The sitting president of the United States is leaving office with the self-image of a liberator in the 2008 US transition between his administration and that of the historic first non-white head of an industrialized country. In interviews and press conferences during the waning twilight of his presidency, he has claimed repeatedly in interviews and press conferences that history will vindicate his actions in office.
The exiting president's wife and his Secretary of State echoed the claim that he had liberated thousands of Afghanis and Iraqis on Sunday morning talk shows at the end of December in the transition year. His vice-president repeatedly affirmed that all actions taken in the "war on terror" since the 9/11 attack on the United States were justified, necessary and successful in preventing another attack.
The British Foreign Secretary on January 15 of the transition year said the term coined by the American president shortly after the 9/11 attack was "misleading and mistaken." He said the concept had united extremists against the West and had invited linkages between diverse groups fighting ethnic battles in countries such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The day before the British Secretary spoke out and within a week of the day on which the sitting president would leave office, the National Portrait Gallery agreed to revise the wording on the president's official portrait. At the request of a US Senator, it would eliminate an indirect linkage of the 9/11 attack to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Little debate over the years has taken place about the war in Afghanistan, other than with regard to the conduct of the intervention. Afghanistan needed help with its extremists after 9/11. Entering into a war pact seemed to serve the interests of both parties at the time.
The war in Iraq, by contrast, has been the subject of heated debate long before it began. The president in the last press conference of his term said that not finding weapons of mass destruction there was a "significant disappointment."
From the time the war in Iraq was initiated in 2003 through the transition to the new presidency, numerous analyses disclosed the lack of foundation for the claim that "faulty intelligence" was to blame for "going into" Iraq. The president himself said in December of the transition year during an interview with his sister that "faulty intelligence" about Iraq was the greatest regret of his tenure.
By then, the leaked British Downing Street memo, among many other sources, had revealed the rush to war in 2003, well before the unsuccessful attempt to gain international backing for the venture was presented to the United Nations. A February 2009 article in The Nation cites that document in pressing a point to hold the exiting president accountable. A January 11 article by the Detroit Free Press examines the blatant untruths about the administration's actions being stated as facts by the exiting vice president.
The debate about the outgoing president's legacy as a liberator or schoolyard bully came to the forefront during the last week of the administration. CNN, for example, on November 15, posted a story about the strengths and weaknesses of the presidential decisions that would be judged by history.
In his last news conference on January 12, a confident departing president said an evaluation of his actions would be judged by history because there was "no such thing as short term history." Yet his statement, as well as all the claims and debates about his role in history, miss one basic simple fact.
By definition, an invader is one who enters (a country, for example) under arms with the intent to control or subdue. The Oxford Dictionary is among the sources citing that basic understanding of the concept.
Iraq was a sovereign country when the current United States president "went in" with the hard-fought agreement of the United States Congress to permit the "use of force" under a presumptive national exigency. The perfunctory trial of the sovereign country's leader, followed by a speedy execution, was buried in the deluge of extreme measures being implemented to preemptively fight off "enemies" while the "war" never authorized by Congress came into common usage.
The wife of the exiting president, as the country's first lady, said that a shoe thrown by an Iraqi journalist at the final visit of her husband to that country during his tenure was a sign of the freedom of expression her husband had won for Iraq. That journalist remained in detention the week before the president left office.
Helen Fogarassy is a Hungarian-born American internationalist writer working with the United Nations for nearly 20 years. She is the author of a suspense novel, The Midas Maze, about murderous hijinks in UN/US relations. She is also the author of The Light of a Destiny Dark, a novel about the Euro-American cultural gap through Hungarian eyes, and a nonfiction eyewitness tribute to the UN's work, Mission Improbable: The World Community on a UN Compound in Somalia. All are available on the major web bookstore sites. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org