Obituaries

Former President George W. Bush Dead at 72

He launched an assault against Afghanistan, where al Qaeda had its headquarters and training grounds, weeks after the 2001 attacks, leading to the immediate fall of the totalitarian Islamic regime of the Taliban, which had given al Qaeda sanctuary. Though Osama bin Laden, the leader of the worldwide Islamist movement, escaped capture, his forces were severely weakened and scattered; during Mr. Bush's first term there was, against all expectations and predictions, no further terrorist attack on American soil. Arguing that Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq was a center of terrorist plotting and a repository of terrorist weaponry, from what turned out to be nonexistent chemical and biological arms to equally chimerical nuclear technology, Mr. Bush in 2003 led a limited international coalition into Iraq and replaced Mr. Hussein with an occupying force, which over the next year was pushed back into consistently shrinking enclaves in the face of a fierce insurgency. Following his reelection in 2004, Mr. Bush ordered the destruction of the cities where the insurgents were thought to be concentrated; though the cities were destroyed, the insurgency continued. Mr. Bush then pressed on to Iran and North Korea, which he had identified as "rogue states."

With U.S. Armed Forces tied down in Iraq, Mr. Bush turned to what critics called a "private army subject to no law and operating at the whim of a single individual"--that is, to large numbers of private contractors employed by U. S., Serbian, Nigerian, and Saudi corporations--to launch land, sea, and air attacks meant to destroy nuclear facilities in both Iran and North Korea. While the Afghan and Iraqi armies and governments had collapsed almost at the first sign of American assault, the Iranian and North Korean invasions were beaten back by sustained resistance and, in North Korea, the use of explosives that Mr. Bush denounced as "tactical nuclear weapons," though this was later proved not to be the case. Nonetheless Mr. Bush then ordered what he described as "pinpoint" nuclear attacks on the nuclear sites in Iran and North Korea, which, while achieving their goals, also led to the One-Day War, a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan that left Bombay and Karachi in ruins and led to the fall of the governments of both countries, and to the withdrawal of the American-led coalition forces from Iraq. The result was the series of still-continuing civil wars throughout the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent that, while involving no unconventional weapons since 2006 have, according to the United Nations, caused the deaths of 12 million people and the displacement of millions more. Mr. Bush's claim in action if not in words that the United States retained an international monopoly on the legitimate use of force left allies such as Great Britain and alliances such as NATO crippled; it also left the United States at least formally unchallenged.

It was often said, during Mr. Bush's first term, that he saw himself as a messianic figure, ordained by God to carry the flag of freedom ("God's gift," in Mr. Bush's words, "to every individual") to the corners of the earth, and that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, at least, were part of a crusade of transcendent significance. After Mr. Bush's reelection, it was increasingly argued that his wars were a diversionary and obfuscatory tactic meant to raise Mr. Bush's standing, and the power of the Republican Party both in Congress and in the states, solely for the benefit of Mr. Bush's domestic agenda, and that, as the poet Donald Hall wrote, "it was the United States itself that was the true object of conquest." While that is a matter for history to settle (when, as Mr. Bush himself once put it, "we'll all be dead"), few would dispute that Mr. Bush left the United States if not conquered then irrevocably changed--and, according to the American novelist Philip Roth, who in 2008, cited by the Swedish Academy as "the voice of a lost republic," was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, "less a nation governed by its citizenry, where each of us has one vote, than a stock exchange owned by its shareholders, according to the number of their shares."

Mr. Bush's Republican Party had, during his time in office, so effectively marginalized the opposition Democratic Party that it all but ceased to function in many states. After the suspension of the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate, the remaining 45 Democratic senators were unable to block any of Mr. Bush's appointments to the federal courts or the executive branch of government. The Republicans had so successfully supported Mr. Bush as an infallible and irreplaceable leader that he came to seem, in fact, irreplaceable. There was no figure in the party who did not appear diminished as soon as his or her name was mentioned alongside of his, and the notion of any ordinary Republican actually succeeding Mr. Bush became, in the words of William Kristol, editor of the conservative journal the Daily Standard, "unthinkable." Thus was the strategy devised to introduce a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement in Article 1 that no one could be elected president were he or she not native born, supposedly to permit the presidential candidacy of the native-born Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, the enormously popular and skillful governor of California and the one Republican other than Mr. Bush who did sometimes appear larger than life. It later transpired that the amendment was a ruse: When Democrats attempted to "poison" the amendment by proposing that all restrictions on who might become president be removed (the requirement that a president be at least 35 years old, the two-term limit), the Republicans immediately acquiesced, and as a result of the passage of the 28th Amendment in 2006 and its ratification by the states the next year, in 2008 Mr. Bush announced his candidacy for a third term. He was overwhelmingly defeated that November by former President Bill Clinton.

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