all in the family

Years down the road the George W. Bush administration will be but another chapter in the country’s history. The basic history books will devote one chapter to George W., and that chapter will hit all the big news: 9/11, terror, driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the failure to capture Osama bin Laden, the invasion of Iraq, the embarrassing movement to ban same-sex marriage, the response to hurricane Katrina, Iraq slipping into civil war, Afghanistan slipping back into chaos … it won’t be a pretty chapter.

But will history see the bigger picture? The main characters in this current chapter are all just people like the rest of us, with personal and/or professional relationships with the others. And there are complex personalities at work.

If seeing the bigger picture interests you at all, I highly recommend Andrew Sullivan’s Sunday Times article on the Shakespearean scope of the Bush political family. Sullivan has fashioned an incredibly astute big-picture analysis of the personalities involved. He reminds us of the bitter history between Donald Rumsfeld and the current president’s father, former president George H.W. Bush. It’s a story of George W. Bush who both deeply admires, and deeply resents, his father — for a variety of reasons. A new act in this story is now unfolding with the nomination of Robert Gates to Defense Secretary and James Baker’s Iraq Study Group looking at US options in Iraq. Gates and Baker are two of the closest friends, advisors, and allies, of the first president Bush.

There are dual tragedies unfolding here. For Bush II, he’s been forced to fire Rumsfeld (his father’s old nemesis) and he’s bringing his father’s advisors in to try to sort out this mess. History will not treat his stewardship of the country kindly, despite the fact he bested his father by winning (and yes, I use the term loosely) a second term. Bush II also wasted an historic opportunity post-9/11 to unite a broad international coalition to combat terrorism in a smart, multilateral manner. These are tragic failures. Bush I doesn’t get off the hook in this story either. He lacked the balls in 1991 to take out Saddam Hussein at a time when we really would have been widely welcomed as liberators in Iraq. Had Bush I possessed a little more fortitude in the first Gulf War, we wouldn’t be in the perilous situation we find ourselves now.

I was discussing this with Marlin at dinner a couple weeks before the election, and I remembered blogging a news story years back that that is very revealing. It didn’t get much exposure at the time. In a nutshell, one of the first priorities US troops had in Baghdad immediately after the invasion was to demolish an intricate tile floor in a hotel lobby. Yes, while Saddam’s conventional weapon stockpiles were being looted by Iraqis — who are now using those same weapons against US troops — some of the too-few troops we sent into Iraq were hammering and chiseling a tile floor. A tile floor with George H.W. Bush’s portrait on it.

There is no better illustration of the personal and selfish motives involved here: George W. Bush wanted to please his father by removing the insulting floor Saddam had installed. George W. Bush wanted to better his father by ousting Saddam from power. Mission accomplished, on both counts.

A portion of the AP story is excerpted below. I also found this Google cache of the story, and the full version is available for a fee from the AP archives.

Soldiers Liberate George H.W. Bush Doormat

By CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press
9:17 p.m. PDT Saturday, April 12, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – There was a bit of unfinished business left over in Baghdad from the 1991 Gulf War. The U.S. Army has taken care of it.

At the Al-Rashid Hotel, President Bush the elder – father of the current American chief executive who ordered this year’s invasion of Iraq – is a doormat no more.

U.S. soldiers visited the battered Al-Rashid on Thursday night wielding hammers and chisels, and dug out the intricate tile mosaic of the former president that was used for years as a state-sponsored insult.

In its place, they laid a portrait of Saddam Hussein.

“Everybody walked over it and wiped their feet on it,” Lt. Col. Rick Schwartz, the battalion commander said. He left the Saddam portrait behind, on the ground for future use.

Taking shoes to the face is not exactly a compliment in any culture, but in the Arab world it’s a particular slam. Pointing the soles of one’s feet at someone is a grave insult.

So the notion of thousands of Iraqi feet trudging over the patrician features of George Herbert Walker Bush was particularly appealing to Saddam’s regime, humiliated by Bush during the 1991 Gulf War to free Kuwait from Iraqi invaders.

Saddam personally picked the Al-Rashid for the insult to Bush senior. The hotel was heavily trafficked by foreign guests and the base of operations for journalists during the 1991 war – and the place where, on the night of the first American air strike in January 1991, Arab guests huddled in the basement and shouted “Death to Bush.”

The mosaic, an unflattering portrait of Bush with his teeth bared in a scowl, was installed later in 1991 right in the Al-Rashid’s doorway complete with a caption in Arabic and English: “Bush is criminal.”

3 thoughts on “all in the family

  1. welcome back – one thing though – The first letter of text is being obscured by the left boarder on all of your new posts except for the text above the “soldiers liberate….” article. Great weekend and boy! did we get a lot of RR planning done!

  2. I thought about this for years! Forgot about it for many years and just today recalled how mad this made me. I think the AP news story is false because I remember watching it happen and it was on the first or second day of the invasion. I though, “surely there are better missions to go on so early in the war.” That’s how personal this was to the Bush family. It was video taped by the military so Jr could show dad he did it.
    I’ve said this to people and they think I’m crazy or on a personal mission.

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