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America loves its war criminals
As Gaza suffered through one of its worst night of Israeli air strikes—a night reminiscent of the U.S. “Shock and Awe” attacks in Iraq in 2003—George W. Bush was celebrated at a World Series game.
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Twenty-two years after delivering the ceremonial first pitch at a World Series game shortly following the 9/11 tragedy, former President George W. Bush repeated the gesture amid another conflict in the Middle East.
As Bush threw out the first pitch on Friday night to chants of “USA!” from the North Texas crowd, it coincided with the besieged Palestinian enclave of Gaza enduring one of its most devastating nights of Israeli air strikes since the conflict began three weeks ago, following the massacre of more than 1300 Israelis on October 7 at the hands of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Of course, the cruel irony lay in the resemblance between Israel's bombardment of Gaza and Bush's “Shock and Awe" campaign that devastated Baghdad, Iraq in 2003.
The parallel between Israel's actions in Gaza and Bush's campaign in Iraq was both striking and poignant. While the circumstances were different, the scenes of widespread destruction, the images of civilians caught in the crossfire, and the intensification of conflict stirred memories of a not-too-distant past.
Furthermore, it served as a poignant illustration of the enduring reverence a considerable segment of the American population maintains for Bush despite his administration's contentious legacy.
This is a president whose tenure saw the initiation of two major wars, one of which relied on fictitious claims about "weapons of mass destruction" to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq.
The transgressions of the Bush administration extend beyond two wars. Throughout the Iraq war, it became evident that the U.S. government was involved in a spectrum of human rights violations against detainees held at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. These included reports of sexual assault, torture, and various acts of sadistic abuse. Notably, there was the deeply troubling incident known as the Haditha massacre, where U.S. Marines were implicated in the execution of twenty-four Iraqis, which tragically included children, women, and even a man in a wheelchair. Subsequently, there were attempts to conceal and cover up these abuses.
Neither Bush, nor any senior officials within his administration, ever faced accountability for these war crimes.
Bush was also responsible for the degradation of U.S. democracy in the aftermath of 9/11. His administration created the “war on terror’ paradigm, founded the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and presided over a period of constitutional erosion that included waves of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination, contributing to the overall degradation of democratic values and principles within the nation.
Nevertheless, Bush has orchestrated a sustained media effort to refurbish his public image—an endeavor that was somewhat facilitated by the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. Bush appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show, was pictured in warm embraces with the likes of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, and was heralded as a hero for saying he didn’t like the “racism” of Trump’s tenure in office.
Unsurprisingly, the media enthusiastically embraced this narrative. In 2013, Vanity Fair published a piece under the headline “How George W. Bush evolved from the uncoolest person on the planet to bona fide hipster icon.” Two years later, Time magazine wrote that Bush was a “paragon of statesmanship” compared to Trump.
Despite Bush’s attempts to rehabilitate his image, he has long been designated a war criminal by various entities. In 2011, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC)—a Malaysian organization that investigates war crimes—convicted in absentia the former US president, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and other U.S. officials including Donald Rumsfeld of conspiracy to commit war crimes, specifically torture.
Last year, Bush voiced one of the great Freudian slips into existence when he accidentally said Iraq instead of Ukraine when condemning “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion.”
While the audience laughed along with Bush, who blamed his age for the slip of the tongue, there was nothing funny about the mishap. Bush’s war in Iraq resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis civilians and plunged the Middle East into decades of instability that continue to haunt the region.
As Gaza grapples with Israeli airstrikes and a deepening humanitarian crisis, the spotlight once again finds Bush, illuminating a disconcerting truth: Americans still hold a favorable view of the former president, despite his contentious legacy.
This leaves us with an important question: what is to stop war criminals from committing such heinous acts when all that awaits them is the ceremonial pitch at a World Series game?
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