20th anniversary of Iraq invasion provides teachable moments for today’s geopolitical landscape
In this handout provided by U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) on August 24, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The United States and allies urged Afghans to leave Kabul airport, citing the threat of terrorist attacks, as Western troops race to evacuate as many people as possible by August 31. (Photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa via Getty Images)
In 1946, one year after the use of atomic bombs in Japan, Albert Einstein penned his first letter as chair of the newly formed Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists.
“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels,” Einstein wrote. “Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.”
March marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As tensions rise around U.S. involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine and as painful similarities are inevitably drawn between the geopolitical stage today and in 2003, one cannot help but wonder: are we using a new type of thinking? Or are we sleepwalking into yet another world conflict?
Iraq 2003 to 2023: My generation’s Vietnam
At least 4,400 American service members died in Iraq. Approximately 2,500 soldiers are still deployed in the war-torn nation, with several military deaths occurring every year since the war officially “ended” in 2011. The price we paid affects us today, with thousands of families forever traumatized by the deaths of their sons and daughters and millions of veterans suffering PTSD, lost limbs and cancer-causing burn pit effects.
Estimates of Iraqi civilians who died in the invasion range from 280,000 to 315,000. Several times as many Iraqis may have died as an indirect result due to damage to systems that provide food, health care, and clean drinking water.
To what end? Quoting the Costs of War Project, “The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned the country into a laboratory in which militant groups such as Islamic State have been able to hone their techniques of recruitment and violence. The formation of Islamist militant groups spreading throughout the region counts among the many human costs of that war.”
The people who did the crime never did the time
Not only was the Iraq War a failure, but the pretense upon which we waged that war was a lie. The argument for the war hinged on the Bush Administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction which posed a “threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region.”
No WMDs were ever found, Bush’s narrative surrounding them was a lie, and members of the Bush administration knew it. Mother Jones’s David Corn and others have chronicled a long list of examples in which Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Bush Administration officials told the American people “facts” about Saddam’s WMD, “facts” that their own intelligence agencies insisted were lies, omissions or total fabrications.
“Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.
– Albert Einstein, 1946
Were an ordinary citizen to orchestrate a plot built on lies that led to the deaths of thousands of Americans, his or her life would be effectively over. But when politicians on both sides of the aisle get together with corporations that have a vested interest in war — think fossil fuel giants like Halliburton and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin — to orchestrate such a plot, it’s considered just another day for this country’s war-hungry foreign policy establishment.
Fast forward to today, and the same U.S. leaders who supported the Iraq invasion are now at the microphone arguing for a more hawkish approach to Russia’s war in Ukraine. On the right, Sens. Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio and John Cornyn, as well as commentators David French, David Frum, Bill Kristol, and others have recently criticized other Republicans for suggesting a drawback in financial support to Ukraine while simultaneously pressing the Biden Administration to “do more” in defense of Ukraine. On the left, the Biden Administration has been unwilling to make Ukraine military aid contingent on peace talks and efforts at diplomacy, something the administration and mainstream media criticized progressive Democrats for even suggesting.
Russia’s adversarial stance can be traced back to the Iraq invasion
The United States has been at war for 225 of the 246 years this country has existed. War might be normal to us, but that’s not how the rest of the world feels about it. An article by Branko Marcetic published by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft lays out how Putin’s early-2000s efforts towards rapprochement with the U.S. via the Bush Administration began to stall as the Kremlin distanced itself from the Administration’s Iraq saber-rattling.
Russia eventually joined France and Germany in opposition to Bush’s desired war, rolling back its support for the U.S. and receding from much of its diplomatic efforts with the Administration. “We remembered 9/11 and were there for you — but no linkage with Iraq,” said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in March 2003. “No prior [Security] Council decisions authorized the use of force outside the UN Charter or approved the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state.”
While Putin and his supporters bear total responsibility for their brutal, illegal war in Ukraine, a teachable moment on this 20th anniversary of our own brutal, illegal war in Iraq is to consider the far-reaching consequences of the invasion, one of which seems to be pushing Russia away from cooperative, multilateral relations with the West.
Our future depends on creating a new type of thinking
Just because the U.S. has been warlike throughout history does not mean we cannot take Einstein’s advice and adopt new thinking. We must hold our leaders accountable and demand a peaceful resolution in Ukraine. Every day we do not, civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and Russian conscripts die.
If we fail, if U.S. politicians and the corporate executives who pull their strings push us into yet another war and ask our sons and daughters to fight it for them, we must teach our children the history of our nation, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Vietnam and beyond. Teach them the truth and guard them against lies and propaganda. Maybe then our children will go on to shoulder the souls of the downtrodden rather than the butts of rifles.
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