March 20, 2003
Our Forever War began on September 12, 2001, after the towers came down. But it got a jolt of life on this day in 2003.
The US, UK, Australia, and Poland(!) invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on the pretext that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t. But that didn’t seem to perplex those in charge of the war that much. Ends, means, and so forth. The New American Century wasn’t going to come to fruition without a few eggs being broken, after all.
Remember, this was supposed to be a short, glorious war which would pay for itself once Saddam was gone and Iraqi oil came back on the market. Many of us knew it wouldn’t be. But the majority of people had a World Trade Center-sized scar running through them, and, with the help of a supine media, they began to believe that Saddam had a connection to the planes crashing into buildings on their TVs.
Of course, it was neither short, nor glorious. “Mission Accomplished” was declared in May of 2003. Sixteen years later, we’re still in-country, this time fighting ISIS and trying to keep Iraq from spinning apart.
George W. Bush’s rationale for going into Iraq is murky. Was he seeking revenge against “the guy who tried to kill my dad”? Was he—not exactly a geopolitical genius—just doing what the neoconservatives wanted him to do? Whatever the reason, he embarked this country on its greatest strategic blunder since Vietnam. Sixteen years later and the war continues in one shape or another. And thanks to the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in the fevered days after 9/11, we’re engaged in brushfire missions all over the world—especially, and almost unnoticed, in Africa. Does a conflict have something to do with “terrorism”? Then send in the troops.
This, of course, is unsustainable. And certain sectors on the Left consoled themselves with a Donald Trump win by taking him at his word that he wanted to pull us out of these wars.
Of course, there’s a difference between responsibly ending wars that we entered into fitfully, and withdrawing with no plan in place and making things worse. Trump tries the second, then when he gets blowback (as when he was ready to throw our Syrian allies to the tender mercies of Erdogan and Putin), he reverses course, having already cost the country prestige and trust from the people on the frontlines fighting and dying. He’s not the great peacenik the likes of Greenwald and Sirota envisioned him being. He’s increased both the bombing of targets and the death toll of innocent lives. He has no strategy because, firstly, he’s incapable of formulating any complex thought, and secondly, he really doesn’t care if Muslims get massacred.
The Forever War under Barack Obama, although still costing too much blood and treasure, was beginning to wind down. Trump has upended any coherent strategy. We’ll take the oil from Iraq! We’ll give Afghanistan over to the Taliban! Whatever will command the news cycle is what Trump does.
All this is because a president who was destined to be a one-termer was transformed into a war president overnight, and put us on a path of perpetual conflict. The 9/11 attack was a wound; it wasn’t an existential threat. Bush turned it into one by bogging us down into the Mesopotamian quagmire. I see, as yet, no great urgency to unwind the wars.
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