Beware the Bush Family Image-Rehab Machine

tags: George W. Bush, Iraq War, George HW Bush, Saddam

Sam Tanenhaus is the former editor of the NYT Book Review. 

The rehabilitation of George W. Bush has never looked more promising. His recent speech in defense of the Republicanism of yesteryear (free trade, globalization, and multinational alliances) came loaded with “Never Trump” alarms about the rise of “bigotry” and “nativism,” “conspiracy theories” and “outright fabrication.” It pleased even Democrats, who not long ago loathed him almost as much as they loathe Trump — and did so, at least by the end of Bush’s second term, with more concrete reason: a needless and costly war in Iraq, an incompetent and coldhearted handling of Hurricane Katrina, Wall Street–first economic policies that plunged the economy into the Great Recession.

And yet today, remarkably, much is being forgiven. Why? For one thing, Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was sincerely meant and has yielded results. Bush himself continues to promote health-care initiatives in Africa to fight AIDS and provide cervical-cancer screening. For another, although, like Trump, Bush came to the presidency underprepared, unlike him, he proved a diligent student in the White House. It is hard to imagine Trump reading 14 books on Lincoln, as Bush did while he was president....

The Middle East is as it is today because of the Bushes. The first Iraq invasion has been enshrined as a model of foreign policy — but only because the second one was so much worse. In fact, doubts attended 41’s invasion, too. One of that war’s few candid memoirists, Colin Powell, later described a period of bungled signals, beginning when the ambassador in Baghdad assured Saddam Hussein, on Bush’s orders, that the administration had “no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”

In some 100 articles, many of them written by Douglas Frantz, the L.A. Times gradually peeled away the story behind the war: Saddam had been our client for years, supported with loans, including $5 billion laundered via the Atlanta office of an Italian bank, for which the payments were still being disbursed until shortly before the war. The administration frantically covered this up, through a farrago of falsified documents and opaque testimony in congressional hearings. “That Bush has lied about his knowledge of shipments of U.S. arms to Iraq can no longer be seriously disputed,” wrote the Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland.

William Safire, the period’s most respected conservative columnist, later wrote in the New York Times, “The war in the Persian Gulf was brought about by a colossal foreign-policy blunder … the Bush administration’s fraudulent use of public funds, its sustained deception of Congress and its obstruction of justice.” The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, David Boren, a moderate Democrat from Oklahoma, called for a special prosecutor, so thick had the atmosphere grown with disinformation and stonewalling by the CIA and the Justice Department. Nevertheless, “Iraq-gate” was “unraveling with stunning speed as the Bush administration dissolve[d] into warring clans more worried about staying out of jail than promoting the reelection of President Bush,” Hoagland wrote three weeks before Election Day in 1992.

The actual battle for Iraq lasted only 42 days, in January and February of 1991, but as the L.A. Times summarized, the successes there were oversold, too....

Read entire article at NY Magazine