Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, a former businessman who had helped run companies into the ground, he was widely considered ill-prepared for the presidency, out of his depth, a lightweight in a heavyweight world. Still, having won the Republican nomination and then a uniquely contested election, once in the Oval Office he proved to have a striking inclination for backing extreme acts and seemingly no compunctions when it came to promoting torture, politicizing the Justice Department, or kidnapping terror suspects (the innocent as well as the guilty) anywhere on Earth. He was determined to fill Guantanamo to the brim, more than ready to loose the U.S. military and American air power across the Greater Middle East, pleased to see that military and the CIA experiment with powerful new weaponry, perfectly willing to kill civilians in significant numbers without mercy, prone to ramping up America’s wars, ready to give the Pentagon whatever it needed (and more), eager to take down Iran and for that matter North Korea, and quite willing to put the fate of his foreign policy in the hands of “his” special general.
Oh, you thought I was talking about Donald Trump? My apologies. I can understand the confusion, especially since who thinks about or remembers anything but our Tweeter-in-Chief these days? As it happens, the president I had in mind was George W. Bush. You’ve forgotten him? You thought he was a retired artist making a pretty penny on the lecture circuit? Well, I understand. The past is a long way off in the age of Trump. Still, it’s worth calling to mind the president who launched our never-ending war on terror, sent the first drone assassination flights soaring, invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, oversaw the creation of global “black sites” where a man could experience the sensation of drowning 83 times in a single month, lumped Iraq, Iran, and North Korea together in an “axis of evil,” was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, and oversaw ― the single thing for which he seems to be remembered these days ― the mess that was the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. (Say it ain’t so, Brownie!)
Like so many of the officials he worked with, whose grim pasts were cleansed, it seems that George W. Bush is now in the process of being forgotten and rehabilitated at one and the same time, possibly on the grounds that no former president could look bad with Donald Trump in the White House. In any case, one of the latest stops in Bush’s rehab tour of America has been our leading military academy, West Point. Let a graduate of that school, Erik Edstrom, who also fought in George Bush’s Afghan war, explain in “Duty, Honor, Atrocity.”