While speaking to an audience at his presidential library on Wednesday, former President George W. Bush accidentally condemned his 2003 invasion of Iraq while attempting to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bush’s speech took place at his library in Dallas, Texas, and was part of an event focused on the importance of promoting free and fair elections throughout the world. Bush was trying to say that a lack of transparency and democracy in Russia, resulting in Putin’s continued rule in Moscow, led to the invasion of Ukraine that was launched earlier this year.
But instead of saying “Russia,” Bush inserted the name of the country he ordered U.S. military forces to invade nearly two decades ago.
“The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq — I mean of Ukraine,” Bush said.
The former president acknowledged his mistake seconds later, and tried to play it off with a joke. “Iraq too, anyway,” he said, eliciting some laughter from the crowd.
Many pointed out that it was callous for Bush to joke about the invasion of Iraq, as the war resulted in thousands of American soldiers dying or being injured in significant ways, and more than a million Iraqi citizens being killed. Millions more have been permanently displaced because of the invasion.
“I’m not laughing, and I am guessing nor are the families of the thousands of American troops and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died in that war,” said MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan on Wednesday night.
“The laughing and joking at the end of this reveals everything you will ever need to know about George W. Bush,” said Dan Caldwell, vice president of foreign policy for Stand Together, a philanthropic organization focused on “bridging partisan divides.”
“I gave eye witness testimony at [the Kuala Lumpur] War Crimes Tribunal in 2012 on US torture in #Bagram and #Gitmo alongside survivors #abughraib #Iraq,” tweeted Moazzam Begg, who was formerly imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. “Bush and his acolytes were found guilty in absentia of war crimes and crimes against humanity. No joke.”
Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the basis that the country was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and was seeking to develop nuclear weapons capabilities — unfounded allegations that were relentlessly pushed by his administration and corporate media to justify going to war. When no such weapons were found after the invasion began, Bush joked about his lie to the public during a speech at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner, showing images of himself looking around the White House for WMDs.
There are many similarities between Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt noted in a column in April. Like Putin, “Bush and his allies within government and the media crafted a complete alternate reality to justify their intentions,” he wrote.
“Vladimir Putin, the strongman leader who calls the Russian oligarch billionaire class his base, has also constructed an alternative reality to buttress his desire for an expanded empire,” Pitt pointed out, comparing Bush’s false narratives to justify an invasion of Iraq to the unfounded allegations the Russian president has made against Ukraine’s political leaders.