Not quite the Enola Gay controversy.

January 12, 2009, 4:18 pm

TPM reports that Senator Bernie Sanders (Pinko, Maple Syrupville) is asking the Smithsonian Institution to change the caption beneath its portrait of George W. Bush (rugged, rough-hewn, repugnant). The caption apparently includes the line, “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Sanders, in a letter to the Smithsonian, takes issue with this formulation:

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney misled our country into the war in Iraq, they certainly cited the attacks on September 11, along with the equally specious claim that Iraq possessed vast arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The notion, however, that 9/11 and Iraq were linked, or that one “led to” the other, has been widely and authoritatively debunked … Might I suggest that a reconsideration of the explanatory text next to the portrait of President Bush is in order[?]

I think I understand Sanders’s broader point here. In the coming years, we’re likely to see endless instances in which Republican factotums will try to recast the events leading to the second Gulf War in a heroic light. If we consider the captioning of the Bush portrait as one of the first skirmishes in this coming struggle, Sanders’s position seems entirely laudable. Especially so considering the terrain on which it’s being fought. The Smithsonian is among our most important national public spaces. In this view, ceding ground on the national Mall — allowing neoconservative fantasies to be carved into stone within the Smithsonian — might be construed as a first step in surrendering control of the official memory of the last eight years.

Still, I wonder: is it unreasonable to suggest, as the Smithsonian’s captions does, that the attacks of September 11 led, albeit indirectly, to the conflict in Iraq? Put another way, it seems clear that there was no substantive link between the 9/11 attackers and Saddam Hussein. But fabricated ties between the two nevertheless formed an important part of President Bush’s spurious case for war. The caption, then, seems right enough (strictly speaking, at least) to pass muster, even if the impulse that Sanders apparently sees lurking behind it merits a stout challenge.

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