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.