By John Sullivan
Special to The Globe
They say that hindsight is 20/20. If that’s the case, since history involves hindsight — or at least post-transactional analysis of what worked and what did not — then history should be the judge of a presidential term of office.
But sometimes, if you want history to treat you kindly, it helps to boost your own transactional analysis to buttress the validity of the choices you have made.
That process is what is on display at the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The Bush library is not the only one to put its own spin on the history of its namesake. I have made it my bucket list project to visit all 13 of the existing presidential libraries, and so far, I’ve been to seven.
In my opinion, the most honest and true-to-the-facts presentation I have seen to date is at the Richard Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif. The treatment of Watergate is straight up and unvarnished. Not so the Lewinsky scandal at the Bill Clinton library in Little Rock, which bears no witness to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It is as if she has been whitewashed out of the picture.
The Reagan library does not deal with the Iran-Contra affair, and there is no mention of Jane Wyman, Reagan’s first wife.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt library at Hyde Park does not mention Lucy Rutherford, FDR’s confidante who was more than close to him and was with him at Warm Springs, Ga., when he drew his last breath.
And Marilyn Monroe and the history of her relationship with John F. Kennedy is nowhere to be found at the Kennedy library in Boston, save a fleeting version of “Happy Birthday.”
But when it comes to hiding or massaging more significant historical facts, the new Bush library is second to none.
It should come as no surprise that the decision to go to war in Iraq is mightily buttressed in an exhibit called “The Decision-Making Game.” The same old arguments are trotted out in defense of our pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, due to suspected weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to the attack on the World Trade Center and al-Qaida, which provably did not exist.
The former president is shown during the game, in a recently recorded video statement, defending his decision on the same tired and untrue set of facts and suppositions.
The Bush library may be the largest and costliest edifice ($500 million) dedicated to historic revisionism ever built. That is not surprising either, since the decision to invade Iraq is one of the most monumental blunders in American history.
Good decisions don’t need a multimillion-dollar castle built to defend their propriety. Bad decisions evidently do. No matter the effort, however, it cannot succeed. The results are too palpable to hide. They will be around for a long time to come. There is no hiding the fact that Iraq today under the Shiite leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is an ally of our enemy, Iran, more than they are defenders of freedom, democracy and the American way.
Not only was the mission not accomplished when Bush said so, it took 10 years, a trillion dollars and 4,486 American lives.
No matter how fancy the building, nor how glossy the exhibits, the truth of this monumental blunder cannot be hidden. Nor should it be, for a failure to understand the mistakes of history could doom us to repeat them.
John Sullivan lives in Pittsburg, Kan., where he teaches at Pittsburg State University.