Four bewildering remarks from the Bush administration.
But dragging Washington into Iraq is especially perverse because it's hard to imagine a war that he would have found more dreadful. Bush quotes him as having once said, "My best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom."
Yet Bush leaves out the context in which Washington made this remark. It was when the French foreign minister presented him with France's new tricolor flag. That is, it was in celebration of the French Revolution.
It was not, in any way, an endorsement of going to war to "spread freedom" around the world. To the contrary, in 1793, during France's subsequent war with much of Europe, Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality, forbidding American citizens from taking any action that would help one side or another.
Nor did Bush say anything about Washington's Farewell Address of 1796, in which the first president, stepping down from two terms, elaborated his views still further. Washington urged his fellow citizens to avoid "overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty." He cautioned against "excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another." And he advised, "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible."
At the conclusion of his Mount Vernon speech, Bush said of Washington, "His example guided us in his time; it guides us in our time; and it will guide us for all time."
Does Bush really believe that, or was he just yakking? And, as he might put it, what's worse?
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Condoleeza Rice by Nader Daoud-Pool/Getty Images. Photograph of George W. Bush on the Slate home page by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.