With Washington, DC, now transformed into a perpetual nonsense machine, it was easy to miss the George W. Bush Revisionist History Tour as it slid through the shallow plastic media trench last week on rails lubricated with old tears, but there he was. After eight years of almost complete radio silence, the former president was all over the place, yukking it up with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Kimmel to peddle his new book and flash that folksy smirk we came to know so well.
So what? Every celebrity does a book, especially former presidents, and it is noteworthy that Bush had the common decency to put some rigging tape over his mouth while President Obama was in office. It didn’t take long, though, for things to get weird. A lot of people who really should know better — in the print, network and online news media, on social media and other forums, and in “real life” — got all goo-goo-eyed over him. People I’ve known for years exclaimed over how funny and cute he was on Ellen! And how he’s friends with Michelle Obama! And isn’t he just so much better than Trump?
Full stop. We have just lost cabin pressure.
Let’s start with the book. It is a collection of some 66 Bush-painted portraits of the faces of men and women who got blown apart one way or another in Iraq and Afghanistan. The portraits of those maimed in Iraq specifically depict soldiers in muted agony delivered to their current damaged estate by the artist formerly known as George, who threw them into that meat grinder for money on a raft of obvious lies. If one had a soul, the act of painting the faces of your victims would seem like a fate worse than death, a sorrowful tour of self-loathing and regret as your brush rounded out the features of those laid low by your faithless greed. But no, there was Bush on the television, smiling and smiling with the book in his lap, utterly oblivious to the ghastly irony of his endeavor.
It should come as no surprise, really. Here is the man who responded to the attacks of September 11 by demanding tax cuts, whose idea of humor was to make a satire video of himself searching for the missing weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office. The soldiers Bush painted could very well have been getting blasted legless and eyeless out of their armored vehicles at the exact same time he was stooping to look under his desk, then under a table — nope, not here either.
That is the George W. Bush I remember, the Bush I will never, ever forget, the feckless, lethal liar, the thief, the mass murderer, the fool, the fraud, the bumbler, the man with no shame. How appallingly easy it is, apparently, for people to forget.
Our national knack for forgetting is not solely relegated to this polished reimagining of Bush. We are currently engaged in a great national debate over the fate of tens of thousands of Middle Eastern and African refugees seeking safety here in the United States. If politicians like Donald Trump have their way, those refugees would be told in no uncertain terms that, sorry, there’s no room at the inn. We just can’t have you here because you might be “terrorists,” even though we vigorously screen you. See, there’s this thing called the “GOP base,” and they hate you because they’ve been well-trained to do so, and they vote. The country’s current leadership needs to keep them happy, and so you are barred at the door.
In this development lies one of the greatest moral calamities the United States has ever committed, another example of highly convenient national memory loss. To a very large degree, we created those refugees. We’ve been bombing Iraq with dreary regularity for 26 years and counting, bombing people’s homes, their markets, their electrical grids, their mosques, their water and sewage treatment plants, their roads and bridges, and when we ran out of things to bomb, we bombed the rubble because it looks good on TV. Sooner or later, after everything you’ve ever known or called home has been laid waste, you’re going to grab what’s left of your family and run for your lives.
And run people did, millions of them, away from the American war and over the border into Syria, which was subsumed by the mass migration of these desperate victims. Syria trembled under the burden and then collapsed into the chaos we are currently witnessing after a vicious civil war broke out, and once again, millions of people were on the run. Many ran all the way to Europe, where they await the adjudication of their fate, and many now seek asylum in the United States, where they have family and a chance at a new life. Because we forget, they are now forgotten, and the suffering we have already visited upon them is once more compounded. It takes a special kind of monster to do such a thing to innocent people. We do it every day, and then forget it ever happened.
This hellish footrace has been taking place all across the Middle East for a long while now, predominately in nations where the US has intervened militarily, most recently and vividly in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, has been using US-made weapons to terrible effect in that nation, which is approaching Aleppo levels of carnage and devastation at speed. Perhaps the cruelest twist to all this is the insinuation, pushed by Trump whenever possible, that the ranks of these refugees will be riddled with terrorists. When all you know is annihilated, you have two simple choices: Take up arms against your aggressors, or run. These people chose to run, and even that most elemental act of ultimate surrender is not enough to evoke the slightest hint of mercy from us, the ones who put them to their heels in the first place.
This refugee crisis is an American creation, a parting gift from George W. Bush. We forget what he was, we forget the aftermath of what he did, but how? Whence comes this shallow grave of memory? The corporate “news” media, for their part, are all too happy to help us forget, because in that forgetting they are absolved of any culpability for their harrowing judgment and insatiable desire for ratings. The politicians are thrilled we forget because they want to do it all over again, because that’s where the money is. In the end, however, we forget because we choose to, because horror is hard to hold in the heart for so long, because all this is our shame, too, and that is a grueling fact to face.
About 2,600 US paratroopers from Ft. Bragg are preparing to deploy to Kuwait, Iraq and Syria, where they will join the fight against ISIS. They will meet some 400 Marines already in Syria, who are tasked with keeping our so-called allies in the region from attacking each other. They have, as yet, no orders to join the fray directly, save for the Marines who are firing artillery salvos at today’s enemies. Many of these troops have been deployed more than five times already. Those who serve over there have come to call it the “Forever War.”
I wonder how long it will be before we forget them, too.