SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
George W. Bush has left his ranch in Texas, and has been on a television circuit promoting his new book. A collection of his paintings, honoring veterans from the wars he has created. While on his book tour, Bush made some remarks critical of President Trump, saying he does not like the direction the country is going in. He does not like the racism, and the name-calling, or how the media is being called out by President Trump. Let's have a look at some of what he had to say.
GEORGE W. BUSH: The headlines where Bush criticizes Trump, and so therefore, I need to say there should be a free and independent press, but it ought to be accurate.
I understand there's a lot of critics, and I don't want to make the President's job worse. No matter what the political party it is, it's a hard job.
SHARMINI PERIES: Our next guest vehemently opposed how the former Republican president is becoming rehabilitated, and even made likeable. Well, on his recent publication titled The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, War Criminal, Vijay Prashad has a reminder for the wider American public.
Joining us today to discuss this is Vijay Prashad. And, as you know, Vijay is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He's also a regular contributor here at The Real News. His latest book is titled The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution.
Welcome back, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Nice to be here.
SHARMINI PERIES: Vijay, as you know, President George W. Bush has come out of his fortress in Texas and he's been making some remarkable comments. Some of them against his vision of America and the Trump presidency, at least what some consider criticism of the Trump presidency and the way he is leading the country.
What are your thoughts on this?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, firstly, President Bush and the Bush family feel slighted by Donald Trump. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump was vicious towards Bush's brother, Jeb Bush. Donald Trump criticized the Iraq War and laid the blame for it on George W. Bush. And then perhaps, of all great taboos, he criticized Barbara Bush. And the Bush family is greatly protective of Barbara Bush, and so the personal animosity here should not be underestimated.
Mr. Bush had made it clear; after he left office during the Obama years that he was not going to intervene in matters political. And indeed, he became a painter. He befriended some U.S. veterans, and he left the public scene. But now he's back. And he's back to promote a book largely of his paintings of U.S. veterans. But also, I think he couldn't resist making some digs at this man who had insulted his brother, insulted his mother, etc.
But I think too much is made of what Mr. Bush is saying. This kind of rehabilitation of American presidents, particularly those who are basically war criminals, I think is very troubling. And I think too many people are latching on to Bush's statements about press freedom and using this as a way to criticize Mr. Trump. I think this is unfortunate.
The record of Mr. Bush on press freedom, on, basically, lying to the press, is there for all to see. Mr. Bush led the United States with blatant falsehoods into a war against Iraq, which killed a million people. So how can anybody take seriously his statement about freedom of the press? I find that quite shocking.
SHARMINI PERIES: Vijay, you start off your book with what you say and I love this "Don't be fooled by the watercolors. He's still responsible for the deaths of millions of Iraqis." What are some of the key things that you think it is important for people to remember about George W. Bush?
VIJAY PRASHAD: There is the Iraq War. I mean, let's not go around it. It's the great legacy of the Bush administration. Apart from that, go around that, is the architecture of the war on terror, spawned by Mr. Bush. Including, of course, torture, spying much more deeply and without any concern not only on U.S. nationals, but all around the world including American allies. You'll remember that in New York City, various embassies at the UN, were basically spied on by the United States government. All the things that raise eyebrows now about torture; Guantanamo, all this stuff, this entire architecture of the global war on terror is a legacy of Mr. Bush.
But, again, let's go back to Iraq. Because, you know, Iraq, the war in Iraq the war on Iraq was conducted with no evidence, no evidence provided to the world that they needed to be such an immense destruction of the Iraqi country, really, not just the state. In fact, on the 15th of February, many of us marched around the world, there were millions of people passed the largest international march to tell the U.S. government do not go to war against Iraq. There were signs there being held by people saying things like, "You destroyed Iraq. You've destroyed the Middle East." And that's exactly what has happened. Iraq was destroyed.
The so-called Shock & Awe campaign, of 400 cruise missiles fired in a day, I mean, it was barbarous. Dennis Halliday, at the time, said that the purpose of this kind of war seems to be the destruction of Iraq. Not the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. But the destruction of Iraq, and that's exactly what happened. And it incubated the Islamic State of Iraq, which grew out of the insurgency in 2006, and out of that came ISIS.
So, you know, George W. Bush, he's painting pictures of surviving U.S. veterans. That's the book that he's on tour for. A book of 100 portraits of surviving U.S. veterans. What about the American soldiers who died fighting in Iraq? What about the Iraqis? There is no portrait of an Iraqi. You know, it's interesting, a section of the Iraqi population collaborated with the United States. And what is the prize that they won? Well, it's the Muslim ban.
Now, Mr. Trump has decided to remove Iraq from the list of countries, which are a barred zone for the United States. That doesn't mean that when Iraqis apply they will not be seen with great suspicion. So, here you have a country, which you've destroyed, a section of its people have decided to collaborate with you, and now you've rendered the entire country a place of great suspicion. This is the legacy not of Donald Trump. This is the legacy of George W. Bush.
SHARMINI PERIES: And speaking of revival of Bush, I mean, the first person to actually revive Bush was, immediately after he left the White House, was when President Obama called on him, and previous President Clinton, to respond to the earthquake in Haiti.
Giving an opening for the rest of the liberals who opposed Bush during his presidency to suddenly forgive him. To recently, apparently, on a program with Ellen DeGeneres, Bush fondly talked about his relationship with Michelle Obama, and so on. This was all made okay by President Obama in the first place.
VIJAY PRASHAD: You're quite right. By the way, let's just make a very quick, and I think perhaps unfair comparison: when Mr. Trump came to power, he wasn't presidential, as they say, with huge inverted commas towards Mr. Obama. IN fact, he accused Obama of wiretapping the Trump Tower. So, there was no presidential response from Mr. Trump against Obama.
On the other side, Mr. Obama decided to basically exist in this great tradition in the United States of bipartisanship. He had harsh things to say about Mr. Bush during the presidential campaign. In fact, you know, just during the lead up to the 2003 war, Mr. Obama made his reputation by criticizing the Iraq War.
And yet there was never really any accounting for the immense illegalities during the presidency of George W. Bush. No accounting for the torture, no accounting for what happened in Guantanamo, no accounting for the Iraq War itself. You know, the rehabilitation, as you quite rightly said, happened immediately. And I think that was a great pity.
Here's Mr. Obama, a lawyer. Somebody with apparently, a reverence for international law, rehabilitating Mr. Bush. Well, of course, the rehabilitation of Mr. Bush then allowed Mr. Obama to continue, basically, the Bush policies into his era. You didn't see a drawdown in the war on terror. It's an era for people to say that Mr. Obama withdrew American troops from Iraq. It was actually the Iraqi Parliament that pushed American troops out by not allowing American troops, at that time, to have so-called extraterritorial protections.
So, it wasn't Obama who withdrew from Iraq. The Iraqis said we don't want to give American troops extraterritorial protection because there were atrocities being committed inside Iraq.
So, yes, indeed there was rehabilitation immediately, but it allowed Obama to continue the legacy. And of course, Trump is entirely an inheritor of that legacy. Whether it's going to be the escalation in Syria or, indeed, that very, very poorly handled raid in Yemen, which wiped out so many civilians in a village that clearly didn't know what was coming.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And, Vijay, Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times called Why I Miss George W. Bush, which you criticize for making him seem so admirable. You've spoken to that very eloquently here, but give us a sense of what your critic was about that particular article.
VIJAY PRASHAD: We are, in the United States, in a very difficult position now where Mr. Trump, with his rhetoric, has basically collapsed all distinctions between Islam and terrorism. It's very hard from the Trump administration to see much daylight between a world religion and a political technique - terrorism. Mr. Bannon, his main counselor, certainly sees no difference between Islam and terrorism, following from the cruel populists of Europe like Wilders of Holland, etc.
So, that's the condition we're in now. Right after 9/11, it's true that President George W. Bush made a distinction. He said there is Islam, it's a religion of peace, and then there is radical side to it. And he made this little distinction. But within a few years of his presidency, Mr. Bush started to use this phrase which was becoming increasingly popular inside the Republican Party, and in the far right in the United States: which is "radical Islamic extremism".
This phrase, which then was used by the Republicans to taunt Obama, saying, say it, and then of course, Trump taunting Hillary Clinton, she would say the phrase, "Radical Islamic extremism." Mr. Bush was one of the people who brought this into the mainstream, this idea where it's okay to just say hop on this radical Islamic extremism, and in fact, it's out of this that comes this collapsing. Where people like Bill Maher on mainstream television, and others, basically when they say "radical Islamic extremism" they mean Islam. They don't have any distinction.
So, Bush was not immune to some of this kind of the language of the gutter. You know, I think he was very much a part of it.
So, I can see why Mehdi Hasan and others say, well, at least Bush after 9/11 made this distinction. But I would caution people not to glamorize the Bush distinction, because I think it was extraordinarily weak. And perhaps one of the reasons why he made it was under pressure from the King of Jordan in particular, Abdullah II, who has been criticizing this phrase "radically Islamic extremism", saying it leaves places like the Kingdom of Jordan and others without amour, without ammunition, to take on some of these extremists.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Vijay. We're going to put a link to your article right below the player here for those who are interested in reading the full article. Thank you so much for joining us today, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.