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George Bush Presidential Center

Looking at George Bush’s strange oil paintings

Now that he’s not president, Dubya has been busy doing some portraits of veterans physically or emotionally wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq – wars that he started

Since leaving office in 2009, 43rd President of the United States George W. Bush has kept a relatively low-profile, although recently he was very publicly unable to put on a poncho at Donald Trump’s inauguration. He released his memoirs in 2010, joined Twitter in 2012 and that same year took up painting, something he says has “changed his life”.

At first his subjects were dogs and world leaders – albeit ones copied from Google Images – and his latest book is called Portraits Of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, a collection of paintings of physically or emotionally wounded veterans who suffered their injuries in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – you know, the ones he started. This is #NotTheOnion – although in 2014 the brilliant satire site did publish an article about Bush’s paintings with the headline “George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him Everywhere”, an allusion to his selective memory when it comes to artistic inspiration. This time however, he’s confronted the events that will always define him.

Let’s not forget that George Bush started the Iraq War in 2003 with the help of our very own Tony Blair; a war that achieved nothing, ripped apart Iraq, killed an estimated 134,000 Iraqi civilians (with a later study claiming that approximately 500,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war), cost an estimated $1.7 trillion, with around $500 billion paid out in compensation to veterans suffering PTSD amongst other injuries. 4,486 U.S soldiers died in Iraq. The confusing war in Afghanistan began in 2001 – launched as a reaction to the Taliban supposedly refusing to hand over Osama Bin Laden – and was supposed to end in 2014, but today there are still troops on the ground, a war that just seems to roll on.

“Let’s not forget that George Bush started the Iraq War in 2003 with the help of our very own Tony Blair; a war that achieved nothing, ripped apart Iraq, killed an estimated 134,000 Iraqi civilians”

Bush doesn’t start wars anymore, because he can’t. Instead, he uses the traumatised people he sent to invade Iraq as muses, and makes average oil paintings out of them. Sound weird? Of course it does, it’s very weird. The ex-Prez has found himself popular again with some liberals, on account of the fact that he says radical things like “I don’t like racism”. Sure, you may not like it now but you sure helped engender a toxic atmosphere of xenophobia by waging a war on a country that didn’t need to happen, thus creating a fictional enemy.

Bush also recently said on the Today show, “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account”. OK cool, here we go: it’s pretty strange to paint people whose injuries are from a war you pointlessly started on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction being developed in said country. Just sayin!

It’s likely that deep down Bush knows that the Iraq War was a huge, violent mistake that will define his life and with this project is seeking catharsis for the guilt he feels. Even if the paintings were brilliant (they aren’t, although granted he’s only been painting five years), the work would still feel cheap and crude, born from death, a man with nothing to do running headfirst into his remorse carrying his own average art instead of an apology to the world. There is of course value in acknowledging veterans who have been sent into a pointless war and consequently suffered life-changing injuries – but these people are victims as well as heroes. The other victims are the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, of whom this book makes no mention.

Bush says that this is a “wonderful opportunity to honour those who served” but it’s pretty difficult to listen to Bush talking on network television about one of his subjects called Juan Carlos who lost his leg after he “went into combat in order to defend his country”, when the country wasn’t really being attacked. In line with his newfound, regained popularity, the book of oil paintings has gone in straight in at No.1 on Amazon, but there’s this unshakeable feeling that it’s a bit like Tony Blair releasing a folk album with Iraqi orphans on backing vocals, a celebration of a crime that changed the world as we know it today.