Maureen Dowd: As W’s brother, Jeb Bush carries the baggage of past wars

George W Bush (left) with Jeb Bush in 2006. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

George W Bush (left) with Jeb Bush in 2006. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

 

It isn’t about what we know now. It’s about what we knew then. It is simply not true, as Republican presidential aspirant Scott Walker said on Friday, that “any president would have likely taken the same action Bush did with the information he had.” That’s not giving enough credit to W and his frothing band of Reservoir Dogs.

It took a Herculean effort of imagination, manipulation and deception to concoct the “information” that propelled the invasion, occupation and destruction of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. When the Republican House majority leader at the time, Dick Armey, balked at invading Iraq unprovoked, because Saddam was a clownish tyrant but not a nuclear menace to America, Dick Cheney summoned Armey to his Capitol hideaway and coerced him with brazen fabrications.

As Barton Gellman wrote in Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Cheney tried to spook his old friend in September 2002 by confiding that the Iraqis were well on their way to developing miniaturised nuclear weapons and that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam and his family – both spurious assertions.

Aside from the Blair poodle and the Coalition of the Willing-to-Overlook-Counterfeit-Claims, our allies tried to warn us. You know you’re in trouble when the Germans tell you that you’re too militaristic. The Saudis thought Saddam was a monster, but they sent top emissaries to urge W against war. Prince Saud, the foreign minister, and Prince Bandar, the ambassador in Washington, told the president that Saddam had assured them that he would allow the inspectors in. The Saudis explained what should have been obvious to the foreign affairs neophyte in the Oval Office: Saddam, who was writing romance novels, listening to Frank Sinatra and reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, was simply blustering like any Arab despot would, trying to deter Iran with a big imaginary cache of WMD.

Everyone paying attention after 9/11 knew that the Bush crew had crudely and cynically switched villains, diverting America’s fury and fear from Osama, whose address was unknown, to Saddam, a reliable Bush family punching bag. They used patriotism like brass knuckles.

Interlocking motives

Murder on the Orient ExpressDonald RumsfeldPaul Wolfowitz

Karl Rove, who once thought the war would help build a Republican empire at home, still defends it. At a University of Connecticut speech in March, he was confronted by an Iraq war veteran who asked him to apologise for the “useless war”. Rove insisted that “it was the right thing to remove Saddam Hussein from power”.

But, as senator Rand Paul bluntly argued last weekend while visiting a San Francisco tech company, America was better off with Saddam in power. “Every time we’ve toppled a secular strong man, we’ve gotten chaos and more radical Islam, and we’re all less safe because of it,” the Republican of Kentucky told me. “I think I could say that at the Iowa Republican convention and still be well-received with it.”

Col Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell, told the Concord Monitor that it was a “fair assessment” to say Iraq was better off under Saddam. In 1993, I covered Jeb on his thwarted first try to be Florida governor. He seemed mildly annoyed that his raffish older brother had jumped into the arena to run for governor in Texas. W was co-opting Jeb’s campaign lines and making it, as Jeb worried, “a People magazine story”, a Tweedledee and Tweedledum power grab.

“As the son of a famous person,” Jeb told me on the trail then, “I carry the pluses and minuses of past wars.” But, now, as the brother of a famous person, he literally carries the minuses of past wars. In a dunderheaded move that has hobbled his nascent 2016 campaign, Jeb wanted to breeze past any discussion of W’s Oedipal crash into the globe, hiding behind the flag of Bush loyalty and the family allergy to hypotheticals.

Do do ball

The 62-year-old was schooled on W’s deadly Middle East legacy by a 19-year-old University of Nevada student, Ivy Ziedrich, who explained to the would-be leader of the free world that Islamic State – which is gobbling up more and more pieces of Iraq – was not the virulent spawn of President Barack Obama’s policies, but of his brother’s.

As with the Clintons, the fraught family dynamic of the Bushes spills over to affect life- or-death policymaking. While they proclaim they don’t want to be on the couch about their misguided dreams of empire, we get ensnared in their “Empire”-style psychodramas.

And consider this: Jeb hasn’t even been asked any questions yet about W’s dark contributions on waterboarding, the deficit and the near-total collapse of the American economy.

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