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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

On a fresh March day, snow on the ground, here comes George W. Bush as the painterly president, 14 years after he launched the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Art is now his thing, as displayed in a No. 1 best-selling new volume of about 100 warriors wounded on his watch, “Portraits of Courage” (Crown).

As a fierce critic of Bush’s conduct as president, I’m amazed at the sensibility of the artist at work in this breathtaking collection. The Texan former president took up painting seriously since leaving office. He seems to see into his subjects, past their injuries, with real insight and compassion. The accompanying text gives stories of their struggles — representing all the armed services. He worked from photographs.

The gallery exhibit (at Bush’s presidential center) can be seen as an elaborate thank-you note. It’s a WASP thing. His father, the 41st president, famously dashed them off. The secret of his success.

Has Bush at last found himself in a field that requires no family name or fame, no credentials, clubs or wealth? He’s only 70, the same age as the current president, Donald J. Trump.

In the face of Trump’s reign of accusations, boasts and threats to close up shop at the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency, there’s been a softening of opinion on the second Bush president.

You see, he was rough-hewn, but Bush belonged to the political establishment as a genial governor when he ran. Trump is such an angry outsider that you can sense Washington wishing for the good ol’ days. Back then, presidents didn’t accuse others in the elite club of wiretapping.

Let’s not make that mistake. We should not elevate Bush from the basement of the presidential pantheon. History is only useful if it’s unvarnished.

During eight years in office, Bush played the commander in chief with bluff and bravado, landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring false victory. He never dwelled on regret for wars he started in Afghanistan and Iraq.

These are the longest wars in American history and by some military accounts, still unfinished. Those countries are now in a state of shambles and anarchy, and the United States is scarred by our own senseless 21st-century wars.

What were they for again?

One reason Trump became a leading presidential candidate is because he was the only outspoken critic of Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public knew that was sad but true. Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War in the Senate, which came back to haunt her.

In Bush’s best-selling book, we see men, and a few women, their close-up countenances captured by an oil brush. These people paid the price for Bush’s war swagger, many losing limbs, some suffering post-traumatic stress, others with cracked skulls. Some spent months or years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Then there are those — almost 7,000 — the war dead who gave their lives serving in the all-volunteer military. It’s much easier for a leader to go to war without a draft to alarm the citizenry. The Pentagon figured that out after the lost Vietnam War.

Bush’s White House misled Congress and the United Nations on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice warned about a smoking gun becoming “a mushroom cloud.”

The brash secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, insulted our own soldiers by saying, “You go to war with the Army you have.” Secretary of State Colin Powell got bamboozled, making a speech to the U.N. that swayed the pundits who joined in the Greek chorus for war.

Most critical: The Sept. 11th terrorist attacks were used by the president and his men, from the first, champing for a reason to attack Saddam Hussein. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, which was carried out mostly by Saudi Arabian men. Bush was warned at his ranch in August that the CIA knew something like this was brewing but it did not penetrate.

Baghdad’s biblical antiquities got looted in plain sight because Rumsfeld had no plan for saving civil society.

If only someone had urged young promising George one summer in Maine: “Stick to painting from now on.”

6 Responses to Don’t Paint President Bush In Rose Colors

  1. wonderful article….not fooled by his painting,,liar,liar, pant’s on fire..Bush/cheney, killers,I will not forget!! it’s still happening.

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  2. Despite Bush’s apparent mellowing, the number of lives needlessly lost because of some macho merit badge he felt he had to collect was staggering, his incurious mind which often led him to make one gaffe after another, and a simplistic approach to the nation’s social problems and worsening race relations were on his watch, not to mention the near total collapse of the economy due to an insane laissez-faire attitude in the face of massive corruption on Wall Street. A corruption dear old Ronald would in a howdy-doody way would see corruption as a necessary byproduct of a twisted “Fiscal Responsibility”.

    Where was the GOP’s sense of responsibility when corporate execs were given carte blanche to loot the American people of their hard-earned savings through well-crafted, deceitful, and immoral behind-the-back financial chicanery??

    • I agree with everything you said and 99 percent of the time I do. Not counting Trump who’s a lost soul I think in George W’s case I think in some ways he regretted the choices he made as President. I think a person with the exception of Trump can redeem themselves in time. One thing to remember about 43 was he wasn’t a narcissist who needs constant adulation and attention. Realizing he lost the popular vote in 2000 to Al Gore by a much narrower margin than Trump did to Clinton he didn’t take his Electoral College as a mandate the way Trump has. He didn’t demonize the Muslim community after 911 and made assurances they were in no way culpable as Trump is now doing. I’m glad he’s more at peace and is enjoying his new found love for painting. Hard to believe I think more people would feel easier if he were President than having Trump destroy everything in its wake

      • Of course he took his “victory” as a mandate! What rock were you sleeping under?
        “In some ways” he regretted the choices he made as president? In what ways, precisely? The man has never shown the slightest regret for all the needless deaths or national embarrassments he caused. He’s not so openly vulgar and stupid as Trump, so now he’s some kind of saint?
        I’m sure all the people in the nations occupied by Hitler remembered him so fondly because Stalin was so bad! The man has been out of office for a decade, and all of a sudden you’ve forgotten what he was and what he did?

  3. Talk about seeing the guy in rose colors, what is the article? “Real compassion”?

    Does anyone really believe these pathetic attempts by a man who failed at everything he attempted except getting tens of thousands of people killed, and making the country a laughingstock can redeem himself by painting primitive pictures of the people whom he damaged for life in order to promote himself? The man should be serving a life-long term for war crimes.
    And does anyone really believe there would be the slightest interest in this crap if it were not painted by a wealthy former president who traded on his family’s wealth and influence all his life?

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