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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 3 - The War That Never Ended
 
The Iraq War may be Bush’s most monstrous crime, but it is far from his only one. Bush’s entire political career was built on death.

As governor of Texas, Bush set records by presiding over 131 executions. His reputation for bloodthirstiness was parodied after his election in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Bush told the defeated Al Gore, “Maybe I’ll start a war. Wars are like executions supersized.

After Nixon’s fall from grace, the nation underwent a reckoning with the larger abuses of the security state. (Obama, in the signature accomplishment of his administration, made sure no such reckoning proceeded for Bush). Almost immediately after these reforms were made, the Right began trying to undo them. They lobbied for removing restrictions on the FBI and the CIA and refounding the House Un-American Activities Committee, one of the principal instruments of McCarthyism.

As the anti-communist mantra had been discredited, they turned to a new justification for ratcheting up counter-subversive repression at home and military aggression abroad: the threat of terrorism. While the revanchist defenders of an unchecked security state found their first messiah in Ronald Reagan, under Bush, they would realize their wildest dreams.

On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda murdered nearly three thousand people on US soil. The gruesome and horrific tragedy of that day left Americans shocked and in mourning. In addition to recommending Americans go shopping (not doing so would be letting the terrorists win), Bush and his administration exploited a nation’s collective grief to achieve their long-desired expansion of the US security state.

Just days after the attack, Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was understood as authorizing a war in Afghanistan. In fact, it failed to mention a single country. It was a blank check for global war. To date, it has been cited to justify military actions in twenty-two countries.

Bush also argued that the resolution, and the inherent wartime authorities of the president, gave him the authority to wiretap without warrants, kidnap, and even indefinitely detain US citizens. Neither the courts nor Congress could stand in his way. For those not in the United States, Bush set up a prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and approved a global program of forced disappearances (“rendition”) and torture. While Afghanistan was frequently juxtaposed against Iraq as “the good war,” it was clearly never more than an unnecessary assault on a poor country.

On the home front, less than two months after 9/11 (and weeks after Bush had already set up a secret surveillance program at the NSA), the Bush White House rammed through the Patriot Act. This longtime wish list of previously politically unthinkable proposals expanded the scope of national security surveillance and obliterated many of the key post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s. The FBI and Department of Justice criminalized and hounded supporters of Palestinian rights in the name of the war on terror, while Bush helped to censor information about the Saudis’ role in the 9/11 attacks. The Saudis were, of course, longtime business partners of the Bush family.

Bush rightfully left office disgraced. He was viewed as an illegitimate usurper of the presidency before ever taking office. Not only did he lose the popular vote, but many Americans had doubts that without the intervention of the Supreme Court, he wouldn’t have won the electoral college either.

He launched two brutal invasions, decreed a global war without boundaries and limits, and shredded democracy at home. In spite of priding himself on his ability to keep Americans safe, this was exposed as a complete fallacy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The public watched in real time as poor and working-class, mostly black, Americans were left to die on rooftops by a cruel and uncaring federal government run by a man who boasted his base was “the haves and the have mores.”

During Bush’s final years in office, the economy suffered the worst crisis since the Great Depression. While a global economic crisis had far deeper roots than one president, it added yet another ignominious failure to Bush’s already packed résumé.

While in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bush had the highest approval ratings of any president (92 percent), Bush’s ratings would later plummet to 19 percent. Such a low was not achieved by Richard Nixon or Donald Trump. By the end of his term, 41 percent of Americans believed Bush was not just a bad president but the worst president in US history.

Days after the 9/11 attacks, Bush told the nation of his impending wars, “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” Three administrations later, it’s still taking a while. The effects of this crusade have been disastrous for the people of the Middle East who live on the other side of US bombs. Our democracy, which Bush degraded, has never recovered from his crusade either.

If Bush is not going to stand trial for war crimes, he should at the very least have the decency to avoid appearing in public as a moral authority on unjustified invasions. Instead, as Bush’s recent gaffe and his audience’s clear amusement at his misstatement demonstrate, neither Bush nor US society has ever really reckoned with the consequences of his imperialist crusade.

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