An Accidental Admission of Guilt?

George W. Bush mistakenly described the Iraq Invasion as “wholly unjustified” and “brutal” in recent speech. In a recent speech on Wednesday (18th May 2022), former United States president George W Bush reminded the world of the ongoing consequences of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the violence of the intervention.

From his presidential centre in Dallas Texas, the 43rd president was publicly commenting for the first time on the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine when he mistakenly referred to Iraq instead of Ukraine. Bush condemned Putin’s actions as a “wholly unjustified and brutal invasion in Iraq… I mean Ukraine”. Quickly shrugging off the faux pas, he then muttered “Iraq too…”. The former president proceeded to laugh off the gaffe, and attributed it to his age (75), while the audience followed suit and laughed fondly at the mishap. Both Bush’s slip up and the audiences’ reaction has caused widespread uproar at the nonchalant attitude towards decisions which resulted in an estimated 200,000 Iraqi lives lost since 2003, as well as the deaths of more than 4,000 US soldiers.  

His numerous faux pas in previous speeches suggest that it was more likely caused by the weight of his decisions leading up to and during the Iraq invasion on his conscience, rather than an old-age moment of brain fog.

Parallels can certainly be drawn between Putin’s invasion of Ukraine under the guise of WMD fears, and Bush’s ever-changing justifications of the invasion of Iraq, as well as citing fears of Saddam Hussein harbouring biological and nuclear weapons. The error suggests that the former president is in fact aware of these parallels and perhaps mistakenly revealed his guilty conscience. 

Julian Borger opined that the actions of the U.S. military during Bush’s invasion of Iraq contribute to the “more permissive environment” for human rights standards to become obsolete during conflict. This reiterates the importance of drawing parallels between past and present imperialist wrong doings in order to question Western intervention and the motives behind it. 

While this mishap from Bush was surprising, the reaction from himself and the audience was not. It is evident that Bush and his supporters can remain free from the weight of responsibility of 2003, despite the level of intense scrutiny placed upon the Anglo-American leadership for their decision-making in 2003. This prompts us to ask, what is the role of state-led scrunity instruments – such as public inquiries – if political responsibility for war crimes is something to joke about rather than something to face in an international court of justice.