GWB: “Not a Man of Peace”
In case you missed it — and, well, most of us did — President Bush gave an interview to The Times (U.K.) in Slovenia the other day during which he admitted that, well, things haven’t all gone well during his presidency:
President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a “guy really anxious for war” in Iraq. He said that his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran.
In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”
Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”. He said that he found it very painful “to put youngsters in harm’s way”. He added: “I try to meet with as many of the families as I can. And I have an obligation to comfort and console as best as I possibly can. I also have an obligation to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.”
Almost enough to arouse one’s sympathy for the man, no?
Well, no, not really.
Look, I don’t think Bush is the pure evil he is often made out to be, and I’m sure there’s a side to him that is more genuinely humane than the macho image of himself he so often presents to the world. And I’m sure that the loss of so many of America’s young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan — his wars, that is, particularly the former — arouses that more humane side.
Also, I’m sure that, in terms of the Iraq War (and of his foreign policy generally), he has been motivated by noble aims (alongside the ignoble ones). It isn’t just about oil and Amerian hegemony for him. In that sense, he isn’t like Cheney or Wolfowitz or Libby or Feith or the neocon warmongers who all along have demanded war, war, and more war. There’s a scene recounted at the beginning of Hubris, the excellent book about the selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, where Bush, on the South Lawn of the White House with Ari Fleischer and some communications staffers, responds to being told about gadfly reporter Helen Thomas’s questions about a possible war with Iraq with this sudden stream of righteous passion: “Did you tell her I don’t like m—–f—ers who gas their own people? Did you tell her I don’t like a–holes who lie to the world? Did you tell her I’m going to kick his sorry m—–f—ing ass all over the Mideast?”
Therein, I think, lies the essence of the man, in all its contradictions. He believes in the eternal struggle between good and evil. He believes that he is on the side of justice. He believes that he has a responsibility to wage war against injustice. And, of course, he was right about Saddam — that is, he was right about him to the extent that Saddam was a brutal dictator who committed genocide against his own people (obviously, he wasn’t right about Saddam’s alleged WMD capabilities, or about Saddam’s allegedly imminent threat to American interests).
I can excuse the language, but there isn’t much nuance or subtlety to Bush. It’s about kicking Saddam’s “m—–f—ing ass,” not about building an international coalition to stabilize the Middle East. Bush is a self-righteous man, with strong (if rather shallow) convictions, but he is also a child, one who could easily be (and was) manipulated by adults like Cheney.
Regardless, it’s a bit late for contrition, however (in)sincere. He may have his regrets, but, ultimately, he is to blame for what happened. He politicized 9/11, using it as a partisan wedge. He pushed far war with Iraq. He spun the lies and misrepresentations, just as much as his underlings. He ruined America’s image and credibility around the world. He balked at (and undermined) diplomatic efforts to resolve international conflicts. He ratcheted up the warmongering rhetoric against Iran. He used the sort of language that made him sound like anything but a man of peace. He may be thinking about his legacy, about how he will be remembered, about what history will say about him, but to claim now that he is really just a compassionate man of peace who encourages diplomacy is laughable — and hardly borne out by the record.
Hubris is full of evidence to refute Bush’s revisionistic claims that he is a man of peace who regrets that things went the way they did. Here’s one incident that stands out (p. 117):
At a breakfast with a few congressional leaders in late September , Bush expressed exasperation when the issue fo a diplomatic settlement arose. Saddam had shown his contempt for the United States, he told the legislators. There was no use talking to him. “Do you want to know what the foreign policy of Iraq is to the United States?” Bush asked angrily. The president then answered his own question by raising his middle finger and thrusting it inches in front of Senator [Tom] Daschle’s face, according to a witness. “F— the United States!” Bush continued. “That’s what it is — and that’s why we’re going to get him!”
Yes, “a different tone, a different rhetoric” would have been nice, but, again, Bush was playing partisan politics over 9/11 and Iraq all along, especially ahead of the 2002 congressional elections and then again in 2004 when he was up for re-election.
Sorry, Mr. Bush, we know you far too well to take you at your revisionistic word.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)