Speaking ill of the dead: A frank look at George HW Bush's grim legacy

Speaking ill of the dead: A frank look at George HW Bush's grim legacy
In the aftermath of George HW Bush's death, speaking the truth on the former president's grim legacy shouldn't be hushed, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
5 min read
01 Dec, 2018
George HW Bush died aged 94 on Friday evening [Corbis]

George HW Bush, the 41st president of the United States died today aged 94. The mainstream media – particularly in the West – will likely spend a lot of time today singing his praises about how he was a "steadying hand" in the world as the Soviet Union collapsed, moving the global order from one of bipolarity to a unipolarity with the United States as the undisputed superpower.

However, many millions in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, will have great cause to curse him now that he has shuffled off this mortal coil.

The truth is more important than the dead

People are often advised to never speak ill of the dead. Famed German psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, once commented about this special praise the living tend to give to the dead, writing: "This consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth, and, to most of us, certainly, it is more important than consideration for the living."

In Bush's case, not only is consideration for the living more important than busying ourselves eulogising an unabashed warmonger, but there must also be consideration for the many millions who died directly as a result of his decisions and are still awaiting justice.

Before Bush was elected president in 1989, he was vice president in the Reagan administration. Throughout the 1980s, this administration was responsible for prolonging the Iran-Iraq War and actively supported both sides. While the US ostensibly supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Shia theocracy, behind closed doors they were working hand-in-glove with Israel to supply spare parts and arms to Iran. This led to the infamous Iran-Contra affair that almost toppled Ronald Reagan.

What is hardly ever mentioned is how the Bush administration whipped up the hounds of war in the first place and gave tacit approval for Saddam's invasion.

While blasting Trump's relationship with today's Saudi monarchy and its wayward crown prince is in vogue, the original American-Saudi military pact was in fact established under Bush. Responding to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia allowed "infidel" soldiers to set foot in Islamic holy lands in large numbers for the first time since World War I, incensing Osama bin Laden and encouraging him and his still young al-Qaeda militant outfit to start conducting international terrorist attacks that eventually led to 9/11 and acted as a catalyst to a global terror phenomenon.

On the subject of the Gulf War and the invasion of Kuwait, Bush is frequently credited for engineering the tiny Arabian Gulf nation's liberty during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. What is hardly ever mentioned is how the Bush administration whipped up the hounds of war in the first place and gave tacit approval for Saddam's invasion. Discussing his plans to take military action against Kuwait with then-US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, Saddam was told: "The United States has no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait." Glaspie's orders came directly from Secretary of State James Baker, a close and trusted aide to Bush who would never have acted unilaterally without the president's express consent.

Bush cited the false testimony of Nayirahal-Sabah as
justification for the 1991 war [YouTube]

To ensure that the public would support war against Iraq, the Bush administration engaged in publicity stunts and outright theatrics, with perhaps the most infamous example being a Kuwaiti royal pretending to be a nurse who witnessed Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies.

Later cited by Bush when justifying his decision to go to war, Nayirah al-Sabah was brought before Congress masquerading as a volunteer nurse who had witnessed alleged Iraqi atrocities. Even Amnesty International fell for the ruse, later accusing Bush of manipulating the international human rights movement.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, Bush also used the United States' diplomatic clout to lead the United Nations to impose one of the most devastating sanctions regimes in history.

Child mortality rates up to 1996 alone were half a million deaths and were justified by the Clinton administration's Madeleine Albright who said, "We think the price is worth it." Millions more Iraqis were affected by the sanctions that Bush instigated and laid the foundations for. 

A dark progeny and a grim legacy

Bush was also the father of the 43rd president, George W. Bush, who perhaps only has a worse reputation than his father due to millennials being old enough to remember the Global War on Terror and having access to social media.

Raised on the same diet of American exceptionalism and militarism as his father, Bush Jr took the decisions that shaped the modern world we live in today, with the threat of terrorism looming over our heads on a daily basis.

Far from destroying terrorism, Bush Jr actually ensured that it would last for generations to come

The US bombed civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq, used illegal chemical weapons in populated areas, heavily relied on waterboarding and torture to extract questionable intelligence, and fostered an environment of rampant and unprecedented Islamophobia that inevitably led to the rise of the far-right in Europe and America.

Far from destroying terrorism, Bush Jr actually ensured that it would last for generations to come, encompassing white fascistic groups, radical nationalists and extremist outfits like the Islamic State group (IS).

In Iraq, it is not uncommon to hear people saying of Bush Jr that he "really is a son of a bitch", referring to the impact Bush Sr had on the country both father and son worked hard to ravage and destroy.

While some Kuwaitis may fondly remember Bush despite his role in their country being invaded in the first place, for many others his legacy is death, destruction, and siring the man who would continue the Iraqi Holocaust that he started in 1990 that has led to the deaths of millions of Iraqis. George HW Bush escaped justice in this life, but for those who believe in an afterlife, he is sure to pay a steep price indeed.

Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.