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Dear Ellen: The Problem With George W. Bush Is Not His Beliefs—It’s His War Crimes

Bush may owe Ellen six bucks for nachos. He owes the rest of us a prison sentence at The Hague.

The reason "43" should be treated as a pariah is not because he is a Republican or a conservative, but because he caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people and tortured hundreds of others. (Photo: Screenshot)

The reason "43" should be treated as a pariah is not because he is a Republican or a conservative, but because he caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people and tortured hundreds of others. (Photo: Screenshot)

Back in November 2018, Michelle Obama described George W. Bush as “a beautiful, funny, kind, sweet man,” shortly after images of the former first lady and the former president sharing a cough drop went viral.

On Tuesday, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres told her audience that she is “friends with George Bush,” after images of her laughing with the 43rd president at a Dallas Cowboys game also went viral. In an extended monologue, she explained that she is “friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. … Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.

“Be kind to everyone,” she urged her cheering studio audience, before joking: “Thanks President Bush and Laura for a Sunday afternoon that was so fun. By the way, you owe me $6 for the nachos.”

Bush should be treated as a pariah not because he is a Republican or a conservative, but because he caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people and tortured hundreds of others.

The comedian’s remarks won her praise from everyone from CNN’s Chris Cillizza to the right-wing National Review to Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon to Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard.

A double confession: I’m an admirer of Ellen, who has been a champion of refugees and a supporter of Muslims. I’m also guilty of having favorably compared George W. Bush to Donald J. Trump (although, to quote Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic, “next to Trump, just about anyone compares favorably.”)

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Yet Ellen’s specific argument in defense of her friendship with the former president is both nonsensical and offensive. No one is suggesting that she shouldn’t be pals with a conservative or a Republican. Bush’s beliefs are irrelevant here; his actions are what matters. He was one of the most destructive presidents in modern American history; a man who has never been held to account for a long litany of crimes, misdeeds, and abuses of power committed during his two bloodstained terms in office. The reason “43” should be treated as a pariah is not because he is a Republican or a conservative, but because he caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people and tortured hundreds of others.

Ask the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The so-called war on terror launched by Bush in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, has since killed around 250,000 civilians in those three countries, according to a landmark Brown University study in 2018. Remember the 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians massacred by U.S. troops in Haditha in 2005? Or the Shinwar massacre in Afghanistan in 2007, in which U.S. Marines “tore down a six-mile stretch of highway, hitting almost anyone in their way – teenage girls in the fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road”? Or the more than 100 Pakistani children killed by 51 CIA drone strikes authorized by Bush between 2004 and the start of 2009? Is it any wonder, then, that Bush’s own former counterterrorism chief accused of him committing war crimes?

Ask the families of more than 4,200 U.S. troops who were killed in Iraq. Bush, who conveniently avoided serving in Vietnam, sent thousands of young people to their deaths in the Middle East in 2003, after he and members of his administration told demonstrable lies to make the case for an illegal war. The then-commander-in-chief falsely claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda. He has never apologized for these falsehoods.

Read the full article, and possible updates, at The Intercept.

Mehdi Hasan

Mehdi Hasan is a senior columnist at The Intercept. He is the host of The Intercept podcast “Deconstructed.” Hasan is also the host of Al Jazeera English’s “UpFront.” He has interviewed, among others, Edward Snowden, Hamid Karzai, Ehud Olmert, and Gen. Michael Flynn. He is also the author of two books—a biography of former U.K. Labor Party leader Ed Miliband and an e-book on the financial crisis and austerity economics. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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