President George Bush was hospitalized in Houston on Sunday after contracting an infection that spread to his blood, his office said on Monday.
Mr. Bush, 93, was “responding to treatments and appears to be recovering,” said Jim McGrath, his spokesman.
His hospitalization at Houston Methodist Hospital came one day after the funeral for his wife, Barbara Bush, who died on Tuesday in her bedroom with the former president at her side. He was photographed at the funeral in a wheelchair with his son George W. and Laura Bush; Bill and Hillary Clinton; Barack and Michelle Obama; and Melania Trump.
On Friday, George Bush and his daughter, Dorothy Bush Koch, greeted mourners who came to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church to pay their respects to the former first lady.
Mrs. Bush was 92, and the couple had been married for 73 years.
Mr. Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, has had a series of health problems in the last few years, and was hospitalized twice after contracting pneumonia last year.
The White House did not immediately respond to a question about the frequency with which Mr. Trump and Mr. Stallone communicate, and a spokeswoman for Mr. Stallone did not return a request for comment. But Mr. Trump seems to have long been fond of Mr. Stallone, an actor most famous for his portrayals of tough guys with machine guns and boxers with inferiority complexes.
In recent years, Mr. Stallone has attended functions at Mar-a-Lago and, like the president, he appears to enjoy signing his autograph in a thick Sharpied scrawl: “Greatest knockout in history!” he wrote to Mr. Trump shortly after the 2016 election.
The president returned the affection and considered bringing Mr. Stallone closer to Washington. Shortly after Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Stallone said that he had declined being considered for a White House appointment to a post with the National Endowment for the Arts.
Mr. Trump is correct that other presidents did not act on requests to pardon Mr. Johnson, whose dominance as a boxing champion in the early 1900s elicited racial animosity. In 1910, after Mr. Johnson knocked out Jim Jeffries, a white boxer, riots broke out that led to mostly black deaths at the hands of white mobs.
Three years later, a jury convicted Mr. Johnson of transporting his white girlfriend across state lines. He served a year in prison and died in 1946.
The Justice Department does not typically consider posthumous pardons because, according to department guidelines, the time “is better spent on the pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”
But for decades, lawmakers and filmmakers — and, now, a movie star — have tried to persuade presidents to pardon Mr. Johnson. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, have been the most recent legislators to ask.
During nearly every term of Congress since 2004, they have introduced a resolution recommending a pardon. It passed both the House and Senate in 2009 and 2011, but just as Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, President Barack Obama did not grant a pardon.
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“Don’t you think this issue says something about the character of America?” Mr. McCain asked The Times in 2015.
According to the Justice Department, Mr. Trump has so far issued three presidential pardons. In August, he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff whose hard-line approach to tamping down on illegal immigration earned him a criminal contempt conviction. In March, he pardoned Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy submariner jailed after taking unauthorized photographs in a classified area of a submarine.
This month, Mr. Trump pardoned I. Lewis Libby Jr., known as Scooter, who was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice for his involvement in unmasking the identity of Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. officer.
In the time it took to write this article, Mr. Trump, who spent the week mostly ensconced at his Florida properties, had angrily returned to a pet topic: the news media. The president attacked The Washington Post, disputing its reporting that he referred to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, as “Mr. Magoo” and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, as “Mr. Peepers.”
Former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, were unable to attend; a spokeswoman said that Mr. Carter would be on a private trip overseas and that Mrs. Carter was recovering from recent surgery.
The 90-minute service, set to begin at 11 a.m. local time, has been in the works for years. Mrs. Bush herself selected the three eulogists: her son Jeb Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida; Susan Baker, a longtime friend and the wife of James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state; and Jon Meacham, a presidential historian who published a biography of her husband in 2015.
The funeral capped a weeklong period of mourning in Houston. There were formal gatherings and impromptu tributes at City Hall, the police headquarters, the elder Mr. Bush’s office, and Barbara Bush Elementary School in the city’s Energy Corridor.
At the school on Wednesday, the principal, Theresa Rose, wore pearls in honor of Mrs. Bush, who had been a regular presence there since the school opened in 1992. Mrs. Bush came to the school a couple of years ago to read to the students, a day Rahul Sanklecha, 10, still remembers. He was in the third grade, and she read a children’s book about Abraham Lincoln called “Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books.”
“Her schedule is busy, but she came out to read to us,” said Rahul, now a fifth grader. “I’m really proud that I represent a school named after her.”
The funeral on Saturday was to be a private, invitation-only service for 1,500 relatives, friends and dignitaries, but will be nationally televised. The viewing on Friday was for everyone else: ordinary men, women and children, many of them from Houston and other parts of Texas.
They came in suits and dresses, nurses’ scrubs and football jerseys, jeans and school uniforms. They were young and they were old. They were white, black, Asian, Latino. Inside the red-brick church, on the candlelit chancel in front of the altar, Mrs. Bush lay in a closed silver coffin adorned with a multitude of bright flowers. About halfway through the viewing, roughly 3,000 visitors flowed past throughout the afternoon, pausing to bow their heads or make the sign of the cross.
“I just wanted to be there to honor her,” said Barbara McMahon, 78, a retired librarian who lives in Houston and who wore her pearl earrings to St. Martin’s on Friday. “It does make me sad, because she’s such an incredible example, and I don’t know how many more people there are to be that kind of example.”
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Parts of the neighborhood surrounding the church were effectively shut down to most traffic on Friday. Members of the public were barred from approaching the church on foot or in personal vehicles. Instead, they gathered at the nearby Second Baptist Church, passed through security and then boarded buses that took them to and from St. Martin’s.
After the funeral, a motorcade was to proceed through Memorial Park and travel more than 90 miles northwest to College Station, where Mrs. Bush was to be buried in a private service at Texas A&M University, on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Mrs. Bush was to be buried beside her daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of 3 in 1953.
Before arriving at the library grounds, the motorcade in College Station will turn left on George Bush Drive and then right on Barbara Bush Drive.
As the wife of the 41st president and the mother of the 43rd, George W. Bush, Mrs. Bush was only the second woman in American history to have a son of hers follow his father to the White House. (Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams, was the first.)
Another son, Jeb, the governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
During that campaign, he was repeatedly derided in personal terms by the eventual nominee and now president, Donald J. Trump, prompting Mrs. Bush, who was never shy about expressing her views, to lash back, suggesting in television interviews that Mr. Trump was a misogynist and a hatemonger.
“He’s said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military,” Mrs. Bush told CNN. “I don’t understand why people are for him.”
Dedicated to her family and largely indifferent to glamour, Mrs. Bush played down her role in her husband’s political success. But she was a shrewd and valuable ally, becoming a sought-after speaker in at least four national campaigns: in 1980, when Mr. Bush was chosen to be Ronald Reagan’s running mate; in 1984, when the two ran for re-election; in 1988, when Mr. Bush campaigned for president; and in 1992, when he sought re-election.
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She stepped into another presidential campaign in 2000, that of her son George, then the governor of Texas. She appeared at fund-raisers and met voters in New Hampshire and other states on his behalf as he rolled to the Republican presidential nomination.
She was clearly a political asset. A 1999 poll found that 63 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of her and that only 3 percent had an unfavorable one.
Outspoken and Combative
While first lady, from January 1989 to January 1993, Mrs. Bush generally refused to talk publicly about contentious issues, particularly when her opinion was said to differ from her husband’s.
“I’m not against it or for it,” she said of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1989. “I’m not talking about it. I want equal rights for women, men, everybody.”
There were rumors that she favored abortion rights, but she made it clear that she supported her husband and would not say whether she was comfortable with his anti-abortion stand.
She was vocal, however, in championing causes of her choosing. Literacy was one, and so was civil rights; she had been an early supporter of the movement.
And she could be combative in news interviews, sometimes yanking off her glasses and tartly chastising reporters when she thought they were being overly aggressive.
Her candor occasionally got her into trouble. In 2005, while visiting victims of Hurricane Katrina at the Houston Astrodome, where they were being temporarily housed, she remarked that many of them “were underprivileged anyway” and that their Astrodome stay — though the living conditions there were dire — was “working very well for them.”
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The comments, coming at a time when her son’s administration was being roundly criticized over its response to the storm, were widely heard as insensitive and condescending.
Two years earlier, shortly before President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, she said in a television interview that she had not been watching coverage of the prelude to war. “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it’s going to happen?” she asked. “Why would I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”
She was similarly outspoken in 2013 when she was asked, on the “Today” show, if she thought her son Jeb should run for president in 2016. “I really don’t,” she replied, adding, “There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.”
She later changed her mind. In an email to potential supporters in March 2015, she acknowledged, “When the idea of Jeb running for president first came up, I was hesitant.” But she said she was starting a “Run Jeb Run Fund” because “Jeb is our best chance of taking back the White House in 2016.”
She went on to campaign for him in New Hampshire, but he finished fourth in the Republican primary there in February and suspended his campaign a few days later.
Mrs. Bush enjoyed a favorable public image throughout her years as first lady. In one respect she benefited from comparisons with her predecessor, Nancy Reagan, whom many perceived, rightly or wrongly, as remote, icy and overly style-conscious.
By contrast, Mrs. Bush was regarded as unpretentious, a woman who could wear fake pearls, enjoy takeout tacos, walk the dog in her bathrobe and make fun of herself. Perhaps adding to her appeal, she conformed to the popular view of an old-fashioned grandmother, with her white hair and matronly figure; though she was almost a year younger than her husband, many thought she looked much older.
“What not everyone always understood is that Barbara revealed as much as she wanted to but seldom more,” Donnie Radcliffe wrote in a 1989 biography, “Simply Barbara Bush: A Portrait of America’s Candid First Lady.” “She came into the White House with a dexterity at manipulating her image, and she wasn’t above playing off her own outspoken style against Nancy Reagan’s reluctance and often inability to express herself.”
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“A less popular political wife,” Ms. Radcliffe added, “might have seemed calculating.”
Part of Mrs. Bush’s popularity stemmed from her penchant for self-deprecation. Soon after moving into the White House, she said, “My mail tells me a lot of fat, white-haired, wrinkled ladies are tickled pink.”
She would do anything asked of her to help the Bush administration, she said, but she drew a line: “I won’t dye my hair, change my wardrobe or lose weight.” Even so, as first lady she was known to wear designer clothes and have her hair styled.
For all her joking about herself, she also confessed that she had felt like crying after Jane Pauley told her on the “Today” show, “Mrs. Bush, people say George is a man of the ’80s and you’re a woman of the ’40s.”
An Invisible Influence
Mrs. Bush often insisted that she stayed out of her husband’s concerns. But few who knew her believed that she would ever hesitate to tell Mr. Bush her views.
“You have to have influence,” she said in 1992. “When you’ve been married 47 years, if you don’t have any influence, then I really think you’re in deep trouble.”
The substance of that influence remained largely invisible to the public eye, however, making her one of the few first ladies of her era to escape serious criticism. When Mrs. Reagan raised more than $1 million in tax-deductible contributions in 1981 to redecorate the White House living quarters, there was a public outcry. When the Bushes’ friends raised almost $200,000 to spruce up the vice-presidential house the same year, there was hardly a stir.
“I got away with murder,” Mrs. Bush said shortly before her husband’s inauguration.
One glaring exception came in 1984. Speaking of Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York, the Democratic nominee for vice president, Mrs. Bush characterized her as something that “rhymes with rich.” She later apologized, but even then she parried with her critics, saying she did not mean any offense by calling Ms. Ferraro “a witch.”
She was born Barbara Pierce on June 8, 1925, at a maternity hospital in New York City run by the Salvation Army principally for unwed mothers. The family obstetrician practiced there one month a year, and that month happened to be June. She was the third child of the former Pauline Robinson and Marvin Pierce. Her father was in the publishing business and eventually became president of the McCall publishing company. Her mother, the daughter of an Ohio Supreme Court justice, was active in civic affairs in Rye, N.Y., the New York City suburb where the family lived.
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One of Mrs. Bush’s distant relatives was Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States.
Barbara was brought up in considerable affluence. She attended the public Milton School and the private Rye Country Day School and, along with her contemporaries, suffered through dancing classes, which she never forgot. “I was 5 feet 8 inches at the age of 12, and it certainly bothered the boys,” she recalled.
Her final two years of high school were spent at Ashley Hall, a boarding school in Charleston, S.C. A classmate once described it as a place where “being bad meant taking off your hat and gloves when you got out of sight of the school.”
Long Romance Begins
She met George Bush in 1941 at a Christmas dance at the Round Hill Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. George had grown up in Greenwich, a son of Prescott S. Bush, a Wall Street executive and a future United States senator from Connecticut, and the former Dorothy Walker. At the time, he was a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. They began corresponding.
After graduating in 1942, Mr. Bush enlisted in the Navy and trained as a pilot. The next year, he was assigned to a torpedo squadron in the Pacific and piloted a Grumman Avenger. On one combat mission, in 1944, he was shot down and rescued by a submarine. Barbara did not hear from him for a month.
After enrolling at Smith College but before entering the freshman class, she shocked her mother by spending the summer working in a nuts-and-bolts factory.
She and Mr. Bush, on leave from the Navy, married in Rye on Jan. 6, 1945; the bride, not yet 20, had dropped out of Smith at the beginning of her sophomore year. “The truth is, I just wasn’t interested,” she said in interviews. “I was just interested in George.”
They honeymooned in Sea Island, Ga., and spent nine months at military bases in Michigan, Maine and Virginia before Mr. Bush was discharged and entered Yale. In New Haven, where the couple moved, their first son, George, was born in 1946.
After Mr. Bush’s graduation, in 1948, the family left for Texas, where Mr. Bush, with the help of a family friend, had taken a job as an equipment clerk in the oil industry. For a time, in Odessa, Tex., the family lived in one half of a house; the other half was used as a brothel. Within a year they were sent to California. A daughter, Pauline (known as Robin), was born there in 1949 but died of leukemia before her fourth birthday.
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The California sojourn was brief; the Bushes soon returned to Texas — first to Midland, where they bought a house in a neighborhood known as Easter Egg Row because the houses were all painted in pastel colors, and later to Houston. By the time the Bushes reached the White House, they had moved 26 times.
In Texas, four more children were born: Jeb (John Ellis) in 1953, Neil Mallon in 1955, Marvin Pierce in 1956 and Dorothy Walker in 1959. Only George and Jeb went into politics; Neil and Marvin became businessmen, and Dorothy Bush Koch became a philanthropist.
Mrs. Bush’s children survive her, as do her husband; her brother, Scott Pierce; 17 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Every summer, while Mr. Bush was engaged in oil deals and raising investment money, Mrs. Bush and the children drove to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me.
On her first trip there, Mrs. Bush discovered that the hotel where she had made reservations along the way would not accommodate two black family employees who were accompanying her and the children. The employees said they would find another place. But Mrs. Bush refused to split up the group and found other accommodations. On becoming first lady, she insisted that her press secretary be black — a first for that position.
The family moved to Washington in 1966, when Mr. Bush, after an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1964, was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas’ Seventh Congressional District, which includes parts of Houston. He served two terms and mounted a failed second campaign for the Senate.
Later, as compensation for giving up his safe seat in the House to make the Senate run, he was named ambassador to the United Nations by President Richard M. Nixon. He assumed the post in 1971, and the Bushes moved into the ambassadorial suite of the Waldorf Towers in New York.
The family returned to Washington in 1973 when Mr. Bush was appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position he occupied during the Watergate crisis. In 1974, President Gerald R. Ford sent him to the People’s Republic of China to lead the United States Liaison Office in Beijing.
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“Watergate was a terrible experience,” Mrs. Bush told Ms. Radcliffe in 1984. “So to go off to China and learn a whole new culture was beautiful.”
She particularly liked having her husband to herself; their children had not accompanied them. The two cycled around Beijing, studied Chinese and learned tai chi.
In “Barbara Bush: A Memoir,” published in 1994, Mrs. Bush acknowledged that she suffered from depression in 1976 after she and her husband had returned from his two-year China posting and he was named director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a post he held for 11 months.
She had discussed her depression at a news conference in 1989, saying she believed that the women’s movement had contributed to her illness. “I believe it made me feel inadequate,” she said. “I’m not quite sure how. You were made to feel demeaned a little bit.”
Mrs. Bush published another memoir, “Reflections: Life After the White House,” in 2004.
A lifelong volunteer for charitable causes, Mrs. Bush raised money for the United Negro College Fund while in New Haven, started a thrift shop in Midland and volunteered in nursing homes and hospitals in Houston, Washington and New York. Her son Neil’s dyslexia led to her interest in fighting illiteracy.
In her eight years as the wife of the vice president, she attended more than 500 events related to literacy, and after she became first lady she started the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The profits from her book “C. Fred’s Story: A Dog’s Life” (1984), a wry look at Washington life as seen by her dog, and from a follow-up based on another family dog, “Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush” (1990), went to literacy causes.
Mrs. Bush hoped her contributions to those causes would form a large part of her legacy.
“I want to be known as a wife, a mother, a grandmother,” she wrote in 1988. “That’s what I am. And I’d like to be known as someone who really cared about people and worked very, very hard to make America more literate.”
The F.B.I. agents who raided the office and hotel of President Trump’s lawyer on Monday were seeking all records related to the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Mr. Trump was heard making vulgar comments about women, according to three people who have been briefed on the contents of a federal search warrant.
The search warrant also sought evidence of whether the lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, tried to suppress damaging information about Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
It is not clear what role, if any, Mr. Cohen played regarding the tape, which was made public a month before the election. But the fact that the agents were seeking documents related to the tape reveals a new front in the investigation into Mr. Cohen that is being led by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.
The disclosure comes a day after it was revealed that the authorities also sought documents from Mr. Cohen related to payments made to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, as well as information on the role of the publisher of The National Enquirer in silencing the women.
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The new details from the warrant reveal that prosecutors are keenly interested in Mr. Cohen’s unofficial role in the Trump campaign. And they help explain why Mr. Trump was furious about the raid. People close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen regard the warrant as an attempt by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to pry into Mr. Trump’s personal life — using other prosecutors as his proxy.
Mr. Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment.
Stephen Ryan, a lawyer for Mr. Cohen, referred to his earlier description of the raid as “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” He has described it as an overreach by prosecutors into the privileged communications between Mr. Cohen and his client, Mr. Trump.
In an appearance before a Senate committee vetting Mr. Bolton’s nomination in 2005, Mr. Ford, a former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research in the Bush administration, summed up Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state for arms control and international security, as a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.”
“I believed then, as I believe now, he lacks any of the qualities to be a senior government official,” Mr. Ford said last week. “It has been my experience that his mouth is much bigger than his brain.”
Listen to ‘The Daily’: A Divisive Nominee
John R. Bolton, President Trump’s choice for national security adviser, was portrayed during a 2005 Senate confirmation hearing as a threat to U.S. interests.
The confirmation battle took place during the first years of the Iraq war, a conflict Mr. Bolton supported and defends to this day. In the run-up to the war, he was a key proponent of the administration’s argument for the invasion: that the president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States.
“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq,” Mr. Bolton said in 2002. The claim was later shown to be false and based on flawed or selective intelligence.
Amid the emotions that the war by then engendered, consideration of Mr. Bolton’s nomination turned into a five-month standoff as Senate Democrats scrutinized what they saw as Mr. Bolton’s efforts to subvert the government’s own findings in pursuit of his and his allies’ beliefs.
The release of thousands of pages of documents revealed Mr. Bolton, an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, to be a volatile, aggressive infighter, who seemed willing to cherry-pick intelligence, steamroll analysts he did not agree with and end-run his State Department bosses in pursuit of an agenda considered bellicose even among Bush administration hawks. He shared that penchant with Mr. Cheney, who repeatedly confronted intelligence professionals and agencies whose analytical assessments did not support his conclusions in favor of the Iraq war.
“A lot of officials in Washington behave badly, so that, sadly enough, was unlikely to be disqualifying,” said Antony J. Blinken, the committee’s Democratic staff director. But in examining reasons for Mr. Bolton’s behavior, “That’s when threads started emerging, and when we pulled on them, we started to find things that were truly disturbing, including to Republican members of the committee.”
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But not all Republicans, according to Dan Diller, who was deputy staff director for the committee majority.
“There was some validity” to accusations of Mr. Bolton’s behavior during the investigation, Mr. Diller wrote in an email, but it “found no clear ethical transgressions. He was an aggressive, sharp-elbowed bureaucratic operator who always tried to get his way, but would relent in the end rather than engaging in insubordination.”
When Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Bolton for the United Nations job in March 2005, Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, praised him as a “tough-minded diplomat” with a successful track record as an under secretary for arms control and an assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Thursday the swift substitution of his national security adviser: Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested, three-star Army general, is resigning and will be replaced by John R. Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr. Bolton, who was considered a hawk among hawks in President George W. Bush’s administration, had a history of incendiary comments that primed him to be a commentator on Fox News. There, he impressed Mr. Trump with his muscular version of American power.
News that Mr. Bolton would become Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser — after General McMaster and Michael T. Flynn — was met with immediate acclaim and criticism.
Here’s a look at how political figures and lawmakers on the right and the left reacted.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
“Selecting John Bolton as national security adviser is good news for America’s allies and bad news for America’s enemies. I have known John Bolton for well over a decade and believe he will do an outstanding job as President Trump’s new national security adviser. He has a firm understanding of the threats we face from North Korea, Iran and radical Islam.”
Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida
Representative Lee Zeldin of New York
“Ambassador John Bolton is ridiculously knowledgeable and will be a great national security adviser. The leaks coming out of the National Security Council will end, Obama administration holdovers will be gone, and the team, chemistry and work product will all be improved. Ambassador Bolton is a very underrated, amazing American, and I applaud this extraordinarily talented pick. I look forward to working closely with Ambassador Bolton on the many national security concerns facing our exceptional country.”
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader
“Mr. Bolton’s tendency to try to solve every geopolitical problem with the American military first is a troubling one. I hope he will temper his instinct to commit the men and women of our armed forces to conflicts around the globe, when we need to be focused on building the middle class here at home.”
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking member on House Intelligence Committee
When I was 12, Saddam Hussein, vice president of Iraq at the time, carried out a huge purge and officially usurped total power. I was living in Baghdad then, and I developed an intuitive, visceral hatred of the dictator early on. That feeling only intensified and matured as I did. In the late 1990s, I wrote my first novel, “I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody,” about daily life under Saddam’s authoritarian regime. Furat, the narrator, was a young college student studying English literature at Baghdad University, as I had. He ends up in prison for cracking a joke about the dictator. Furat hallucinates and imagines Saddam’s fall, just as I often did. I hoped I would witness that moment, whether in Iraq or from afar.
I left Iraq a few months after the 1991 Gulf War and went to graduate school in the United States, where I’ve been ever since. In 2002, when the cheerleading for the Iraq war started, I was vehemently against the proposed invasion. The United States had consistently supported dictators in the Arab world and was not in the business of exporting democracy, irrespective of the Bush administration’s slogans. I recalled sitting in my family’s living room with my aunt when I was a teenager, watching Iraqi television and seeing Donald Rumsfeld visiting Baghdad as an emissary from Ronald Reagan and shaking hands with Saddam. That memory made Mr. Rumsfeld’s words in 2002 about freedom and democracy for Iraqis seem hollow. Moreover, having lived through two previous wars (the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War of 1991), I knew that the actual objectives of war were always camouflaged by well-designed lies that exploit collective fear and perpetuate national myths.
I was one of about 500 Iraqis in the diaspora — of various ethnic and political backgrounds, many of whom were dissidents and victims of Saddam’s regime — who signed a petition: “No to war on Iraq. No to dictatorship.” While condemning Saddam’s reign of terror, we were against a “war that would cause more death and suffering” for innocent Iraqis and one that threatened to push the entire region into violent chaos. Our voices were not welcomed in mainstream media in the United States, which preferred the pro-war Iraqi-American who promised cheering crowds that would welcome invaders with “sweets and flowers.” There were none.
The petition didn’t make much of an impact. Fifteen years ago today, the invasion of Iraq began.
Three months later, I returned to Iraq for the first time since 1991 as part of a collective to film a documentary about Iraqis in a post-Saddam Iraq. We wanted to show my countrymen as three-dimensional beings, beyond the binary of Saddam versus the United States. In American media, Iraqis had been reduced to either victims of Saddam who longed for occupation or supporters and defenders of dictatorship who opposed the war. We wanted Iraqis to speak for themselves. For two weeks, we drove around Baghdad and spoke to many of its residents. Some were still hopeful, despite being drained by years of sanctions and dictatorship. But many were furious and worried about what was to come. The signs were already there: the typical arrogance and violence of a colonial occupying power.
My short visit only confirmed my conviction and fear that the invasion would spell disaster for Iraqis. Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions. That state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state. We were still filming in Baghdad when L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the formation of the so-called Governing Council in July 2003. The names of its members were each followed by their sect and ethnicity. Many of the Iraqis we spoke to on that day were upset with institutionalization of an ethno-sectarian quota system. Ethnic and sectarian tensions already existed, but their translation into political currency was toxic. Those unsavory characters on the governing council, most of whom were allies of the United States from the preceding decade, went on to loot the country, making it one of the most corrupt in the world.
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We were fortunate to have been able to shoot our film in that brief period during which there was relative public security. Shortly after our visit, Iraq descended into violence; suicide bombings became the norm. The invasion made my country a magnet for terrorists (“We’ll fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” President George W. Bush had said), and Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography.