March marks the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The human toll has been devastating to the country of Iraq. According to the Iraqi Body Count Project there have been upwards of 288,000 deaths as a result of the invasion. The political fallout in the U.S. has been severe. The Democratic Party has not been able to recover from their complicity in the run-up to the war. Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 primary mostly as a result to her vote to authorize the war (Obama had no real job in 2003 so therefore no record to run from). Jeb Bush, the chosen son in the 2016 Republican primary, was burned alive by Trump for Jeb’s closeness to his brother and his decision to start the war. Despite continuing Bush’s wars in the Mideast as Secretary of State under Obama, Clinton won the nomination in 2016 only to lose to the “anti-war” candidate Trump.
The Iraq war was a crime against humanity that brooked little opposition in this country from our government, our corporate media and no meaningful anti-war opposition from the left while being cheerlead by a sadistic rightwing.
The 2003 invasion, like all U.S. actions in the Middle East, was an attempt to threaten Iran. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the U.S. has been aiding groups of one stripe or another to push back against Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. aided Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein against Iran. Despite 9/11 being a Saudi led and funded terrorist attack, the U.S. continues to aid Saudi Arabia as another attempt to check Iran. The 2003 invasion was not instead a unique adventure but was another chapter of a multi decade project of checking Iran on the backs of Iraqi civilians. Also, the racism of the war is made manifest by the utter lack of concern for whole groups of Muslims being slaughtered in this war by U.S. troops while demonized as terrorists in the west.
What were unique about the Iraq invasion were the prospect of “regime change” and the intensity of destabilization that followed. When Bush gave his “mission accomplished” speech on May 1, 2003, the majority of casualties, both civilian and military, had not occurred. The Iraq war revealed the American system to be dangerously unprepared for misinformation and lies as a pretext for political suicide, a fact made all too apparent under Trump. The corporate media/entertainment industry was shown to be debased and cruel. Meanwhile, too few congress people voted against the war. The left did offer some opposition, but the anti-war movement never had the same exposure as during the Vietnam conflict and was unable to combine with other issues into a legitimate leftist movement. It wasn’t until the 2008 banking crisis and the issue of inequality gained exposure with Occupy and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders did the left gain greater agency in America. The right cemented their influence as champions of the war in Fox news and other outlets. These platforms grew their base by exploiting racist fears about muslims into support for the war. Fox news went on to effectively sabotage Obama’s lukewarm liberalism and help elect Trump on a white nationalist agenda.
The enormity of the crime of the Iraq war was never accounted for either culturally or politically in the United States. Bush went on to win reelection in 2004 despite the obvious absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush’s popularity sank in his second term, but for other reasons including his response to Katrina and the near implosion of the U.S. economy, not necessarily the fiasco of the invasion. Dick Cheney and his family have completely escaped accountability.
What we see under Trump is a return of the unilateralism of Bush. John Bolton, who still thinks the war was a good idea, may become Trump’s National Security Advisor. Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to run the CIA, ran a torture program in Thailand as a part of the “war on terror”. The various pundits and talking heads that supported or slow walked their opposition to the war continue to have jobs in media or government. Senators and congress people have been reelected to advocate for more war and war profiteering. The war profiteers enriched themselves to the tune of two trillion dollars have faced no justice from any war crimes tribunal. The veterans themselves are used as props in political theater and are often at risk of suicide.
America has moved on, blithely forgetting about our complicity in this crime against humanity. The U.S. is currently involved in wars across the world, many in the Mideast. Obama, learning nothing from Iraq, overthrew the government in Libya, creating another humanitarian disaster. Presidents and political parties have come and gone since the war and all have furthered the national security fiction the Iraq war was fought for.
The only conclusion we can draw from the Iraq war concerns our government. The U.S. government is not a force for good in the world. It is instead a behemoth of destruction and greed and must be apposed at every turn. We must not collaborate with it and no one can save us but ourselves. We must stand in solidarity with the suffering of the Iraqi people and the suffering of all victims of U.S. imperialist oppression. Trump may be preparing for war with either North Korea or Iran. Perhaps this generation will succeed in stopping those conflicts were the last generation failed to do so in Iraq.
Samar Hassan screamed after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2005. CreditChris Hondros/Getty Images