who spent time during the Bush years listening to the firsthand accounts of antiwar veterans about the brutality of the occupation, it is difficult to explain in words my deep, visceral reaction to this video. War is a crime. And Bush’s invasion of Iraq was entirely unnecessary and unprovoked. It was an act of unmitigated aggression with a staggering human toll. And all of this death and destruction was a choice by the Bush administration.

To see Bush hypocritically condemning others for carrying out the same crimes is bad enough. But to see him in the process accidentally invoke his own war crimes, make a joke about it, and then have the audience laugh along with him is a loathsome spectacle. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a crime, it seems like rigged elections, the suppression of dissent, and unjustified and brutal invasions are topics he would have the decency to avoid weighing in on.

But rigged elections, suppression of dissent, and unjustified and brutal invasions are perhaps the only topics Bush is equipped to opine on, which may be why he briefly confused his war with Putin’s. Many in the Beltway press will find the comparison unseemly. But the facts speak for themselves, and they’re worth revisiting if for no other reason than because Bush’s illegal and disastrous war has largely been flushed down the memory hole, despite being launched less than two decades ago and shaping so much of the world we inhabit today.

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