While presiding over a war someone else had started, George W. Bush received abuse and vilification unprecedented for a U.S. president. He still does, as a matter of fact, if you troll news sites featuring stories on the Boston atrocity of last week.
The president’s – now the ex-president’s – offenses were practically historic. He was a liar! He was a warmonger and torturer and violator of civil rights, not to mention a cheap show-off (that “Mission Accomplished” business)! If only we could be cleansed from the touch of the man who stole the hanging chads and, with them, the election!
The George W. Bush Presidential Center opens this week in Dallas, and the shouting, spitting, eye-gouging match over Bush’s stewardship of the nation from 2001 to 2009 can commence with renewed fury. Not the least point of dispute will be the war on terror, which conflict we seem to be re-fighting in the aftermath of the Boston slaughter.
On Monday, as the federal government levied criminal charges against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, newspapers and newscasts agonized over potential mistakes in handling the case – the subjects’ Miranda Rights, whether to prosecute him as a domestic criminal or a foreign enemy, what to make of the Islamic connection to the Tsarnaev brothers’ plotting, what future precautions to take against homegrown terrorists, and so on. In respect of the terror war, we are no more past the tumult and shouting and slander and rage of the Bush years than we are past their most visible internal consequences – mistrust and national division.
Among the George W. Bush Center’s spacious missions is that of evaluating the prospects for protecting and encouraging human freedom around the world. It may take some time. I would venture all the same that out in such a context, larger appreciation of Bush’s fight against terrorism is likely to be born.
I am saying neither of two ridiculous things: 1) that the explicit game plan at the Bush Center is to make America’s Iraq experience smell as good as it did for a few heady days in 2003; or 2) that the experience itself was exploited with peerless ingenuity and resolution. Neither point is true.
What is true, I venture, is that our national trip into the vortex of the Iraqi-Afghan-Muslim-terror-war whirlpool was predestined under existing circumstances -- an aspect of fate; postponable, maybe, but unavoidable.
A Muslim-directed terror war goes on, and we are the targets. Boston was only in part the follow-up to 9/11; it was the follow-up to the birth, following World War II, of seething, boiling hatreds among much of the world’s Muslim population. The hatreds surely had less to do with religious scruples than with antagonism toward winners (us) by losers (members of stagnant Arab and Muslim cultures). “Losers” was in fact the word used by the Tsarnaev brothers’ uncle to characterize his nephews.
The roots of anti-Americanism are hard to get at. We don’t hate the people who hate us. We just know they do hate us and that measures – defensive, preferably; aggressive when occasion demands it -- are part of modern life.
Second-guessing George W. Bush for a war supported in its initial stages by two senators from Boston -- Ted Kennedy and John Kerry -- is simplicity itself. It’s enough for many to know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Conclusion: Bush lied. Liars are evil. Bush is evil.
The Bush Center, I believe, has no intention of making out any kind of a case for a war marked by strategic miscalculations of the gravest sort. I think – I pray -- the center will serve as a forum, one of many, for looking at both sides of the War on Terror question. We need such a forum. Was Bush 43 always wrong? Hardly. Was he always right? Same answer.
This he knew, even so: that our generally honorable nation can come under the gaze of killers, and that the law of mankind has left us an unchallengeable precept -- kill or be killed.
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