Ten years ago today, U.S. forces began the “shock and awe” bombardment on Baghdad, the first shots of the second Iraq War. President Bush said troops needed to go in to disable Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program, but as we now know that program did not exist. Many of us suspected as much at the time. The flimsy pieces of evidence held up by the Bush Administration didn’t pass the smell test but a lot of mainstream reporters went for it and supported the war.
Now those journalists are looking back. One is Andrew Sullivan, most widely known as the former editor of New Republic and now the publisher of the independent online magazine The Dish. I find his recent “Never Forget That They Were All Wrong” thread profoundly frustrating. I’m glad he’s taking the time to double-guess himself, but the whole premise of the thread continues the dismissive attitude toward activists. Starting in 1995 I ran a website that acted as a publishing platform for much of the established peace movement. Yes, we were a collection of antiwar activists, but that doesn’t mean we were unable to use logic and apply critical thinking when the official assurances didn’t add up. I wrote weekly posts challenging New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the smoke-and-mirror shows of two administrations over a ten-year period. My essays were occasionally picked up by the national media—when they needed a counterpoint to pro-war editorials—but in general my pieces and those of the pacifist groups I published were dismissed.
When U.S. troops finally did invade Iraq in 2003, they encountered an Iraqi military that was almost completely incapacitated by years of U.N. sanctions. The much-hyped Republican Guard had tanks that had too many broken parts to run. Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological programs had been shut down over a decade earlier. The real lesson that we should take from the Iraq War was that the nonviolent methods of United Nations sanctions had worked. This isn’t a surprise for what we might call pragmatic pacifists. There’s a growing body of research arguing that nonviolent methods are often more effective than armed interventions (see for example, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, reviewed in the March Friends Journal (subscription required).
What if the U.S. had acknowledge there was no compelling evidence of WMDs and had simply ratcheted up the sanctions and let Iraq stew for another couple of years? Eventually a coup or Arab Spring would probably have rolled around. Imagine it. No insurgency. No Abu Ghraib. Maybe we’d even have an ally in Baghdad. The situations in places like Tehran, Damascus, Islamabad, and Ramallah would probably be fundamentally different right now. Antiwar activists were right in 2003. Why should journalists like Andrew Sullivan assume that this was an anomaly?
Today is the ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. In recognition, here’s my Nonviolence.org essay from 10/7/2010. It’s all sadly still topical. Nine years in and we’re still making terror and still creating enemies.
The United States has today begun its war against terrorism in a very familiar way: by use of terror. Ignorant of thousands of years of violence in the Middle East, President George W. Bush thinks that the horror of September 11th can be exorcised and prevented by bombs and missiles. Today we can add more names to the long list of victims of the terrorist airplane attacks. Because today Afghanis have died in terror.
The deaths in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania have shocked Americans and rightly so. We are all scared of our sudden vulnerability. We are all shocked at the level of anger that led nineteen suicide bombers to give up precious life to start such a literal and symbolic conflagration. What they did was horrible and without justification. But that is not to say that they didn’t have reasons.
The terrorists committed their atrocities because of a long list of grievances. They were shedding blood for blood, and we must understand that. Because to understand that is to understand that President Bush is unleashing his own terror campaign: that he is shedding more blood for more blood.
The United States has been sponsoring violence in Afghanistan for over a generation. Even before the Soviet invasion of that country, the U.S. was supporting radical Mujahadeen forces. We thought then that sponsorship of violence would lead to some sort of peace. As we all know now, it did not. We’ve been experimenting with violence in the region for many years. Our foreign policy has been a mish-mash of supporting one despotic regime after another against a shifting array of perceived enemies.
The Afghani forces the United States now bomb were once our allies, as was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. We have rarely if ever acted on behalf of liberty and democracy in the region. We have time and again sold out our values and thrown our support behind the most heinous of despots. We have time and again thought that military adventurism in the region could keep terrorism and anti-Americanism in check. And each time we’ve only bred a new generation of radicals, bent on revenge.
There are those who have angrily denounced pacifists in the weeks since September 11th, angrily asking how peace can deal with terrorists. What these critics don’t understand is that wars don’t start when the bombs begin to explode. They begin years before, when the seeds of hatred are sewn. The times to stop this new war was ten and twenty years ago, when the U.S. broke it’s promises for democracy, and acted in its own self-interest (and often on behalf of the interests of our oil companies) to keep the cycles of violence going. The United States made choices that helped keep the peoples of the Middle East enslaved in despotism and poverty.
And so we come to 2001. And it’s time to stop a war. But it’s not necessarily this war that we can stop. It’s the next one. And the ones after that. It’s time to stop combat terrorism with terror. In the last few weeks the United States has been making new alliances with countries whose leaders subvert democracy. We are giving them free rein to continue to subject their people. Every weapon we sell these tyrants only kills and destabilizes more, just as every bomb we drop on Kabul feeds terror more.
And most of all: we are making new victims. Another generation of children are seeing their parents die, are seeing the rain of bombs fall on their cities from an uncaring America. They cry out to us in the name of peace and democracy and hear nothing but hatred and blood. And some of them will respond by turning against us in hatred. And will fight us in anger. They will learn our lesson of terror and use it against us. They cycle will repeat. History will continue to turn, with blood as it’s Middle Eastern lubricant. Unless we act. Unless we can stop the next war.
If you missed the leaks at the time, you can watch them at CollateralMurder.com. They are videos taken from the gun-sights of US helicopters, complete with the commentary from military personnel firing down into the Iraqi neighborhoods below them. The videos capture the killing of civilians, including two Reuters journalists. They show just how impersonal murder has become. This is a video game war and there’s no real consequence to shooting the wrong target from thousands of feet away.
The arrested soldier is Specialist Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Md. Motives for leaking the videos are unreported at this time, but one would suspect they include a moral revulsion to what the American war has become. The war has largely been fought out of sight. Manning has helped give us a glimpse of what’s happening. It’s horrific in its banality but so is the war in Iraq.
And yet? All of this is still a small demographic scattered all around. If I wanted to have a good two-hour caffeine-fueled bull session about the future of Friends at some local coffeeshop this afternoon, I can’t think of anyone even vaguely local who I could call up. I’m really sad to say we’re still largely on our own. According to actuarial tables, I’ve recently crossed my life’s halfway point and here I am still referencing generational change. How I wish I could honestly say that I could get involved with any committee in my yearly meeting and get to work on the issues raised in “Younger Evangelicals and Younger Quakers”. Someone recently sent me an email thread between members of an outreach committee for another large East Coast yearly meeting and they were debating whether the internet was an appropriate place to do outreach work–in 2008?!?
A poster to an obscure discussion board recently described typing a particular search phrase into Google and finding nothing but bad information. Reproducing the search I determined two things: 1) that my site topped the list and 2) that the results were actually quite accurate. I’ve been hearing an increasing number of stories like this. “Cause Googling,” a variation on “vanity googling,” is suddenly becoming quite popular. But the interesting thing is that these new searchers don’t actually seem curious about the results. Has Google become our new proof text?
Published 10/2/2004 in The Quaker Ranter.
TEN’ISHYEARSAGO: War Time Again This piece is about the NATO bombing campaign in Serbia (Wikipedia). It’s strange to see I was feeling war fatigue even before 9/11 and the “real” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There’s a great danger in all this. A danger to the soul of America. This is the fourth country the U.S. has gone to war against in the last six months. War is becoming routine. It is sandwiched between the soap operas and the sitcoms, between the traffic and weather reports. Intense cruise missile bombardments are carried out but have no effect on the psyche or even imagination of the U.S. citizens.
It’s as if war itself has become another consumer good. Another event to be packaged for commercial television. Given a theme song. We’re at war with a country we don’t know over a region we don’t really care about. I’m not be facetious, I’m simply stating a fact. The United States can and should play an active peacemaking role in the region, but only after we’ve done our homework and have basic knowledge of the players and situation. Isolationism is dangerous, yes, but not nearly as dangerous as the emerging culture of these dilettante made-for-TV wars.