How do you feel about George W. Bush? I never liked him, even if he seemed approachable. I just never agreed with his policies, nor did I appreciate how he got into the White House.
Many Americans are “reevaluating” his eight years in the White House, especially in the face of a Donald Trump presidency. Their opinions of him might also have conditioned by the ongoing campaign Bush has been waging to present himself in a better light, aided by the press. However, letting Bush off the hook is a huge mistake.
George W. Bush has been feeling himself ever since Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, and the latter has the numbers to boost his ego. George W. Bush left the White House with an overall approval rating of 34%, but he became just as popular as Bill Clinton just 7 years later. Of course, that jump was attributed in part to Trump.
Bush has received more since he actively distanced himself from Trump. Last year, the former made a veiled comment about the latter (then denied that he was talking about the guy). At one point, Bush also said that Trump made him look good by comparison.
The truth is Bush was worse than Trump is currently — although Trump is very, very bad right now. But when you take both of their legacies at length and look at all the things both these guys have done, Bush did a lot more damage. That’s because Bush had eight years to do damage.
Of course, there is a lot of time for Trump to catch up — and Trump will likely do more damage in just four years. In the meantime, we need to remember why Bush became such a hated figure around the world from 2001 to 2009.
Why I’m Saying This
Two weekends ago, I came across a tweet that summed up the truth about George W. Bush, despite his efforts to repair his own tattered image.
On July 12, 2018, George W. Bush joined Bill Clinton onstage for an event at the Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. The proceedings were part of the graduation ceremony for the 2018 class of Presidential Leadership scholars.
During the event at that ceremony, Bush took some questions from the audience. When a young man, a Latino, asked Bush about what the children of immigrants could do to take part in the overall political discussion, W said that citizenship comes with great responsibility. He then pivoted to the greater discussion about immigration and said this:
I am disturbed by the debate that’s taking place because I think that it undermines the goodness of America. I think it doesn’t recognize the valuable contributions immigrants make to our society. And it obscures the fact — the rhetoric does — that our system is broken and needs to be fixed.
CNN tweeted that snippet of Bush’s answer, to which a Twitter user replied:
That got me thinking about expanding my list of complaints about Bush. Over one year ago, I wrote a post in which I talked about election fraud. Of course, I mentioned Bush and gave 10 reasons I despised him, I would like to go into excruciating detail now. Let’s review.
Bush’s Harmful Foreign Policy
Much of Bush’s foreign policy was tied to the aftermath of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and his response to it.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush pushed for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The AUMF was a joint resolution introduced on September 14, 2001, by Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-SD). It was approved on September 18, 2001, a full week after the terrorist attacks.
The AUMF was drafted “To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.” Section 2(a) specified the following:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Ultimately, the AUMF led to the Iraq war, but it was eventually used to justify bombing numerous other countries as part of the supposed “War on Terror.” Since terrorism has become such a nebulous term and the use of the AUMF has been just a nebulous, the United States will be locked into perpetual war for the foreseeable future.
The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
I initially approved of the decision to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, but I never approved of the AUMF or the decision to go to Iraq. While the reasoning for going into Afghanistan (fighting the oppressive regime of the Taliban and going after Osama Bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks) made sense to me, there was no connection between those terrorist attacks and the oppressive government run by Saddam Hussein.
Regardless, I knew we would be going to Iraq anyway. Even though Cheney and others were the architects of the Iraq war, Bush was in favor of it — and he lied us into it. In short, Bush and his deputies told us five basic lies to drum up support for the war:
- Saddam Hussein was linked to Al Qaida.
- Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear program.
- Iraq had mobile chemical labs.
- Iraq’s aluminum tubes were used for uranium enrichment.
- Hussein was pursuing fissile material (yellowcake).
Of course, this implied that Iraq would ultimately serve as a threat to the United States. That’s where the Bush Doctrine (the preemptive strike fallacy) came in. However, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and much of the “evidence” used to justify an invasion was purposely misread or falsified. Even worse, Bush didn’t allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct a thorough weapons inspection in Iraq before he ordered the invasion.
In the early stages of the invasion, it seemed that Bush had made the right gamble, despite the ethical concerns surrounding it — but we would realize how haphazard the invasion was.
- Bush had no exit strategy.
- His regime had hired a bunch of contractors, like Black Water, without a formal bidding process and those contractors were behind numerous abuses.
- When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about Iraqi civilian deaths, he indicated that the U.S.-led coalition had no interest in counting the Iraqi war dead.
- After a few years of fighting, it became clear that not all of the money pumped into Iraq was accounted for.
By the time we started the second Gulf war, Bush and crew had already mismanaged the war in Afghanistan; thus, they took that mismanagement to Iraq.
Additionally, the war added to instability in the Middle East. When Saddam Hussein was ultimately deposed, it left a void in Iraq that any existing terrorist group could fill. There are some people who will happily blame Barack Obama for the creation of ISIS because he drew down troop levels in Iraq, but there would have been no such void if we didn’t invade Iraq in the first place.
After all this time, we are still involved in Iraq. And as a result, around 4,500 U.S. Troops were killed, between 150,000 and 1 million Iraqi civilians were killed, and the United States wasted over $3 trillion. We could have a universal health care system by now.
Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay
Past the initials stages of the Iraq War, the military ran the Abu Ghraib prison, in which numerous men were tortured and humiliated. This was a huge embarrassment for the United States, but that was nothing compared to how the prisoners were treated.
But if you thought that was bad, consider the existence of the prison camp on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. First of all, the prison is on land owned by a country we had an embargo against. The United States isn’t really welcome there, but we have been paying “rent” to Cuba and staying against its will.
More importantly, the prison was occupied by prisoners who were rounded up on shoddy information and denied due process. And about 80% of the prisoners there were rounded up by Afghans and Pakistanis. Prisoners at Guantanamo were regularly tortured and humiliated. Conditions were so bad, that a number of prisoners went on hunger strikes — only to be force-fed.
In total, 779 prisoners were sent to Gitmo beginning in January 2002. Today, there are only 40 prisoners being held in the prison, mostly due to Barack Obama’s decisions to place hundreds more in other countries. some of those who remained were actually cleared by the Obama administration yet are still being held indefinitely.
The Torture Program
The torture of detainees didn’t end at the makeshift prisons. More people were tortured by the CIA at numerous black sites around the world.
Forms of torture included waterboarding and sensory deprivation. These were called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but studies later showed that torture was more likely to produce unreliable information. If someone wants to get good information from an informant, it pays to make them feel comfortable. When someone is being tortured, they are more likely to tell lies in order to get the torture to stop.
Early on, George W. Bush sought to move the United States away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the agreement signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1972 but held up the U.S., Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine after the Soviet Union dissolved. The idea was roundly criticized at home and abroad, especially by Russia and China, the latter of which feared that it would lead to an arms race. Ultimately, the 9/11 terrorist attacks gave Bush an excuse; he cited terrorism when he formally announced that the U.S. was vacating the ABMT on December 13, 2001. After the decision was finalized six months later, it soon fell apart.
In response, Russia withdrew from the START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). In its place, George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in Moscow on May 24, 2002. However, while that treated mandated a reduction to strategic warheads, it didn’t address the stockpiled warheads and there was no mechanism for enforcement.
Also in 2002, the United States explored the development of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, only to be rebuffed by Russia. Although Bush had said he had seen into Russia President Vladimir Putin’s soul, the two couldn’t see eye to eye on the issue of putting up missile defense shields in Poland.
Regardless of what you think about Putin, he had a legitimate concern. First of all, Bush’s decision to leave the ABMT facilitated the first time that the United States had ever withdrawn from such a treaty. It set a dangerous precedent, one that told other nations not to trust the United States.
Secondly, Poland borders a small part of Russia and the Baltic States. If those defense systems were placed in Poland, it might not openly violate agreements the U.S. and Russia had regarding NATO (not expanding past Germany), but it would be a dangerous workaround.
And what if those systems were ultimately deployed against Russia? As it turns out, leaked cables revealed that Poland feared Russia more than Iran, a potential reason for the missile defense shields being proposed in the first place.
Bush’s Harmful Domestic Policies
Bush sought an ultra-conservative domestic policy that most people have forgotten about. Off the top of my head:
- Bush took the United States from a record surplus to what was its largest deficit via tax cuts and increased military spending.
- Under Bush, the veterans who were coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to poor medical treatment and in some cases homelessness and predatory lending.
- Although the housing and financial crises had their origins in Bill Clinton’s deregulation of the financial sector, Bush oversaw the collapse and did virtually nothing to prevent it.
- Bush banned the use of embryonic stem cells, which hampered genetic research, especially for scientists looking for treatments for hereditary defects and diseases.
- Bush hired “Brownie” to head FEMA, which was then mismanaged, especially after post-Katrina New Orleans.
- Bush took the time to announce his opposition to affirmative action on Martin Luther King Day.
- Bush rolled back labor laws, including mandates for employers to pay their workers for overtime.
- Bush pushed for No Child Left Behind Act. The 2004 law contributed to a proliferation of charter schools, which also took funds away from public institutions.
- Bush signed the Patriot Act into law and used it to violate habeas corpus and ramp up warrantless government spying on citizens.
- Bush signed Medicare Part D into law, which was confusing to health care recipients and blocked the federal government from negotiating drug prices.
Here’s more in-depth.
On the Environment
Bush had a similar environmental policy to Trump. Bush got rid of regulations, took the U.S. out of an international environmental agreement (the Kyoto Protocol), and staffed his EPA with tons of people loyal to the energy industry. Dick Cheney instituted a secret energy task force that included the big players from Big Oil and he had ties to Halliburton, which overbilled the United States government by $1.8 billion.
Immigration and Islamophobia
Some of Bush’s most harmful policies may have been those concerning immigrants and Muslims. Of course, Bush created Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an extra agency that serves as a modern-day Gestapo that terrorizes immigrants, regardless of legal status, and some U.S. citizens. Yet there were other policies Bush championed or instituted that hurt immigrants and residents, regardless of their legal status.
One thing that is barely talked about is Bush’s guest worker program. Bush tried to institute the program as a middle ground for dealing with immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, yet he faced pushback from the left and the right. The Democrats, led by members of the Black Caucus, were more concerned about the potential for exploitation. The program, if implemented, would have skewed more toward low-wage workers.
One policy that was instituted was the construction of fences along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is what I wrote in February 2017:
When the fence was constructed under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff waived 36 regulations. He also used the REAL ID Act of 2004 to grant him the authority.
The federal government sued homeowners and property owners in order to construct the fence. In turn, Texans, people from indigenous tribes, and environmentalists have sued the federal government.
Another bad policy hurt law-abiding immigrants. In 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) instituted a secret program called the Controlled Application Review or Resolution Program (CARRP). Under that program, Muslims who applied for visas, permanent residency, and citizenship were left in limbo and their applications were either delayed or denied namely because of their Muslim faith.
Depending on the applicant, their application could be flagged because:
- They come from a certain country.
- They have contacted a person who is on a terror watch list.
- That person’s name is like that of a person on a terror watch list.
- They attended a Mosque or other Islamic function that was under FBI surveillance.
Under normal circumstances, an applicant may have to wait up to 6 months for their application to be approved. For the people caught up in the CARRP web, their wait may last for years.
George W. Bush’s Contempt for the Press
If the above wasn’t bad enough, it was clear that Bush didn’t care for reporters or honest journalism.
USA Today obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that showed that George W. Bush’s Education Department paid Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote No Child Left Behind. As part of the deal, Williams was required to through promote NCLB during his broadcasts and to interview then-Education Secretary Rod Paige for television and radio spots that aired in 2004.
Additionally, the Education Department worked with a public relations firm called Ketchum, which arranged for Williams, a leading black broadcaster who hosted the conservative TV and radio program The Right Side, to use his contacts with America’s Black Forum. As part of the promotion, Williams convinced Steve Harvey to take time on his own radio show to interview Paige; the Education Secretary appeared on Harvey’s show twice.
Even though Williams professed to believe in the NCLB program, his deal with the Education Department was likely illegal. Melanie Sloan from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said that the deal was propaganda. Rep. George Miller of California, then the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, questioned the legality of the deal and said he would ask the chairman of the committee to launch an investigation.
When Reporters Didn’t Cooperate …
There would be some occasional stories about Bush officials sparring with reporters who wrote unfavorable articles, like the story about what Bush said about Adam Clymer from The New York Times.
That’s little compared to what happened in the Middle East.
Al Jazeera in the Crosshairs
When I first heard of Al Jazeera, I distrusted it because of what I’d heard about it. I vaguely remember being told that it was full of anti-U.S. propaganda, but upon doing some research, even past journalists would agree that’s true. That still doesn’t justify the U.S.’s actions against it.
Al Jazeera became a target since it was embedded in Iraq and on the ground to report on events of the young war. What Al Jazeera presented showed the U.S.-led coalition in a negative light, especially during the seize in Fallujah. And that siege started as retaliation for the deaths of four Blackwater employees.
According to reports, the military might have acted on orders from up top when targeting reporters, especially reporters from Al Jazeera, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One such reporter was Sami al-Hajj, who began working for Al Jazeera in the early days of that company. He was reporting on the war in Afghanistan until he was singled out in December 2001 and eventually moved to Guantanamo Bay, where he stayed for the better part of six years. He was relatively lucky because some other Al Jazeera reporters were killed in Iraq.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, 16 journalists and other members of the media were killed by U.S. forces in Iraq. An April 8, 2003 air raid on an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad resulted in the death of Tarek Ayoub, a cameraman. That same day, two other journalists were killed when the U.S. tank shelled a Palestine hotel in Baghdad.
The U.S. hit another Al Jazeera office in Kabul in 2001. That attack involved two smart bombs. The BBC bureau was almost destroyed in that attack.
On November 22, 2005, the Daily Mirror, a British publication, ran a story alleging that George W. Bush asked Tony Blair about attacking Al Jazeera’s international headquarters in Qatar. According to the Mirror, a five-page memo outlined the conversation, which took place on April 16, 2003, a week after the U.S.’s deadly siege in Falluja took place. The story was panned by Blair’s government and Bush’s regime, but they didn’t expressly deny the charges. Instead, Blair’s government has pointed to the Official Secrets Act to deter anyone from leaking the memo and Bush’s people have doubled down on trying to discredit Al Jazeera.
Bush’s Effect on Political Discourse
Bush’s Cabinet included John Bolton, a hegemonic maniac, as U.N. ambassador, but the most consequential addition to Bush’s team had to be political strategist Karl Rove. Bush unleashed Karl Rove on the Justice Department, where Rove worked to undermine our electoral system by politicizing the Civil Rights division. Rove would also go on to further pollute our electoral process with Redmap, which allowed Republicans to gerrymander the hell out of districts and keep control of Congress for over a decade.
I will also add that the level of hyper-partisanship we are dealing with now has its roots in Bush’s non-election. The 2000 presidential election was very close, but its conclusion went on for weeks because of the shenanigans in Florida. And after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush’s side, we saw more and more 5-4 decisions and political discussion in the United States reach all-time lows.
Additionally, Bush’s mismanagement and his policies helped to facilitate the backlash that got Trump in office. Bush failed Americans in the areas of foreign policy (war), the economy, and immigration, the areas in which he criticized Trump. For one thing, Bush didn’t use the option for “special protections” when China was first admitted into the World Trade Organization; if he had, might have helped American workers fare better, especially after China started manipulating its currency. Secondly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to drops in troop morale and war fatigue; Trump won in part because voters wanted to see an end to those wars.
Another Way Bush Affects Us Now
Bush set another dangerous precedent for Trump when you consider the former’s relationship with Dick Cheney. Many people had suspected that Cheney was really running the show and Bush seemed to confirm that in one of his books. (So, on top of the damage Bush did, Cheney was doing things in secret.) Going off that example, it was obvious that Trump would seek out a VP and advisors to run the government for him while he served as the face of the country and worked to increase his own profit margin.
You see how easy that was for me to rattle off those points about Bush’s domestic policies? Unfortunately, it is that easy for people to forget about those policies, although they were straightforward. Part of the reason might be how disastrous Bush’s foreign policies were compared to his domestic policies.
This might also explain why Bush is having moderate success in rehabilitating his image. Many people are only focused on how they’re affected and how their country is affected, and it was clear that Bush was a greater danger to the world at large. Still, we need to look at the bigger picture and fight the urge to forget.
Again, I want to remind people how bad George W. Bush was. We mustn’t forget it because if we do, we lose all focus and the ability to put things into perspective.
When we talk about how bad Trump is (and yes, he is abysmal, to say the least), we must compare him to other presidents (and George W. Bush/Dick Cheney) based on policy and the actual damage they’ve done. So far, much of what Trump has done is add to our pre-formed harmful policies or ramp them up. Much of the damage was already done, but now Trump has pulled the mask off all of it.
Yeah, Bush might seem like a nicer person than Trump, but we should never let either off the hook.