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George H.W. Bush died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 94. Bush was elected the 41st president of the United States in 1988, becoming the first and only former CIA director to lead the country. He served as Ronald Reagan's vice president from 1981 to 1989.
Since Bush's death, the media has honored the former president by focusing on his years of service and his call as president for a kinder, gentler America. But the headlines have largely glossed over and ignored other parts of Bush's legacy. We look at the 1991 Gulf War, Bush's pardoning of six Reagan officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and how a racist election ad helped him become president. We speak with Intercept columnist Mehdi Hasan. His latest piece is titled "The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism, and Obstruction of Justice."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush, the nation's 41st president, the father of the 43rd president. President Bush died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 94. His body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda from tonight until Wednesday. He'll be buried later this week in Houston. There will be two memorial services: one at the National Cathedral on Wednesday and then one in Houston. Bush was elected president in 1988, becoming the first and only former CIA director to lead the country. From 1981 to 1989, he served as Ronald Reagan's vice president.
Over the weekend, the media honored Bush and his legacy, focusing on Bush's years of service, from his time in the Navy during World War II to his call as president for a kinder, gentler America. But the focus of the media's coverage has largely glossed over, or even ignored, other parts of Bush's legacy, from his expansion of the racist so-called war on drugs to his reluctance to tackle climate change, famously saying, quote, "The American way of life is not up for negotiation," unquote. It was also George H.W. Bush who nominated and continued supporting future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas even after Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Internationally, the ramifications of Bush's foreign policy in the Middle East are still being felt. In 1991, Bush launched the Gulf War in Iraq.
PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Our objectives are clear: Saddam Hussein's forces will leave Kuwait, will be restored to its rightful place, and Kuwait will once again the free. Iraq will eventually comply with all relevant United Nations resolutions. And then, when peace is restored, it is our hope that Iraq will live as a peaceful and cooperative member of the family of nations, thus enhancing the security and stability of the Gulf. Some may ask, "Why act now? Why not wait?" The answer is clear: The world could wait no longer.- Advertisement -
AMY GOODMAN: Over the next 42 days, U.S. forces devastated the Iraqi civilian infrastructure and killed an unknown number of Iraqi civilians. On February 13, 1991, the U.S. bombed an air-raid shelter in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad. Four hundred eight civilians were killed. Some Iraqi relatives of the dead later sued Bush and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney, for war crimes. While the Gulf War technically ended in February of 1991, the U.S. war on Iraq would continue for decades, first in the form of devastating sanctions, then in the 2003 invasion launched by George H.W. Bush's son, President George W. Bush, the 43rd president. Thousands of U.S. troops and contractors remain in Iraq today.
President Bush's invasion of Iraq came just over a year after he sent tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft into Panama to execute an arrest warrant against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. General Noriega was once a close ally to Washington and on the CIA payroll. During the attack, the U.S. unleashed a force of 24,000 troops equipped with highly sophisticated weaponry and aircraft against a country with an army smaller than the New York City Police Department. An estimated 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack. Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations to Panama over what was widely seen as an illegal invasion.
In one of his last acts in office, President George H.W. Bush granted pardons to six former Reagan officials who were involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, when the Reagan administration secretly sold arms to Iran to help raise money for the Nicaraguan Contras despite a congressional ban on providing aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. Bush was never held liable for his role in the scandal. The ex-CIA director claimed he was, quote, "out of the loop," even though other participants and a paper trail suggested otherwise.
Bush's time in office coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. He termed the post-Soviet era the New World Order and was a key architect of neoliberal globalization, setting the stage for, among other things, NAFTA and the WTO.
To talk more about the legacy of George H.W. Bush, we're joined by Mehdi Hasan. He's a columnist for The Intercept, host of their Deconstructed podcast. He's also host of UpFront at Al Jazeera English. His most recent piece for The Intercept, "The Ignored Legacy of George H.W. Bush: War Crimes, Racism, and Obstruction of Justice."
Mehdi, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, when someone dies, people -- and certainly in the media, when it comes to a U.S. leader -- they focus on what they feel was the important praiseworthy accomplishments of a person. And it's the instinct of all not to speak ill of the dead. But, Mehdi Hasan, if you can talk about the significance of the presidency of George H.W. Bush?
MEHDI HASAN: I mean, huge significance, Amy. And you're right. You know, not speaking ill of the dead is true, and it's a basic -- you know, basic courtesy and decency. But this is not about speaking ill of the dead. This is about evaluating the record of a president of the United States, the 41st president of the United States, and one of the most important human beings of the 20th century, technically.
And, yes, a lot happened on his, you know, four-year watch. You mentioned a great deal of it in your introduction there. And I think the problem is -- I find it astonishing, as a Briton living in Washington, D.C., watching cable news on Saturday and seeing this hagiography masquerading as journalism, just talking about what a great guy he was, what a great president he was, what a civil and decent human being he was, ending the Cold War, and many achievements. You know, he stood up to the NRA. He stood up to AIPAC. He did do some good things. But the idea that you only focus on the positive and you ignore the negatives, especially when the negatives involve the loss of huge amounts of human life -- in Iraq, for example, in Panama -- I think, is absurd. It's a dereliction of journalistic duty for a president to die and journalists to act as if they're cheerleaders and put, you know, their own, whatever, patriotism or nationalism ahead of their duty to really give a full set of facts to the viewers, you know, a first draft of history, Amy.