I Cannot Forgive George W. Bush for the Iraq War

Ten years ago, an amiable-but-shallow president made a huge mistake. It's still too soon to forgive him.

I cannot forgive George W. Bush.

I can’t forgive him for the decision, 10 years ago this week, to invade Iraq—even though that country had made no aggressive move against the United States. I can’t forgive him all the dead and injured U.S. soldiers. I can’t forgive him the tens of thousands (or more) dead and injured Iraqis, so many of them innocent victims of the horror my country unleashed through a series of blundering decisions.

I can’t forgive Bush for exaggerating the threat, for convincing millions of Americans that (improbably, impossibly) Saddam Hussein was ready to start making nuclear weapons and handing them over to Osama bin Laden for eventual detonation in, say, Omaha. I can’t forgive him, either, for sending so few troops that the WMDs might well have fallen into terrorist hands during the invasion—only, oops, the whole reason for invading turned out not to exist after all.

I can’t forgive his administration for downplaying the likely costs of the war it was planning. For firing the people who refused to downplay the likely costs of war. And for refusing to prepare adequately for the aftermath of the invasion. I can’t forgive him for refusing to admit the U.S. was losing the war for years, while people died. I can’t forgive him for deciding to be in two wars and refusing to pay for them.

I can’t forgive him for “Mission Accomplished.”

I can’t forgive him for hiring Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and David Addington and John Yoo and Jay Bybee and everybody who came up with the invasion, and warrantless wiretapping, and Gitmo, and extraordinary rendition. I can’t forgive him a thousand related transgressions that have already begun to fade in my memory, if not in my gut.

I can’t forgive his stupid little laugh that Jon Stewart caricatured so memorably. I can’t forgive “now watch this drive.” I can’t forgive him all the frat-boy nicknames he bestowed on every human who entered his circle.

I can’t forgive him for setting precedents that President Obama has followed in his own command of the War on Terror.

I can’t forgive him for Hurricane Katrina. I can’t forgive him for Enron. I can’t forgive him for taking a budget surplus and leaving office with a debt. I can’t forgive him for Republicans suddenly deciding the debt mattered in, oh, February 2009.

I can’t forgive him all the Republicans who defend torture, but see incipient tyranny in slightly higher marginal tax rates.

I can’t forgive him for all the ways our politics still seem ruined because of his time in the spotlight. And all of these things I can’t forgive, I mostly can’t forgive because of the Iraq War. It is the crucible against which all those other memories become toxic.

Now, let me admit, this may not be entirely rational. I remember meeting graying Baby Boomers in the 1990s who still chatted obsessively about that son-of-a-bitch Richard Nixon, bewildered why they couldn’t just let it go. Who wants to be that guy, throwing petulant political tantrums a decade or two later? And Bush, for all his faults, never struck me as having the demons that reputedly haunted Nixon.

If anything, Bush seemed amiable and shallow, somebody—like the heir he was—better suited to an inherited head-of-nation position (think Prince Charles) instead of the getting-things-done position of head-of-state (think Tony Blair). And that might’ve been fine for America in the first decade of the 21st century, if not for 9/11, if not for Bush suddenly finding purpose in that moment, and letting that purpose carry him—and the rest of us—down some very dark roads.

Ten years ago this week, we didn’t know most of the things that I cannot now forgive George W. Bush. Maybe in another 10 years, I will be able to forgive. (And maybe so will other Americans: There’s reason to believe the GOP still suffers during national elections because of Bush’s long shadow.) Maybe in another 10 years, America will finally seem on the upswing again. Maybe.

For now, though, I can’t forgive George W. Bush. Not even a little bit.