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Why Arabs aren’t laughing at George W. Bush’s gaffe on Ukraine and Iraq

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) – When pundits called former US President George W. Bush’s gaffe about Ukraine and Iraq a “Freudian slip,” it reflected a deeper grievance about perceived double standards.

Speaking from the lectern at the Southern Methodist University in Texas on Wednesday, Bush railed against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic rule and the impunity that enabled “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.”

“– I mean, of Ukraine,” he quickly corrected himself as the audience erupted in laughter. “I’m 75,” he added, blaming, in jest, his age for the slip of the tongue.

The video made the rounds on social media, but it did not elicit laughs from everyone. Instead, many quipped darkly that the blunder was the closest Iraqis would get to Bush admitting to launching the bloody 2003 invasion of Iraq under a false pretext.

“Took 20 years for George W. Bush to finally confess,” tweeted The Daily Beast Columnist Wajahat Ali.
“If you were George W. Bush, you think you’d just steer clear of giving any speech about one man launching a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion,” said former Rep. Justin Amash who is of Arab-American descent.

As in Ukraine, the war in Iraq was launched for reasons that have been condemned as illusory. The Bush administration, citing faulty intelligence, insisted that then-President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which were never found. One of the stated objectives of Russia’s war was to de-Nazify Ukraine, which is led by a democratically elected Jew.

As in Ukraine, the war in Iraq wreaked death and destruction across the country.
But unlike Ukraine, where Putin’s brutal invasion was met with Western outrage and skepticism of Russia’s narrative, the Western mainstream media had few scruples about reproducing the Bush administration’s WMD allegations about Iraq, paving the way for that country’s invasion.

A brutal dictator was removed from power in Iraq in a war that critics said was more about oil than WMD. The Arab world continues to suffer the consequences of that botched war to this day, and the grievances are alive and well.

Many in the region have watched the scenes of war from Ukraine in horror, while also openly questioning the US’s moral compass.

There were some instances of whataboutism among Arabs — where sympathy for the plight of Arabs under occupation was presented as mutually exclusive to solidarity with Ukraine, which some criticized as unwarranted.
There were also questions about the vast disparity in moral outrage between the two wars. To add insult to injury, the US has not yet issued an apology to Iraqis, and almost two decades after the invasion, some — at least those in Bush’s audience on Wednesday — are still laughing about it.

“While (Bush) was talking about Russia and its president, he made what must be one of the biggest Freudian slips of all time,” said MSNBC’s Mehdi Hassan. “I’m not laughing. And I’m guessing nor are the families of the thousands of American troops and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died in that war.”

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