So Many Positives with George H.W. Bush. Then There's the War His Son Started.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America, was born in a home in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924, and died yesterday shortly after 10:00 P.M. at his home in Houston, Texas.  In between, he led an incredibly meaningful and eventful life: he was a decorated Navy pilot in World War II, millionaire oilman, congressman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the United Nations, first U.S. envoy to communist China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Vice President, President, and father of the 43rd President, his namesake, George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush, who was 94 years old when he died, was a patriot in the oldest and deepest sense of the term.  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor six months before he was to graduate from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and he decided that day he would go off to war as soon he finished high school.  "I could hardly wait to get out of school and enlist," he wrote.  He became the youngest Navy pilot in the war and risked his life in 58 combat missions, flying a one-engine bomber off aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mr. Bush was what Massachusetts and other New England States used to be filled with: a Yankee Republican.  This was a breed of conservative, hard-working, understated, public-minded, country-loving patriots whose grandfathers built what used to be called more frequently than it is today "the party of Abraham Lincoln." 

To make his way in the world of politics in his adopted state, he morphed himself into a pork-rind-chewing, horseshoe tossing Texan who bragged about trying to "kick a little ass" in his vice presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro in 1980 but he was never really convincing or even comfortable in that role.  At heart, he was a polite, considerate, charitable and self-effacing gentleman of means.  No wonder he spent so much time in Maine, his mother's state.  He always fit in better there than in Texas.

Had George H.W. Bush been born in America in the 18th Century rather than in the 20th, it's not hard to imagine him as a delegate to the Continental Congress from Massachusetts -- his ancestors were all over the Bay Colony -- and as an aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War, in which he would have fought valiantly.  That's how true of a true-blue American he was.

Mr. Bush was like our founding fathers in other ways, too, which is to say he was far from perfect -- and not always nearly as courageous in politics as in combat.  He spoke out against the Civil Rights Act when he was trying to get elected to Congress, and later expressed regrets at having done so.

Many years later, when he came out of the Republican convention in 1988 as the nominee for President and was 17 percentage points behind Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis, the Democrat nominee for President, he did not hesitate to adopt the strategy concocted by his handlers to demonize Dukakis as an ultra-liberal, card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union who was uncomfortable making schoolchildren recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.  Mr. Bush also signed onto the racially tinged strategy devised by his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, to fill the airwaves with ads highlighting a Dukakis administration policy that granted weekend furloughs from prison to murderers, one of whom, Willie Horton, who was black, raped a white woman and stabbed her husband while on furlough.

In 1991, when Mr. Atwater was dying of a brain tumor, he made an apology to Mr. Dukakis in the pages of a national magazine.  He said, "...I said that I 'would strip the bark off the little bastard' and 'make Willie Horton his running mate.'  I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not."  Further, he said, "In part because of our successful manipulation of campaign themes, George Bush won handily," and this, "While I didn't invent negative politics, I am one of its most ardent practitioners."

Naked cruelty.  Manipulation of campaign themes.  Ardent practice of negative politics.

Because he benefited from all of the above, these are all a part of George H.W. Bush's legacy.

Although he was a man of physical courage, personal rectitude and decency, devotion to duty, strong family values, and deep love of country, there will always be one very large reason to regret there ever was a George H.W. Bush presidency, his many positive accomplishments as president, such as how he handled the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union and ended the war to liberate Kuwait early, notwithstanding.  I'm referring to the presidency of George W. Bush. 

Without the first President Bush there never would have been a second President Bush.  Without a second President Bush, there never would have been a misbegotten, needless, seven-year, trillion-dollar war in Iraq (March 2003-December 2011).

As Michael S. Dukakis lamented many a time, "If I hadn't lost to the father, we never would have had the son and that terrible war he started."

In addition to its monumentally stunning cost of $1.06 trillion, entirely financed by deficit spending, the war killed 4,424 Americans and wounded 31,952, many of whom were permanently disabled, blinded and/or maimed for life.  This was the war of bombs planted in roadsides, the improvised explosive devices.

Then there are the hellish costs on the Iraqi side of the ledger.  Close to half a million Iraqis died from war-related causes, according to an academic study published in the fall of 2013.  An article on the study published at that time in the Huffington Post, and updated in December 2017, stated:

"The latest estimate by university researchers in the United States, Canada and Baghdad in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown. 

"It also differs from some previous counts by spanning a longer period of time and by using randomized surveys of households across Iraq to project a nationwide death toll from 2003 to mid-2011. 

"Violence caused most of the deaths, but about a third were indirectly linked to the war, and these deaths have been left out of previous counts, said lead author Amy Hagopian, a public health researcher at the University of Washington.

"Those included situations when a pregnant woman encountered difficult labor but could not leave the house due to fighting, or when a person drank contaminated water, or when a patient could not get treated at a hospital because staff was overwhelmed with war casualties."

There are those who believe that George W. Bush went to war in Iraq to finish the job his father should have when he called an early halt to the war in Kuwait, as our troops were advancing toward Baghdad. It has been said the younger Bush was driven by vengeance against Iraq President Saddam Hussein because Hussein was involved in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate his father after he had left the presidency.  We'll never know if these things are true.

We know for sure, however, that George and Barbara Bush produced a son of such hubris that he readily bought into the wildly ill-founded and absurd-in-retrospect premise of his Vice President, Dick Cheney, to wit, that the Iraqi people would welcome the conquering Americans in 2003 with flowers, and that the U.S. would be able to pay for what they hoped and believed would be a short war with the proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil.

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