As the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Center opened in Dallas on Thursday, it proved to be a milestone event in the establishment of the legacy of the former president. Yet halfway around the world in another country that continues to define his legacy, the results of his decisions are being felt to this day.
In Iraq, deadly sectarian clashes continued for their third day as Iraqi soldiers shot at Sunni gunman from helicopters. At least 140 people have been killed over the past three days of violence. As President Barack Obama and five former presidents gather in Dallas to dedicate the George W. Bush Library, perhaps the defining decision of the Bush presidency is still being felt in Iraq.
The fighting in Iraq has its roots in a protest of Sunni Iraqis against the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Maliki, a Shiite, currently rules in a power-sharing agreement that gives positions to Sunnis. In the recent months he has signaled that he wishes to have a Shiite dominated government in order to overcome political inertia that has gripped Iraq. Prominent Sunni politicians have been targeted for arrest by government forces in what they claim is a campaign of persecution against them.
This lead to protests in Sunni provinces that saw businesses and universities shut down. Government forces took over a Sunni protest camp violently, sparking the current fighting in Iraq. There are fears that this wave of violence may get worse on Friday, traditionally the day when protests are most active in Iraq.
All of this comes after Iraq went to the polls for provincial elections earlier in the month, the first election since US troops left the country. The government suspended election in several Sunni majority provinces due to violence in the area. There are worries that the current fighting could lead to a new wave of sectarian violence, another bloody chapter in Iraq’s post invasion legacy.
This is the continuing legacy of the defining moment of the George W. Bush presidency, the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The initial casus belli for the invasion was sold to the public with dodgy reports of weapons of mass destruction, which at best were highly dubious and at worst outright lies, such as the informant “Curveball” who gave false information about mobile biological weapons factories, one of the key points brought up during former Secretary of State Collin Powell infamous presentation to the United Nations to drum up support for the invasion.
The reconstruction and occupation was handled catastrophically, appointing and standing by leaders who had no military or reconstruction experiences during the reconstruction and occupation of the country. A prime example of this was Paul Bremer, who ordered the disbanding the Iraqi army, a decision that threw half a million armed and military trained men into unemployment during the chaotic post-invasion period, destroyed a tool that could have been utilized to provide order in face the anarchy that resulted after the fall of the Iraqi dictatorship, and formed the nucleolus of the insurgency that would bring about horrific sectarian violence on U.S. troops and the Iraqi civilian population.
The horrific military, humanitarian, and ethical failures of the Iraq invasion and occupation will still cast a long shadow on any attempts to rehabilitate George W. Bush’s image on the streets of Baghdad or in the homes of the families of the 5,000 U.S. troops who gave their life in the conflict. The majority of Americans believe that the Iraq war was a mistake. We will see if the opening of his library in Dallas will vindicate Bush’s defining moment.