It seems appropriate to write my first post on this Only ever fear obscurity blog on George W Bush because, well, he is one man who will never have to fear fading into obscurity as time goes on. The fact that George W Bush was a president of the United States of America already ensures that he can rest a little easier about fading into obscurity than the rest of us. However, his accomplishments or misaccomplishments, as some would call them, ensure that he will be an unforgettable 43rd president of the USA.
The biggest legacy of the Bush administration rests in the invasive war against the Middle East, in particular, Afghanistan and Iraq. His War on Terrorism, use of dangerous rhetoric such as “axis of evil”, misidentification of weapons of mass destruction in the hands and camps of Saddam Hussein and the controversy over abuse of terrorists, prisoners and suspects at Guantanamo Bay are all supporting actors that have helped usher in the black cloud that currently hangs over his time in the presidency. It is hard to find an American, or Canadian, for that matter, who will openly claim their support for GWB, and it is even harder to find that approval overseas. It is very easy to condemn GWB for the mistakes that he and his adminstration have made. It is also very easy to forget the shock we all felt on September 11, 2001.
I admit that I, too, forgot what I felt when I watched national television play over and over again the tape of the two airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, but the feelings imprinted onto me that early morning will never disappear. Shock, terror – a feeling of amazement that someone has dared to openly attack the USA, undisputed Super Power and Big Brother of the world – and a sense of horror as the casualty count came in floods me every time I bring back that memory. I remember cheering on GWB when he promised
I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
And I remember, a few years later, condemning GWB along with the rest of the world, when the death count of civilians and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq started to climb with no end in sight, when the civilian Afghans and Iraqis started to condemn America for the invasion, and when the Taliban and Al-Qaeda started their own personal guerilla hits.
But how much of this terrible legacy is GWB’s own personal fault? When I stumbled onto the BBC’s documentary called The Legacy of George W Bush, I was intrigued and downloaded it for the sole purpose of poking more ridicule at GWB. What the podcast showed me was not necessarily a different side of the story, but a more tempered view of the Bush administration. After a few days of mulling over that podcast, this is what I’ve begun to conclude:
What else could GWB have done in response to 9/11? The country was demoralized and in shock. If GWB had not immediately called for war, sooner or later, the civilians would have started screaming for blood with encouragement from the media. If GWB had not declared war, his military advisors would’ve torn him apart, and made sure that the average American citizen understood that their elected president was foregoing his oath to protect the rights and citizens of the United States of America. If GWB had not started the war, what man, woman or child would not have denounced him and the USA a coward to terrorism? What president would have dared to not declare war?
Of course, war was declared on “the Middle East”. No terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack, and even when evidence was found implicating the Al-Qaeda, the invasion had already begun. That was how the evidence was found, after all.
By the time evidence of the mistakes of the American military intelligence began to surface, it was really too late for the American military to back out of Afghanistan and Iraq without losing face to the Middle East. Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al-Qaeda and mastermind behind 9/11, was in hiding. Whether or not the native Afghans/Iraqis were sheltering him of their own free will is a reflection of the natives’ dilemma of being torn between trusting and fearing the American military. In retrospect, of course, the Bush administration ought not have declared war so hastily, ought not have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq so quickly, ought not have acted on hunches and intuition without evidence. But, freshly spilled American blood, and therefore bloodlust, was in the air after 9/11.
Perhaps it is fairest to say that the war was a project GWB could not drop. It is one of those things that once started, cannot be stopped by the one who began it without great cost to himself and his country’s political and global future. Retreat could only be instigated by a new president, one previously and publicly unconnected with the outcry for blood after 9/11, because only a new president, from a new party with, ostensibly, a new view could allow America to retreat from the internationally unpopular war without being viewed as a hypocrite – that most terrible and denouncing of names to call a politician and his Big Brother country.
GWB was but a man, albeit a man charged with the running and protecting of his country. We often put our politicians on a pedestal and demand that they be perfect and able to withstand a detailed accounting and forget that they are just like us, with petty pride and jealousies, preferences and idiosyncrasies. When you take GWB down from his presidential pedestal and judge his actions as a fellow man, how many of us would have been brave enough to follow a different path than he took? How many of us would have been brave enough to stand up to the public’s outraged scrutiny if we had called for a delay of the “War on Terrorism” by citing a disturbing lack of evidence?
The answer, I believe, is very few or none at all.