George W Bush: A portrait in repainting history

George W Bush: A portrait in repainting history
4 min read
13 Mar, 2017
Comment: George W Bush is attempting to reinvent himself with a collection of paintings focused on servicemen and women whose lives were torn apart by his wars, writes Mat Nashed.
President George W Bush is rehabilitating is reputation by 'attacking' Donald Trump [AFP]

Former president George W Bush - a man once detested for dragging his nation (and others) into two harrowing wars - has become a poster boy for Liberal America.

Last week, he was invited on the Ellen DeGeneres show to endorse his monograph Portraits in Courage: A Commander in Chief's tribute to America's Warriors.

The book consists of 98 portraits of US veterans, each painted by Bush, whose lives were radically altered after being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq; some suffered permanent injures while others now struggle to overcome traumatising images of war.

The volume includes a series of essays that are also written by Bush, each one raises awareness of the challenges soldiers face to reacclimate into civilian life.

Bush, on the other hand, is doing just fine.

His book, a best seller, is even being advertised as an atonement for deploying US soldiers to far away lands - a narrative that too many Americans have eaten up.

But how about the millions of Iraqis and Afghans whose lives were shattered by the "war on terror"? How does Bush plan to atone for their loss? 

Regardless of how he paints himself, Bush shouldn't be paraded and sought out for wisdom. He should be prosecuted, and at the very least held accountable for committing crimes against humanity.

George W Bush, whose wars left hundreds of thousands dead,
danced and joked around on the Ellen show

No credibility

Beating the drums of war, Bush preyed on the fears of a wounded America by shoving falsehoods down the throats of his citizens.

In 2002, he said that Iraq's brutal dictator Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction.

Two years later, CIA director George Tenet said that the agency informed policy makers that there was no concrete evidence that Baghdad was housing stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Bush's second deception was even more ludicrous. America, he claimed, was going to liberate Iraqis and export democracy to the world. The result: at least 250,000 Iraqis died while terrorism proliferated and institutions collapsed.

The "liberation" was an occupation. But Bush showed no remorse. He spearheaded the war on terror, not realising, or not caring, that he was one of the primary threats to civilians across the Arab world.  

Afghanistan also remains fragile. The Taliban has seen a resurgence, and more than 1.2 million people remain internally displaced.

George W Bush was directly implicated in committing crimes against humanity. As Commander in Chief, he authorised a secret detention program and the use of water-boarding against certain individuals

The Bush administration pledged little money to reconstruct basic services or to rebuild intuitions. And in 2016, a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) said that there was enough evidence to try US soldiers for war crimes, most notably torture, in Afghanistan. Lucky for them, the United States isn't a member of the ICC.

Even George W Bush was directly implicated in committing crimes against humanity. As Commander in Chief, he authorised a secret detention program and the use of water-boarding against certain individuals.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. And yet, Bush was showcased on the Ellen DeGeneres show, speaking about charity, art, and democracy.  

The president's portraiture has been described as
'promising', with 'decisive gestures' [AFP]

From war criminal to celebrity

Bush isn't that different from the most extreme suspects he was hunting.

In retrospect, his rhetoric leading up to the Iraq war bears a stark resemblance to the mantra employed by the self-declared Islamic State group.

Like Bush, the group claims to be liberating Iraqis by way of occupying, plundering, and terrorising much of the population.

On the Ellen DeGeneres show, Bush criticised President Donald Trump, slamming him for his authoritative tendencies and crackdown on media freedom. But Bush's administration was equally undemocratic; he just didn't publicise it.

The Patriot Act - passed after 9/11 - is just one case in point. That act effectively permitted US security services to detain citizens and obtain information by way of mass surveillance.

The press hasn't been spared thanks to the programme. Authorities have forced journalists to turn over their notes while intimidating others into revealing the names of protected sources. Two years ago, the Patriot Act was repackaged as the USA Freedom Act, which continues to undermine civil freedoms, despite its marginal modifications.

However, it appears all has been forgiven. Bush is now a painter and has a new book. He takes jabs at Trump and claims to be an advocate of press freedom. Was that all it took for American Liberals to warm up to him?

Not for those he tortured, not for the families he destroyed. Even Iraqis and Afghans who aided US forces during both occupations have been mostly left behind. Guantanamo Bay prison, which was founded by Bush, remains open. Inmates continue to be held without trial.

For a man who should be in The Hague, Bush looked awfully comfortable sitting on Ellen's couch.

Mat Nashed is a Lebanon-based journalist covering displacement and exile. Follow him on Twitter: @matnashed

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.