Bush and the Human Condition

Korbel will be giving former President George W. Bush an award for “Improving the Human Condition” on September 9. Here’s a link  for a little background on the issue and the controversy that it’s stirred up. And click here for our dean, Ambassador Christopher Hill’s explanation. Amb. Hill acknowledges the controversy and explains that Bush deserves credit for his work in Africa on cervical cancer screening, malaria, and HIV/AIDs.

After reading Amb. Hill’s letter, I fail to see why students and faculty ought to feel more assured. I haven’t made a decision whether Pres. Bush deserves an award (especially one with the title it has). But some of the apologizing has made it all sound a little desperate. Bush’s accomplishments aside, I wonder why we’re not more embarrassed that Korbel is begging for money where others have stayed away

On a recent trip to Dallas I visited the brand new George W. Bush Presidential Center to see if I could be convinced (both father and son Bush, as well as LBJ’s libraries are located at Texas universities). Most Bush apologists from Korbel credit PEPFAR as the best thing Bush ever did. PEPFAR is the massive AIDS eradication program originally set to run 2003-2008 but has been extended till at least 2014 . Many see the AIDS program as Bush’s sole achievement and only possible reason for awarding him anything. During my Peace Corps service I applied and received funding from PEPFAR, so I suppose I’m allowed to take that into account.

At the library, Korbel graduate Dr. Condoleeza Rice (and Bush’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State) gives an an exclusive narration for one of the films. It is the only real defense I could find about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the main reasons many people have come to hate President Bush. Dr. Rice’s defense basically goes something like, “Anybody would have made the same decisions we did. You weren’t in our shoes, so you can’t really have a meaningful opinion.” She almost has a point about that and some of the other points she makes, but I’m not sure the library does a great job at knocking down the critics of the wars. What the library does well is the section on 9/11.

It’s all Bush hagiography, of course, but I found myself unexpectedly moved by the artifacts and videos from the period. The library strategically places 9/11 right before the wars, reminding us of the emotions we felt then and why our decisions seemed so obvious at the time. Most stood by or even condoned the wrongs that were done. If wrongs were done, torture and murder among them, we are all complicit. No amount of scapegoating or boycotting will make us less culpable.

The Bush Center lends out iPhones to take pictures and sends them to your email after your visit. Here’s a few (awful) photos I took using their service:

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