By Jesse Crall
George W. Bush used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade two countries, kill hundreds of thousands of people, displace millions more, erode civil liberties and engage in torture. His crimes against humanity far outpace the most sweeping assumptions against, say, Slobodan Milosevic or Bashar al-Assad, two men reviled in all polite circles of American society. Today, Bush represents the most rotted core of American Imperialism, a violent machine willing to slaughter innocent people to advance hegemony, potential foreign markets and profits for wartime contractors. And he gets away with it, because his smiling veneer preserves the modern liberal priorities of civility over substance.
George W. Bush’s War on Terror was liberal in its nature. It’s easy to miss this reality because we associate liberalism with the Democratic Party and social issues like abortion and gun control. As a Republican, Bush pandered to social reactionaries to gain influence in Texas and then on the national stage. He probably believed in much of what he was selling but those domestic issues paled in importance compared to his economic and foreign agenda, in place long before he first took office.
If you read George W. Bush’s National Security Strategy from 2002, you’ll find a liberal document. If you don’t read it because you’ve found 5,000 other things more exciting to do, take my word for it. The NSS emerged in between the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq, representing the blueprint for the Administration’s foreign policy. In it, you won’t find chest beating paeans to violence but rather endless calls for freedom, liberty, human rights and…free trade. Uh-huh. The Bush Administration saw the invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to gain more control in the region, a foothold through which more open Neoliberalism could flourish. Oil dominated the economic discourse around the War on Terror but the invasion’s intentions were broader. Iraq offered resources, yes, but also consumers and proximity to Iran, long a target for U.S. regime change efforts and a potential gold mine for multi-national business concerns.
In the Republican Party both past and present, you’ll find rhetoric designed to win votes and actions designed to advance broader agendas. Reactionaries in the party can spout nonsense toward certain groups to keep the money rolling in but the most crucial plans exist at levels well above the concerns of their base. Some of these plans are strictly partisan in nature, as we see with the Federalist Society’s role in court appointments. Others are bipartisan in nature, geared toward hazier concepts of U.S. hegemony supported at the upper echelons by both parties even as methods to preserve it may differ. A moron like Marjorie Taylor Greene is just a sideshow, a vessel through which the more frothing Republican voters can feel represented. But her influence is non-existent. The moment she becomes a liability to the ultimate objectives of the party leadership is the moment her career ends.
There’s a good moment early in the Adam McKay film, Vice, in which a young Dick Cheney watches Donald Rumsfeld, then a Congressman, mincing around the stage with the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Cheney, engaged and wanting to latch onto this obviously influential host, asks the person beside him what party Rumsfeld represents. “The Republicans.” To someone like Cheney, party politics was a necessary means through which to achieve power but hardly a locus for his most engaged sentiments. Which is why the Rumsfelds and Cheneys shaped the world while the Greenes and Boeberts will do little more than fundraise. Even Trump’s most significant accomplishments remained well within the realm of GOP or bipartisan orthodoxies. He passed regressive tax cuts and flooded the Saudis with weapons. He didn’t build the wall.
Because Bush’s overriding purpose remains engaged in advancing this American hegemony and the Neoliberal nature of global capitalism, it’s no surprise that he’s dismissive of the MAGA sideshow. Nor is it a surprise that his tepid critiques of the Trump movement engaged the very same liberals who reviled him by the end of his presidency. U.S. hegemony and Neoliberalism pushed with a smiling face *is* the objective of modern liberalism. As Trump engaged in atrocities against Iran, Yemen, Venezuela, Syria and Iran, some of which were in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, liberals focused their ire on his supposed collusion with Russia, a ludicrous charge but one that allowed for posturing against “threats to American democracy.”
It wasn’t Trump’s violence overseas that drew the fear and rage of the Democratic base. After all, Barack Obama sold the Saudis $115 billion in weaponry and Nancy Pelosi was one of Venezuelan puppet Juan Guaido’s biggest boosters. No, it was the possibility that Putin worked with Trump to leak DNC emails or hack voting machines or spew anti-Hillary propaganda. Adam Schiff took to cable news insisting he had evidence of collusion, an assertion later proven to be a lie. That Schiff is a longtime recipient of donations from the weapons industry and supported the invasions of Iraq, Libya, Syria and those arms deals to Saudi Arabia never entered the calculus.
No U.S. policy in my lifetime was more despicable than the War on Terror. Nothing directly killed so many people and traumatized so many more. Nothing destabilized entire regions so effortlessly. While plenty of figures and systems deserve blame for its onset, no one matters more to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq than George W. Bush. This smiling, beady-eyed nepotism case used the fear of 9/11 to advance the worst possible outcome, one his buddies like Cheney, Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol salivated over for years. Kagan and Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, a think tank officially formed in 1997, offered a blueprint for these Imperial objectives 4 years before they set off into motion. When Bush facilitated them, they supported him. When Democrats offered a better bet than Trump, they moved over. Trump was too ugly a figure, yammering about “taking the oil” aloud and noting that the U.S. “wasn’t so innocent.” Hillary and Bush, though heading supposedly opposing parties, could better preserve the facade of diplomacy. Hillary helped Bush sell the Afghanistan invasion by giving him her vote and penning a simpering op-ed in Time Magazine about how good this war would prove for Afghan women. Tens of thousands of women died as a direct result of a U.S. war that enriched contractors and built nothing of substance. And as the right-wing Supreme Court further erodes abortion rights, Democrats still think Hillary was right all along.
Bush’s approval ratings among Democrats sank into single digits during his second term. Now, they exceed 50%. The mass murder of Iraqi and Afghan civilians and further deregulation of the financial sector apparently means far less than how much more polite he was than the Bad Orange Man. Historian Michael Beschloss, a regular on NBC and PBS, tweeted the following today (9-11-21): “Almost weeping, George W. Bush rebukes those Americans who have turned their backs on ‘the America I know.’ Important speech.”
I guess it is important, important in what it reveals about the men and women chosen to lead our country and document it. The America Bush knows is one of cruelty, of violence overseas to empower the interests of his friends. It’s one of lies about “compassionate conservatism” and weapons of mass destruction. It’s one where the innocent women of Afghanistan become props to justify hideous invasions. It’s one where atrocities overseas are whitewashed under calls to “go shopping.” It’s one of torture. And it’s one where the men and women cultivating these awful developments remain influential and revered. I visited the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in 2019. It’s a sobering sight, not just for those who died and the first responders but also because of the oft-ignored crimes that followed. I don’t want to live in Bush’s America. Or Michael Beschloss’. Or Hillary Clinton’s, Bill Kristol’s, Robert Kagan’s, Donald Trump’s or Joe Biden’s. But I do. America might “remember” 9/11 but we didn’t learn from it.
A Los Angeles native, Jesse Crall graduated from UCLA’s English Department before working as a copywriter, script reader and project manager for an engineering firm.