George W. Bush and the Long Arc of Political Stupidity

Bush recently inadvertently raised the question of who all could be responsible for the present scenario in Israel and Palestine. Beyond the actions of Hamas and Israeli government, the most prominent actor has been the United States.

Along with the rest of the garbage thrown up by the latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, the former US President George W. Bush also appeared. Saying that, “My view is: One side is guilty, and it’s not Israel,” Bush inadvertently raised the question of who all could be responsible for the present scenario. Beyond the actions of Hamas and Israeli government, the most prominent actor has been the United States, and possibly none so instrumental in shaping the current hellscape than Bush and his uniquely arrogant and incompetent administration.

It was the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Elections that brought Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip – only the second (and last) such elections to be held. These elections, after the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, were expressly supported by Bush himself – who just knew that Palestinians would elect a “pro-Western” set of people.

Surprise, surprise, Hamas won with 44.5% of votes, and bagged 74 out of 132 seats. Fatah and the PLO tried to figure out a unity government with Hamas. The Israelis promptly arrested most of those elected – particularly the moderate members of Hamas who were open to recognising Israel and the Oslo Accords. But Bush and his band of idiots had grander plans. They wanted nothing less than a coup, and ponied up the money, munitions and men to Mohammad Dahlan – who Bush felt was “our guy”. Except it all went wrong, and Dahlan and everybody else opposed to Hamas got kicked out of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Strip has been blockaded ever since, and bombed regularly. Dahlan fled to the UAE, where he does things like allegedly hiring US mercenaries for kill operations in Yemen from the sheikhdom.

In the great and mighty failures under the Bush administration – whether the incompetence and ignorance in Afghanistan or the sheer criminality of the Iraq War – most people have little memory of how and his administration laid the groundwork for the current crisis.

Most important to note, though, was that all of these moves – in their time – were hailed as politically brilliant – as “masterstrokes”. And yet, many of them, even at their time, were undoubtedly and obviously stupid.

The idea of transforming Afghanistan into a fully functioning democracy with the help of a few tens of thousands of US troops assisted by former warlords, while ignoring the strategic interests of Iran, Pakistan and China, was astounding in its hubris. The idea that an invading army would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq was moronic. The idea that – after helping the Israelis isolate and celebrate over the death of Arafat – the US would be seen as an honest broker with the Palestinians and they would rush to elect those toeing the US line, was idiocy.

These foreign misadventures were matched by domestic decisions with equally fateful consequences. The Bush administration, particularly Karl Rove, weaponised the culture wars, polarised the electorate, and used every type of underhanded dealing and post-truth innuendo to win elections. These have now become the bane of the Republican Party itself, with their leading presidential contender being the criminal and crass Donald Trump, and so many divisions in the party that is has become the first ever in the history of the US Congress to ditch its own elected Speaker of the House.

It was not as if there were not warnings then about such conduct – just as there were warnings about the Iraq War, about the dangers of hubris in Afghanistan, or the wishful thinking about subservient Palestinians. The problem is that if powerful people, with all the capacity of a powerful government behind them, embark on incredibly stupid misadventures they can seem to work. The sheer power of money, military, and stupidity itself – which often cannot comprehend its own failure – can create an illusion that lasts for a little while.

But only for a little while.

In the end, though, all those masterstrokes lead to the unedifying spectacle of pathetic old men looking over the misery, murder and destruction they have created and squealing, “Don’t blame me!”

Omair Ahmad is an author and journalist.