Op-ed

George H.W. Bush’s legacy: the truth or political amnesia?

George H.W. Bush died at 94 on Nov. 20, 2018.  Bush has served as CIA Director, Vice President and, of course, as President. With that in mind, is it surprising that glowing tributes and praise were dumped on him from both sides of the political aisle when he died? Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, the Clintons, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and FOX all lionized the late President. Trump tweeted: “His accomplishments were great from beginning to end.” Bernie Sanders told late night host Stephen Colbert, “Of course I disagree with him, but he was an honest man, he was a decent man, he loved his country very much.” Biden even said, “I’ve been there with eight presidents as an elected official and none had more class and a greater sense of decency than President Bush.”

Media headlines read, “Former Secret Service Agent: Why We Loved Bush 41” from CNN, “‘The last of his kind:’ Bob Dole, federal workers and CIA directors join crowds paying their respects to Bush” from The Washington Post, “The courage of George H.W. Bush: Avoiding the easy path” from The Wall Street Journal, and “George HW Bush’s service dog Sully stays by his casket” from MSNBC. The articles mainly consisted of Bush’s heroism for voluntarily enlisting in World War II, being shot down in the Pacific, his love for his family, a gracious note he left for Bill Clinton after his 1992 election loss, the success he had in the Persian Gulf Wars and helping to end the Cold War. The mainstream news outlets and politicians across the spectrum all agreed Bush’s class was under-appreciated and that he embodied America’s finest principles. But is that the full story? Did Bush deserve these lofty eulogies? 

In my opinion, absolutely not. I believe Bush was a manipulative liar that is responsible for thousands of deaths as well as spreading poverty and pain around the world. During Bush’s years as Director of the CIA, he oversaw Operation Condor.  Operation Condor was a covert campaign of political repression, state terror and political assassinations intending to eradicate communist ideas in South America. The CIA program suppressed active or potential opposition movements within Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Operation Condor was directly responsible for at least 60,000 deaths, nearly all civilian victims including political dissidents, union leaders, priests, nuns, students, teachers and intellectuals.

Another major disgrace Bush oversaw was staying silent as Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), and against his own civilians.  However, when Bush did decide to attack Iraq and Saddam when they invaded Kuwait, he used a bold-faced lie via the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S.’s daughter Nayirah al-Sabah. Al-Sabah cried as she told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that Iraqi soldiers had ripped babies from their incubators and left them to die on the floor. Bush repeated this claim 10 times, but it was revealed that her testimony was organized by an American public relations firm “Hill & Knowlton” for the Kuwaiti government. Al-Sabah’s testimony has come to be regarded as a classic example of modern atrocity propaganda. In the Gulf War, Bush not only bombed military targets but also essential civilian infrastructure which resulted in horrific civilian casualties, widespread malnutrition and disease.

To continue this trend of manufacturing consent from the American public with lies for Bush’s personal agenda, Bush gave a speech in 1989 where he held up a little baggie of crack cocaine that agents had purchased in the park across the street from the White House. The Bush Administration had actually lured this drug dealer in front of the White House to buy the drugs from him to prove their point. Bush then said that crack cocaine is the top public priority and that he was going to allocate more than a billion dollars for “more jails, more courts and more prosecutors.” Bush said, “if you sell drugs, you will be caught.” Funny he said that, because the Reagan/Bush administration and the CIA assisted the biggest drug dealers who brought a significant amount of  cocaine into the U.S., as was revealed by San Jose Mercury journalist Gary Webb’s series “The Dark Alliance.” 

Webb’s series established the Reagan/Bush Administration and the CIA-funded anti-communist pro-Somoza dictatorship rebels in Nicaragua with the money they made from selling South American cocaine in the U.S. Bush and his cronies decided stopping communism in Nicaragua was worth the cost of the crack epidemic. CIA drug trafficking didn’t just occur in Nicaragua; Pablo Escobar’s son Juan Pablo Escobar has stated his father “worked for the CIA selling cocaine to finance the fight against communism in South America.” Another CIA partner in the drug trade was Manuel Noriega, the de facto leader of Panama from 1983-1989. Noriega had longstanding ties to the CIA and, like Escobar, operated with impunity due to his CIA connection until he no longer became useful. Bush invaded Panama to remove him from power, citing Panama being a hub for drug trafficking as a reason for the invasion. 

Perhaps the most conniving move of Bush’s career came at the end of his presidency, when he pardoned the Iran-Contra defendants Caspar Weinberger, Robert MacFarlane and Elliott Abrams to protect himself from further investigation. As vice president, Bush attended key meetings about the arms-for-hostages deal that would become the Reagan administration’s greatest scandal, but he had never been fully candid about his support for the policy, falsely professing that he had been “out of the loop.” This was not in any way honest, as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh had learned of diaries that Bush had kept proving he did support the arms-for-hostages deal and was not out of the loop. Walsh tried to introduce the diaries as evidence at Weinberger’s trial. However, Bush’s pardons shielded himself from any additional investigation. 

So why weren’t these the stories we heard when Bush died? Why did everyone from Trump to Bernie call Bush “great” and “honest.”  Without the media concealing these stories of Bush’s corruption and glorifying him after he died, the American public would be better informed and more inclined to take action to stop similar shady schemes in the future. Academic and political activist Noam Chomsky said, “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.”  Chomsky also said, “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”  In the United States, to maintain control of the people you must keep them thinking we are the good guys and always have good intentions. The media gatekeepers New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, FOX etc. serve this purpose. Though the politicians and media pundits may quarrel over other issues, they are united in their support of a toxic system that lies to the public, profits from immoral illegal wars and the exploitation of people.  

In summation, the innumerable praises lavished upon Bush’s blood-soaked legacy should be considered endorsements of it, as one can only call Bush a “hero” if one embraces the policies and the dishonest justifications used to disguise the true motivations for those policies. As Bernie Sanders’ praises of Bush show, the unfortunate reality is that even “anti-war” politicians are beholden to this wicked Military-Media-Corporate complex. Recognizing and rejecting the media’s retelling of history is the first step in working to make sure the atrocities and disastrous policies Bush implemented will never happen again. I would encourage all who have read this article to be skeptical of the media’s narratives and only support politicians who explicitly repudiate exploitative policies and war. 

Chris Cunningham is a third-year communication studies major. CC900349@wcupa.edu

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