That day, Bush had begun his last year in the White House, the year of conclusions. How would you like to be remembered in history? we asked.
I will be dead before the real, accurate history of my administration will be written, he replied. It will take time for objective historians to asses my administration's contribution to world peace. I hope that when people look back at the Bush administration, they will say that we worked diligently to protect the American people from all evil, that we accurately identified the threats we are facing in the 21st century.
Bush, 69, is still with us. His official meeting with the history minister can wait. But the crazy reality produced by the Middle East in the past few years, from Syria to Yemen, from Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya to the masses of refugees gathering at Europe's gates, requires us to ask again what role did the two relevant American presidents, Bush and Barack Obama, play in the situation that has been created, where did the West go wrong and what is it paying a price for.
In October 2001, the Americans invaded Afghanistan. The goal was to eliminate the al-Qaeda organization which was established there and avenge the 9/11 attacks. In March 2002, the Americans invaded Iraq. They believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 9/11 attacks and had mass destruction weapons. In the Iraqi case, both claims were refuted.
In the years that have passed since then, there have been many reports about the death toll – some 100,000 Iraqis and some 5,000 American soldiers in Iraq, and 90,000 to 360,000 Afghans and 2,300 Americans in the war in Afghanistan. The price paid by the American treasury has also been reported - $10 trillion in Iraq alone.
Blood and money were not the only things shed in these wars. The entire Middle East experience a major jolt: The removal of Saddam Hussein dismantled the framework which held Iraq in one piece. The created void has been filled by the Iranians and terrorists from all over the world, who infiltrated Iraq from Syria. The collapse of one tyrant regime led to the collapse of other tyrant regimes, in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria. The Arab Spring bloomed, and the West applauded.
Enthusiasm soared in two opposing ideological camps: The liberals, who we refer to as the left, and the neo-conservatives, who we refer to as the radical right. These two camps imagined an Arab world turning into a Western world overnight – democratic, liberal, friendly. That's what Bush wanted when he invaded Iraq; that's what Obama wanted when he encouraged the young Arabs to rebel against the current situation in his Cairo University speech.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded bitterly to the Arab Spring. This is one issue he was right about: The Arab Spring generated a disaster. The civil war in Syria claimed hundreds of thousands of victims, and the end is nowhere in sight; a radically brutal terror state has been established between Syria and Iraq, attracting recruits from all over the world; the Sinai Peninsula has turned into a hotbed of terror; Iran has turned into a decisive factor in Iraq and Yemen; hundreds of thousands of refugees – the victims of terror and the internal wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya – have sought refuge in Europe.
The continent hasn't faced such a challenge since the end of World War II. It's not just a humanitarian and economic challenge; it's first and foremost ethical. It is threatening to let out all the racist demons which have been kept inside the bottle since the Nazis' defeat.
The Syrian problem cannot be solved through a loving embrace at a railway station in Budapest or through a hot meal in a soup kitchen in Munich. The West must do everything in its power to reach an agreement which will end the war in Syria.
First of all, it must decide who poses a greater danger – the Islamic State and its patrons in the Gulf states, Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian and Syrian patrons, or the al-Nusra Front and its patrons in the Arab world. Without a decision, there will be no end to the massacre, no end to the refugee seeking.
Bush wanted to impose a democracy in the Middle East; Obama wanted justice. The refugees who are running for their lives to Europe only want to live. If the West is incapable of giving them that, what is democracy worth, what is justice worth?