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Visit to Bush Library reminder of mishandled War on Terror

Milam's Musings, milambc@miamioh.edu

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas.

I've never been to a presidential library before, so I had no expectations. It was well worth the price of admission.

Yes, it obviously slants toward Bush favorably, on how he handled 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and it even somehow boasted about No Child Left Behind.

Even so, I appreciated how beautiful and interesting the library was.

For instance, there was an impressive LED video wall above the Freedom Hall which showed in a 360-degree perspective, the American people in various occupations, all the past presidents and then a flyover of Washington D.C.

It was also an interactive experience. I picked a voting card that gave me the identity of a white man of any economic class in 1828 -- the first time most white men of any economic class were eligible to vote. I had the choice of Andrew Jackson or John Quincy Adams for president.

Then I had a chance to see what it was like to give a presidential speech via teleprompter. I found it quite difficult, however.

The replica White House Oval Office was stunning to see in person, too.

Nevertheless, Bush's presidency will forever be marked by 9/11 and it's no different with his presidential library.

There's an exhibit of 9/11 debris, the famous photo of Bush receiving information about 9/11 during a book reading in Sarasota, Florida and Bush's itinerary that day, like talking on the phone to Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton and his dad.

But what stuck with me the most and nearly brought me to tears was the sympathy letters children and adults from all over the world had written to Americans after 9/11.

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A schoolgirl from Latvia drew a heart with wings that said, "We will be with you."

A child in Germany drew a picture of hands together around the globe with a bright sun and birds flying in the air.

An Egyptian citizen wrote, "I offer my sincerest condolences to all American families and ask God to help us through these difficult times."

There's too many to reprint here, but suffice it to say, the outpouring is overwhelming and a beautiful thing to see. If you have time, you can see a great many of them on the presidential library web site.

The library states about these condolences, "Despite the horrific loss of life, the Nation drew strength from citizens from around the world. What follows is a small sample of the condolence materials representing over 75 countries that poured into the United States' embassies...the world remained interconnected by its common humanity."

This is what most saddens and frustrates me: after 9/11, we understandably had much of the world's sympathy and we could have done something special after 9/11.

We could have been brave and bold. We could have been compassionate and understanding. We could have been steadfast in maintaining our principles in the face of those who wished to see them dismissed at the slightest bit of trouble.

Instead, within a few short years, we squandered all of that potential.

We squandered it in the bowels of Guantanamo Bay, where we imprisoned people without due process and tortured them. Even to this day, there remains prisoners that should be released and prisoners that are being tortured through the inhumane process of force-feeding.

We squandered it in the desert hell of Iraq, a country we invaded based on lies and a country which had nothing to do with 9/11. For our efforts, we set the stage for an estimated 500,000 dead Iraqis, 4,486 dead U.S. soldiers and many more wounded at a cost of $1.7 trillion with an estimated $6 trillion over the next four decades. Not to mention, we destabilized the region and enabled the rise of ISIS.

We squandered it at home, too, by giving into Islamophobia and nationalism parading as patriotism, monitoring and surveilling the lives of Muslim-Americans, and willingly giving up our freedoms to the USA PATRIOT Act in the name of false security.

We squandered it by giving George W. Bush at the time the AUMF three days after 9/11, which was a blank check for forever war, anywhere and everywhere, including through President Obama's administration.

We squandered it in the present day by having now bombed seven Muslim-majority countries, re-engaged in Iraq and totally forgetting about the ongoing and unending hostilities in Afghanistan.

The seven, by the way, are: Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, which the latter has been particularly brutal as we've aided and been complicit to Saudi Arabia's bombing campaigns. There's an eighth country Obama has bombed -- the Philippines -- but it's a Muslim-minority country.

Andrew Bacevich in the Huffington Post gave a rundown of the "forever war" events just in the last month or so:

In Yemen, a U.S. airstrike killed at least 50 individuals.

In Somalia, another U.S. airstrike killed a reported 150 militants (keep in mind, that's the U.S. government's assertion).

The U.S. is gearing back up for stronger re-engagement in Libya, after destabilizing the country in 2011.

As Bacevich pointed out, none of the groups targeted had anything to do with 9/11 and yet, the AUMF somehow allows for the president to carry on these bombing campaigns.

It's further worth noting that Obama campaigned on and still boasts about ending the Iraq War. There are now 5,000 U.S. military personnel in the country and the number keeps incrementally increasing.

Likewise, Obama boasts about ending the Afghanistan War and yet, he has now passed that on to his successor.

How did we get to this point of forever war and squandering all of our principles in the name of fighting an elusive War on Terror?

The 15-year anniversary of 9/11 is this year and it seems not only have we failed to learn anything since then, but we are likely to continue the forever war unabated.

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