Until the end of 2019, I didn't think that Donald Trump was the worst U.S. president in my lifetime.
That distinction went to George W. Bush, who launched an illegal war in Iraq, created the U.S. military jail at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and supported abducting people and sending them to detention centres in other countries where they were tortured.
This latter process, known as extraordinary rendition, is considered a crime against humanity by the United Nations. Attacking another country in a war of aggression—without the true cloak of self-defence—is the supreme war crime, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal that tried officials in Nazi Germany.
The U.S.-led war against Iraq was one of those wars of aggression. A year and a half after the attack, the Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, published a paper conservatively estimating 100,000 war-related deaths in Iraq.
No evidence turned up that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which was the justification for this illegal war.
According to the online Iraq Body Count, there have been 288,000 violent deaths in Iraq, including combatants, since that 2003 invasion.
Canadian author Linda McQuaig and others have maintained that the war in Iraq was really about gaining access to the country's plentiful oil fields.
McQuaig's book, It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil, and the Fight for the Planet, laid out this case.
Here's another marker against George W. Bush's administration: it was on its final legs when problems in the banking system and a subprime mortgage crisis triggered a global economic meltdown.
It was the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression. And it was caused in part by Bush indulging U.S. Federal Reserve boss Alan Greenspan's predilection for making credit so easily available and not cracking down on rogue lenders.
Wall Street investment houses made a killing bundling up these toxic assets and selling them to financial institutions with the help of corrupted credit-rating agencies.
Trump takes the crown
But Trump managed to eclipse Bush's ignominious record with his non-handling of the COVID-19 crisis, which has led to more than 400,000 U.S. deaths.
Trump may not have started any foreign wars, unlike so many of his predecessors. That could be because the U.S. is now self-sufficient in oil, thanks to fracking.
However through massive weapons sales, Trump aided and abetted the Saudis' horrific destruction of Yemen.
It's worth noting that Trump's mishandling of the pandemic, which was rooted in his refusal to tell Americans the truth, led to more deaths than any of the wars launched by other presidents in recent years.
That makes Trump the worst U.S. president in my lifetime, hands-down.
Trump reinforced that he was the worst with his bigotry and cruelty, his coddling of the world's worst human-rights abusers, his ghastly treatment of women, his exploitation of his office for personal gain, his attempt to steal the election, and, of course, by inciting an insurrection with the help of his white supremacist base.
That's to say nothing of Trump's dreadful picks for the U.S. Supreme Court and dedication to expanding the gulf between the super-rich and the middle class and poor.
The defeat of Trump has been met with a huge sigh of relief in some quarters in Canada and outright glee among others. I confess to having been caught up in the euphoria as I witnessed the climate-literate Joe Biden team ensure that America rejoined the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
It's also been refreshing to hear Biden and his senior administration officials talk about the importance of telling the truth and advancing racial equality.
Biden and Iraq
But still, there's that nagging question of Iraq. This morning, thanks to a tip from a reader, I read a lengthy article highlighting how Biden set the stage for the 2003 invasion.
It appeared in the left-wing Covert Action Magazine and carried the title "Biden's Key Role in the Crime of the Century: The 2003 U.S. Invasion of Iraq".
In the period leading up to the invasion, Biden chaired the Senate foreign relations committee. It invited a bunch of witnesses who made the case for Saddam Hussein harbouring chemical and nuclear weapons programs.
Writer Jeremy Kuzmarov presents a compelling case that Biden knew how hollow these claims were. That's because in a classified hearing, then CIA director George Tenet told him that no evidence of weapons of mass destruction had been unearthed.
"Biden nevertheless would go on to vote in favor of the war on Iraq, even though he knew that the stated reasons—that Saddam had WMD—was unproven or false, and lied about this later," Kuzmarov writes.
He describes the hearings as a "staged political event designed to lay the groundwork for war". This took place even though a UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, also told senators there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
According to the same article, Biden offered Bush his total support—to the point where the New Republic described Biden as the Democratic Party's "de facto spokesman on the war against terrorism".
Kuzmarov points out that Biden's son, Beau, may have developed a fatal brain tumour due to toxic exposure at an air base north of Baghdad, where the U.S. military was burning 140 tons of waste a day.
In addition, the article shows how eager Bush was to support Shia leader Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister of Iraq, even though this was certain to alienate Sunni Muslims. Some of them helped build the Islamic State ruled by ISIS, leading to more warfare
All in all, Biden comes across as a ham-handed colonialist with a simplistic view of the dynamics of a complex country like Iraq. And Kuzmarov succeeds in demonstrating that Biden was a prime architect of the pain and suffering that's been inflicted on Iraqi residents for nearly two decades.
The war in Iraq was driven home to me in a 2016 interview with Vancouver photographer Farah Nosh. She was working in Iraq during some of the worst bloodshed.
“I would all of the sudden see a dead body on the street,” she recalled. “The security situation was so bad—why was the kebab guy killed? Who knows? Body parts were being delivered on platters to different neighbourhoods.”
So while we can celebrate the departure of Trump, let's not get too euphoric about Biden.
The new president still has a long way to go to show he's not just a sock puppet for the U.S. military-industrial complex that so richly profits from foreign military adventures like the war in Iraq.