W. and Us

Dallas, home to the George W. Bush think tank. Let's think about that.

If we had the equivalent of a national sport just for Dallas, it would be "Tip-toe 'Round the Elephant." I do get why everybody debating the Bush library at SMU does it. The people against the library don't want to get drawn off their base into an argument they can't win. The people in favor of the library think the elephant is either a planter or a very large suitcase.

But it's an elephant. The Iraq war.

In an otherwise thoughtful defense of bringing the George W. Bush presidential center to SMU, Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of political science at SMU, said of the center, "...it will explore and advance policy proposals on issues of interest to President Bush."

Writing on the op-ed page of The Dallas Morning Newsrecently, Wilson went on to cite immigration reform, expanded free trade and global democratization as themes of the Bush presidency that will be of interest to scholars in the years to come.

I don't think so. Let me ask this bluntly: How much scholarly or general interest is there in Idi Amin's monetary policy? Long before anybody can get to the administrative details, history must address the butchery issue.

Is the Iraq war of a fabric with the American history of warfare? Or does the fact that we initiated a war against a nation that had not attacked us place the Iraq war in a dark category of its own? We see Democrats like Hillary Clinton trying to parse their patriotism now by speaking as if the holocaust in Iraq is the fault of the Iraqis, but what if that's bullshit?

These bombs that kill 150 human beings at a time, that send children flying from apartments and litter the pavement with burned skulls: What if the conclusion of history is that these events would not have taken place if George W. Bush had not decided to launch this war?

And what about us? What if, on careful examination, history concludes that Bush/Rove were able to knit together the overwhelming support we gave them at the outset of this war by a subliminal manipulation of our own anti-Arab, anti-Muslim xenophobia?

Afghanistan was war. The Taliban sheltered bin Laden. But Iraq is not Afghanistan.

The questions around Bush and Iraq are going to be whether Iraq was war or holocaust. I don't draw any direct parallel here between Iraq and the Nazi Holocaust, which stands unique in human history. But man can make other human holocausts—terrible mass murder expressing only evil, not any legitimate national interest.

I don't know on which side of the line the answer will fall. But I do know what the question is. Long before history develops a big interest in George W. Bush's immigration policy, historians will have to labor long and hard on the question of whether Bush was the white Idi Amin.

It's that question, more than any other, that brings us slam into the SMU presidential center. Here in Dallas we may think we see a familiar pattern. Local oilman Ray Hunt quietly slips $25 million into the deal to help SMU assemble the requisite real estate. The Dallas Morning News starts things off a few weeks ago with a cornball editorial referring to SMU faculty as "profs," scoffing at them for being nervous nellies about a plum tourist attraction for Big D.

But you and I will make a huge mistake if we try to grasp this as a local issue. Sure, Ray Hunt is the dude who gets Dallas City Hall to give him those multimillion-dollar tax breaks he doesn't really need for his local real estate ventures. But Ray Hunt is also the owner of Hunt Oil, a dominant player in the oilfields of Yemen, home turf to the bin Laden clan.

Let me share with you a quote from my morning copy of The New York Times. Haydar Abdul Jabbar, a 28-year-old car mechanic, describing the mayhem of an enormous suicide bomb attack in the Sadriya district of Baghdad, told the Times reporter: "I wish they would attack us with a nuclear bomb and kill us all, so we will rest, and anybody who wants the oil—which is the core of the problem—can come and get it."

As the world gets smaller, the universe of scholarly research becomes relatively tiny. Questions about the Bush presidency won't belong to American scholars. Some smart Iraqi scholar is going to want to come to the George W. Bush/Ray Hunt presidential center and dig into the question he heard howled in the blood-drenched marketplace of Sadriya. Was it for oil?

The people I have talked to on the SMU faculty are asking things that have nothing to do with a thumbs-up thumbs-down vote on George W. Bush but everything to do with scholarship. Will the Iraqi scholar who comes to Dallas seeking answers find a real repository of documents useful to his study or a stone wall, a kind of chain-mail fist in the face of scholarship?

The first, most difficult piece of this is Presidential Order 13233, which effectively reverses the presumption underlying the 1978 Presidential Records Act of a basic public right of access. In asserting a contrary right of permanent privilege, George W. Bush pointedly expanded the reach of this new privilege to include the entire Bush dynasty—his father's papers not only as president, for example, but as vice president.

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