by Ellen Isaacs
The first George Bush (Bush I),President from 1988-1992 and dead on November 30, 2018, has since been lionized by the same media and politicians that endlessly deride and mock Donald Trump. But Bush I was ever so much more successful at wreaking death and suffering around the world and on poor black and Latin Americans than Trump will ever be. They call him a statesman, for which we can read efficient imperialist; humble, for which we might substitute sinister and deceptive; and heroic, which we might recast as brutal assassin. The real lesson is that the U.S. ruling class wishes its murderous actors to carry out their roles with finesse, rather than bumbling ineptness, like Trump. Bush committed mass murder in the name of spreading democracy, as do all U.S. presidents since the beginning of the American enterprise. It matters not whether we assess liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican presidents – they all kill and conquer the workers of the world in order to preserve power and resources. It is the imperative of the capitalist/imperialist system.
By no means a self-made man, Bush was born to two wealthy parents with deep ruling class connections. His father, Prescott Bush, had ties to Standard Oil, did business with Nazi Germany before World War II and continued to sell arms to Hitler through 1942. His grandfather, George Herbert Walker was a wealthy international banker descended from slave traders.
As a college student at Yale, Bush I belonged to one of the secret societies for wealthy white Christian men, from which the CIA did much of its recruiting. After graduating in 1948, Bush I went into the oil business in Texas and began his covert association with the CIA, using his business ventures as cover. His Zapata drilling company, ironically named after the Mexican freedom fighter, was involved in the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected left-leaning Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. It was also implicated in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, where Walker-Bush family sugar holdings had been seized by Fidel Castro.
Bush I became a Congressman in 1966 and soon afterwards traveled to Vietnam with a CIA official to examine the Phoenix Program, a massive U.S. terror and death squad operation that tortured and killed 25,000-50,000 insurgents. He also became involved in Operation Condor, a program enabling right wing dictators in Latin America, as in Chile and Argentina, to brutally kill tens of thousands of dissidents. Later, when Bush was running the CIA from 1976-7, a CIA asset with the Chilean secret police blew up a Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier, and his aide in Washington, D.C. Bush deliberately misled the FBI investigation, away from the killer.
In 1980, Bush became Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Jimmy Carter had lost his bid for re-election largely because 52 Americans taken hostage in Iran after the overthrow of the U.S.-supported Shah in 1979 had not been freed. Since the hostages were released the day after Reagan’s inauguration, it is strongly suspected that Bush had made a secret deal with the Iranians to insure Reagan’s victory. Sound familiar?
Once in office, the Reagan-Bush team began a long sequence of secret and nefarious actions in Central America. Somoza, the dictator of Nicaragua installed by the U.S. in the 1930s, had been overthrown by the Sandanistas in 1979. Hoping to reverse this revolution, the U.S. trained death squads and torturers, the Contras, at the School of the Americas in Georgia and supplied them with arms. After Congress passed an amendment in 1984 banning aid to the Contras, Bush, together with his National Security Advisor Donald Gregg from the Phoenix Program and CIA head William Casey, began a secret arms plan to supply them with weapons. It was financed by illegally selling arms to Iran and cocaine in the poor, mostly black areas of American cities (the Iran-Contra affair). This influx of drugs became an excuse for the subsequent War on Drugs and mass incarceration.
When running for President in 1987, Bush’s most successful tactic was a viciously racist ad featuring a convicted black murderer, Willie Horton, who was on a weekend furlough from prison when he committed another crime. Bush used this rare event to smear his opponent as soft on crime and, by implication, not sufficiently wary of violent black men.
But Bush I was responsible for far more extensive death and deception when he became President. Soon after, he invaded Panama, ostensibly to arrest the dictator Noreiga for drug trafficking, although Noriega had been a CIA asset for years and had allowed the Contras to ship drugs from Panama. Over 24,000 troops invaded this tiny country and killed at least 3,000 people, mostly civilians. This invasion was meant in part to overcome the embarrassment of the American failure in Vietnam, to re-establish U.S. supremacy in the hemisphere and to get rid of Noriega, whose drug-running had become too well publicized. It was, of course, touted as an exercise in “restoring democracy.”
But this was just a rehearsal for the horror that Bush I was to unleash on Iraq, Operation Desert Storm, as well as setting the stage for his son’s wholesale invasion in 2003. The U.S. had soured on its erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein, who sat on the world’s second largest pot of oil, was threatening to begin selling it for euros instead of dollars, and might even pose a threat to Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration appeared to give Saddam permission to enter Kuwait via its ambassador and then, in order to justify attacking the invaders, publicized a completely fake story about babies being murdered in a hospital nursery by Iraqi soldiers. As the Iraqis retreated, Bush I told his soldiers to “put some hate in your heart” and attacked the fleeing troops mercilessly on what became the Highway of Death, as well as bombing Baghdad, including targeting 400 people in an air raid shelter. The hoped for overthrow of Saddam did not materialize, nor did the short war that was supposed to demonstrate the infallibility of new high-tech American weaponry forestall further wars.
Domestically, Bush also left a legacy of death and discrimination. The HIV epidemic was in full flower in the 90s, and 70,000 mostly gay men died during his presidency. Funding for AIDS research was cut, while Bush repeatedly urged people to change their behavior and criticized Act Up, the main organization advocating for AIDS victims, for using “excessive free speech.” When the Supreme Court seat of Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights icon, became vacant, Bush replaced him with Clarence Thomas. A black man, Thomas was extremely conservative, a denier of the role of racism in American life, and was credibly accused of numerous episodes of sexual harassment by Anita Hill and others. But there he sits,today.
The legacy of that great “statesman” Bush I is massive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are still unresolved, millions of deaths in those countries, the rise of Islamic extremism, thousands of American soldiers dead or maimed, millions of American workers dead or disabled by disease, drugs, or incarceration, and an increase in racism and xenophobia. Let us vote for no more “great politicians” who ruin our lives, but organize ourselves to fight in our own interests.
George H.W. Bush,Icon of the WASP Establishment—and of Brutal US Repression in the Third World,Greg Grandin, The Nation, 12/4/18
George H. W. Bush’s Presidency Erased People with AIDS. So Did the Tributes to Him, Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, 12/7/18