Former President George W. Bush became speechless during a speech on Wednesday, drawing the attention of millions on social media.
In a fumbled condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush referred to the decision to undertake a “unjustified and savage invasion of Iraq” before immediately amending himself to say “Ukraine.”
“The outcome is a lack of checks and balances in Russia, as well as one man’s choice to launch an entirely unjustifiable and savage invasion of Iraq,” Bush stated before catching himself and shaking his head. “I’m referring to Ukraine.”
Bush appeared to murmur under his breath, “Iraq, too,” after realising his error.
On Wednesday, Bush made the remark during a speech at his presidential centre at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he was speaking about the future of American elections. After a brief pause, Bush blamed the error on his age, to the delight of the audience.
He said, “Anyway, (I’m) 75.”
On Twitter, however, the reaction to Bush’s unintended reference to his administration’s most divisive choice was varied, with users renewing criticism of his invasion decision and jokingly riffing on his history of such gaffes.
As the video circulated on social media, former Rep. Joe Walsh, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020, tweeted: “Apart from his gaffes, George W Bush was incorrect in invading Iraq. Putin was also mistaken in invading Ukraine.”
“Freud truly stepped out of his grave to personally slap the ‘Iraq’ out of Bush’s mouth, didn’t he?” one user joked.
The blunder was widely noticed. More than 17 million people have seen video of Bush’s address since it was snipped and tweeted by Dallas Morning News writer Michael Williams on Wednesday.
Bush also referred to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “nice little man” in his Wednesday remarks, calling him “the [Winston] Churchill of the twenty-first century.”
As president, Bush presided over the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was part of the post-9/11 Middle East wars, under the pretence that Iraq was harbouring weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s tyrant, was toppled, but no weapons were discovered, and the war lasted nearly a decade.
While the Bush administration claimed that the battle was required for national security even if no WMDs were present, it became more unpopular at home. Thousands of US troops and tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
After learning there were no WMDs in Iraq after their purported existence was invoked as pretext for the attack, Bush said in his post-White House biography that he felt a “sickening feeling.” When he left office in 2008, he told ABC News’ “World News Tonight” that the “greatest regret” of his presidency was the “intelligence failure in Iraq.”
When asked in that interview whether he would have gone to war if he knew Iraq didn’t have WMDs, Bush declined to “speculate.” He said, “That’s a do-over I can’t do.”
“I absolutely feel that removing Saddam from power was the right decision,” he writes in his memoir.