Countering the George W. Bush rehabilitation project


It is a striking testimony to how far the Republican party has gone off the rails in its xenophobia and anti-Muslim venom that some people in the party are now looking back fondly at George W. Bush as a model of how one should respond to the appalling actions taken by some Muslims, such as in the San Bernadino attacks. Following the events of 9/11 he is now said to have struck the correct note, carefully distinguishing between the specific beliefs of the people who carried out those attacks and the vast mass of people who happened to share their same religion.

But Glenn Greenwald cautions us not to go overboard in revising our opinion of him.

In my 2007 book that was extremely critical of the Bush presidency, A Tragic Legacy, I described several of Bush’s post-9/11 speeches as “resolute, eloquent and even inspiring” because he “repeatedly emphasized that the enemy was defined neither as adherents to Islam nor Middle Eastern countries and their citizens, but instead was a band of fanatics who exploited Islam as a pretext for terrorism and violence.”

But there’s a danger that this valid praise for Bush’s post-9/11 rhetoric can whitewash many of the truly heinous things he and his administration did to Muslims after that attack. The actions he took outside of the U.S. are obvious, from torture to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib to the invasion and destruction of Iraq. Hasan acknowledges those anti-Muslim abuses but suggests they were confined to foreign soil: “Mr. Bush’s foreign policy may have harmed Muslims abroad, but at home he courted Muslim-American voters and refused to lazily conflate Islam with terrorism.”

That gives Bush too much credit. The reality is that, on U.S. soil, he perpetrated a wide array of radical abuses aimed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11. In the weeks after the attack, more than 1,000 Muslims and Arabs were swept up by the FBI and detained without charge, often by abusing the powers allowing for detention of “material witnesses.” Thousands of Muslim immigrants were deported from the U.S. in the months following the attack. Bush quickly and secretly implemented an illegal scheme of warrantless domestic eavesdropping aimed largely at Muslims.

As Berkeley professor Irum Shiekh documented in her book Detained Without Cause, “Individuals who slightly resembled the 19 hijackers — those whom officers perceived as being from the Middle East — were subject to surveillance, questioning, scrutiny and detentions.” Indeed, the Bush administration pioneered a radical new theory of executive power that literally vested the president with unlimited authority to do virtually anything in the name of national security, including breaking the law, and those theories were used largely to infringe the civil liberties of Muslims within the U.S.

Meanwhile Michael Flynn, the former head of the US Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, admits the obvious in an interview with Der Spiegel, that the Islamic State would not even exist if Bush had not made the fateful decision to invade Iraq.

Flynn: We were too dumb. We didn’t understand who we had there at that moment. When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, “Where did those bastards come from? Let’s go kill them. Let’s go get them.” Instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from. Then we strategically marched in the wrong direction.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US invaded Iraq even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.

Flynn: First we went to Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based. Then we went into Iraq. Instead of asking ourselves why the phenomenon of terror occurred, we were looking for locations. This is a major lesson we must learn in order not to make the same mistakes again.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Islamic State wouldn’t be where it is now without the fall of Baghdad. Do you regret …

Flynn: … yes, absolutely …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … the Iraq war?

Flynn: It was huge error. As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him. The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.

So let’s not get carried away with revising our opinion of the awful Bush presidency just because the current crop of Republican successors is so much worse. Bush created chaos in that region and thus spawned the kind of vicious organizations that can grow and flourish.

Comments

  1. Holms says

    It is a striking testimony to how far the Republican party has gone off the rails in its xenophobia and anti-Muslim venom that some people in the party are now looking back fondly at George W. Bush as a model of how one should respond to the appalling actions taken by some Muslims, such as in the San Bernadino attacks. Following the events of 9/11 he is now said to have struck the correct note, carefully distinguishing between the specific beliefs of the people who carried out those attacks and the vast mass of people who happened to share their same religion.

    Anyone who was an adult or late teen at the time of 2001-09-11, who saw the event itself plus the aftermath, has all the information at hand to know that this is pure revisionism. Anyone that thinks Bush Jr. got it right was either too young to see through the bland government spin back then, or they have engaged in some impressive mental gymnastics.

  2. sigurd jorsalfar says

    I hate the implication in this interview that the invasion of Iraq can only be seen as a mistake in hindsight, as if at the time everyone agreed that it was a sensible response to 9/11 with no obvious downside.

    No. Any sane person could see at the time that the invasion was a terrible idea, that it was non-responsive to 9/11, and that it was in fact illegal under international law. Moreover it was obvious at the time that Bush and the neocons were using 9/11 as a pretext for the invasion, which was something they wanted to do anyway, as is laid out clearly in their Plan For A New American Century. It wasn’t just a terrible mistake, it was a premeditated crime that also happened to have foreseeably negative results.

  3. lorn says

    While it is assumed that ISIS wouldn’t exist if Iraq wasn’t invaded it may not be entirely true. As an idea and movement it existed as an inchoate movement before Iraq was invaded. Come to find out Shia resentments about Sunni rule were a thing in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon before we invaded. The motivation and doctrinal underpinning were there but it lacked a strong leader, organization, and resources.

    Lots of reasons it happened when it did but the main reason might not be just the invasion. Conceivably, we could have invaded and not triggered the shift if:

    1) We hadn’t disband the army and de-Baathify the civil authorities.
    2) We put the population not already employed to work through simple Keynesian economic means, massive civil infrastructure building instead of insisting on supply-side and market based solutions.

    Full employment, rising wages, and improved living conditions as the infrastructure was rebuilt would, it is thought, provide a dampening effect upon the historic resentments and any tendency to turn to violence. The Iraqis were wiling to give the restructuring a chance but after a year of seeing things mostly get worse they ran out of patience.

    Of course none of that happened so pretty much everyone who knew how to fight found themselves and their families:
    1) Unemployed, with little or no source of income.
    2) Being persecuted buy the Shia majority who had a centuries worth of anger and resentment to heap upon the Sunnis. No surprise that the more radical Sunnis responded by dusting off the dream of a new caliphate to restore honor and dignity to Sunnis and bring Islam to the world. After losing power in Iraq, and under systematic persecution you want to dream big.

  4. lanir says

    The simple fact is that ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and similar groups are very authoritarian. So was the Bush administration and the actions it took and the flimsy justifications it used clearly show this. It is true that they are on opposite sides but they both desperately needed the other in order to thrive. Why did so few people speak up when the awful and disgustingly misnamed Patriot Act was up for vote? Because of Al Qaeda. Why does ISIS want to fight us so badly? Because they can use that the same way the Bush administration used 9/11.

  5. Nick Gotts says

    Come to find out Shia resentments about Sunni rule were a thing in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon before we invaded. The motivation and doctrinal underpinning were there but it lacked a strong leader, organization, and resources. – lorn@4

    The Assads are Shia, more specifically Alawite, so there was no “Sunni rule” there. In Lebanon, power is institutionally distributed between Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druse elites, but for many years, it was dominated by Assad’s Syria – so again, no “Sunni rule”. Jordan is 94% Sunni, so Sunni/Shia conflict is pretty much absent. So of the 4 countries you name, only in Iraq was Shia resentments about Sunni rule a significant political factor. And anyone could have foreseen that if an invader replaced Sunni with Shia rule, the formerly dominant group’s resentment was likely to be considerable. And in a heavily-armed society, to take a violent form. The exact form ISIS took was not predictable: but that there would be a violent Sunni movement in the Sunni Arab majority areas, looking at the least to escape Shia rule, was entirely so, before the invasion.

  6. says

    While it is assumed that ISIS wouldn’t exist if Iraq wasn’t invaded it may not be entirely true.

    An Iraq run by Saddam Hussein or Uday Hussein would not have let ISIS get off the ground. They had been quashing Sunni quite effectively for a long time and I see no reason to think they suddenly would have lost that ability.

  7. Dunc says

    While it is assumed that ISIS wouldn’t exist if Iraq wasn’t invaded it may not be entirely true.

    “While it is assumed that the building would not have burned down if my client hadn’t set fire to it, that may not be entirely true…”

    Sure, it’s theoretically possible that some entirely different chain of events may have led to a similar outcome, but that’s not the sort of reasoning most people normally use on a day-to-day basis.

  8. StevoR says

    @7. Marcus Ranum : “An Iraq run by Saddam Hussein or Uday Hussein would not have let ISIS get off the ground. They had been quashing Sunni quite effectively for a long time ..”

    Er, no, other way round. Saddam Hussein and his loathesome sons *were* Sunni and the Iraqi groups they were oppressing and tyrannising were the Shiites such as the Marsh Arabs. Plus the Kurds which were admittedly Sunni as well but still.

    Da’esh as I understand it come about several iterations of the conflict later as a result of a split & turf war – internal power struggle in Al Quaida with Daesh breaking away from and being even more extreme than the original AQ. So, no, nothing really to do with Iraq other than developing there and in Syria in the aftermath of the war – partial setting not causation.

    Would Da’esh have splintered from AQ anyhow regardless of who ruled Iraq? I think that’s quite probable* and don’t forget Da’esh were originally a Syrian and Levantine group s much as or even more than they were an Iraqi one. It actually makes equal or more sense to blame Obama ‘s non-intervention in the Syrian Civil War or the Wests’ egging on and allowing the “Arab Spring” to topple nasty but stable dictatorships (up till they started Syria’s war) as it does blaming Bush II’s intervention in Iraq as wrong as that was for many other reasons.

    Note too that Saddam also needs to be held at least partially responsible here for the penultimate so far Iraq war and could have avoided it and fled into exile instead.

    * For analogous historical examples look at the divisions and factions that broke away from the PLO and were around back in the 1970’s or the Real IRA breaking off from the IRA. Extremists terrorist groups have a general tendency to splinter into more and less extreme groups. Da’esh stemmed from and originated with Al Quaida – NOT Iraq. Perhaps wiping AQ out in Afghanistan – eg. not letting them escape from Tora Bora – could’ve most likely prevented Daesh from coming into being? Moot point now ‘spose.

  9. John Morales says

    Er, no, other way round. Saddam Hussein and his loathesome sons *were* Sunni and the Iraqi groups they were oppressing and tyrannising were the Shiites such as the Marsh Arabs.

    After the first Iraq-USA war (1991) and the ensuing sanctions, yeah. Go figure.

    Before that, not-so-much.

    (You know that saying about a little knowledge being dangerous?)

  10. John Morales says

    StevoR:

    Note too that Saddam also needs to be held at least partially responsible here for the penultimate so far Iraq war and could have avoided it and fled into exile instead.

    FFS!

    What Dunc wrote @8.

  11. StevoR says

    @ ^ John Morales :

    Er, pretty sure Islamism was already a thing dating back to the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.

    Also #12 was directed at #10 & (originally) missed your later comment.

    Why shouldn’t / doesn’t Saddam deserve at least a fair percentage of the blame of the second Iraq war (after the Kuwait invasion one he also at least half or so caused) in your mind exactly please?

    (Yeah, Bush the Lesser got it wrong too. So did Saddam though. Not all one guys or sides fault. Mutual blame here I reckon.)

    Remember here that Saddam was repeatedly offered the chance to flee into exile instead of facing the might of the Coalition of the Willing (incl. Arab & Muslim nations) with his family? I sure do. What I don’t understand is why he didn’t take that opportunity given that he – unlike we – knew he was bluffing with WMDs that he mucked the UN weapons inspectors about with?

    Saddam really was an arsehole, A stupid arsehole at that.

  12. Dunc says

    What I don’t understand is why he didn’t take that opportunity given that he – unlike we – knew he was bluffing with WMDs that he mucked the UN weapons inspectors about with?

    This is flat-out historical revisionism. He was not “bluffing” and did not “muck the UN weapons inspectors about”. He said quite clearly that he did not have any WMDs and co-operated fully with the UN inspectors. It was the US that “mucked the UN weapons inspectors about”, by not giving them time to finish the job when it became clear they weren’t going to come up with the desired answer.

  13. John Morales says

    StevoR @14:

    Er, pretty sure Islamism was already a thing dating back to the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia.

    Er, the discussion related to “Saddam Hussein and his loathesome sons”, not to Saudi Arabia. Again: the Ba’ath Party was secular and (originally) endorsed the separation of church and state.

    Why shouldn’t / doesn’t Saddam deserve at least a fair percentage of the blame of the second Iraq war (after the Kuwait invasion one he also at least half or so caused) in your mind exactly please?

    You’re imputing to me an opinion which I haven’t expressed, but note that loathsome and brutish and provocative as Saddam was, it was not he who invaded Iraq and destroyed its infrastructure (both physical and social), despite the (true) experts warning (before the fact) of the ensuing consequences, which duly came to pass.

    Saddam really was an arsehole, A stupid arsehole at that.

    And so the country he ruled deserved to be destroyed and its people traumatised.

    Right.

  14. StevoR says

    @ ^ John Morales : “And so the country he ruled deserved to be destroyed and its people traumatised.
    Right.”

    Wrong. Of course Iraq didn’t “deserve” to be destroyed and its people traumatised! What Iraq “deserved” (so much as a whole nation can collectively deserve anything)and what happened to it were (are) two very different things. Why what happened to Iraq happened to Iraq though does have a lot to do with Saddam Hussein’s brutal stupidity – which cost Saddam the lives of his family and himself because he was offered a chance to flee into exile before the war and stupidly didn’t take it. How totally different the region (& Iraq would be if Saddam and sons had just fled and the Iraq war then not happened!

    .. note that loathsome and brutish and provocative as Saddam was, it was not he who invaded Iraq and destroyed its infrastructure (both physical and social), despite the (true) experts warning (before the fact) of the ensuing consequences, which duly came to pass.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Yeah, he only did that destructive invasion of Kuwait back in 1991 and started the Iran-Iraq war by invading Iran (a war where Saddam ) and see also my paragaph above. Saddam’s forces left scorched earth and burning oil wells in their wake and committed some appalling human rights abuses and also used mustard gas -chemical WMDs. Saddam also terrorised and massacred many Iraqis too incl. again use o f chemical WMDs on the Kurds and also widespread, torture, unjust imprisonment and assassinations of opposition figures, etc ..The guy was a murdering evil despot and war-monger.

    I hold Saddam as much if not more responsible for the war(s) he started than the Bush led UN resolution enforcing Coalition of the Willing. Don’t you also think Saddam was at least partially to blame?

    Er, the discussion related to “Saddam Hussein and his loathesome sons”, not to Saudi Arabia. Again: the Ba’ath Party was secular and (originally) endorsed the separation of church and state.

    The Iraqi dictatorship’s Fiath campaign and adding the takbir to its flag might’ve followed Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait by the Coalition of Allies but Islamism itself in its modern latest incarnation really goes back to the Wahhabis in Arabia and Saddam was a Sunni raised by at least some devout Sunni family members such as Kharaillah Tulfah Saddam’s uncle who largely raised him after he ran away from his initial family. (Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddam_Hussein#Youth ) So I guess it depends which sort of Islamism we’re talking about here with you referring to one particular Islamist program and me referring to other broader and more general Islamism.

  15. John Morales says

    StevoR, I give up. You want to think that Saddam provoked the Bush regime into invading Iraq and therefore is to blame for what happened, fine. You want to think that because Iraq was a Muslim country, it was therefore Islamist, fine.

    The guy was a murdering evil despot and war-monger.

    While Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al. weren’t despotic, so that’s fine too.

    In passing:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century

  16. StevoR says

    @ ^ John Morales : No, what Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc .. did was wrong – but so too was Saddam Hussein. They share the blame for what happened to Iraq and why the war occurred.

    As for Iraq being Islamist well, it certainly was to a degree hence that “Return to Faith’ program you linked to in #13 here. Obviously Iraq under Saddam was not as Islamist as Iran or Arabia but not really that secular either. Also obviously the situation in Iraq (or what’s left of it) now with sectarian Sunni-Shia civil war and Daesh controlling huge chunks of the country is a disaster for everyone.

    PS. As I’ve written before, it’d probably be best to allow Iraq (& Syria) to (peacefully via referenda) break up into separate Sunni Shia, Alawaite nations – and certainly the Kurdish people deserve better and a land of their own as well.

  17. Alex2016 says

    G ,Bush who used Massive Ordnance Air
    Blast Bomb (MOAB) in 2003 in Iraq war that he started against international law .
    how he and Blair accused Iraq that it had mass destruction
    Arms
    for 10 years but this proved to be not correct at all and war was
    big horrible mistake . for that hundreds thousands of Iraqi people
    killed
    with 30000 American soldiers plus wounded about 240000 from 2003-2008
    for illegal aggression that Bush started for what !!!!. what is the situation of
    United Nation , how allowed for this crime without strong punishing
    condemnation . peoples bloods is not a play to be forgotten simply . this
    should not be repeated at all .
    G.Bush policies were totally wrong mainly in Iraq which caused huge losses somebody estimate 2 trillions Dollars from 2003-2008 .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *