The Endless Wars: 2003-2023

It seems like only a short time ago that my wife Jan and I stood with hundreds of others on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse in Providence, Rhode Island, one day after the 2003 Iraq War began on March 20, 2003. There had been many antiwar rallies at the same location in the run-up to this Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney regime change war. For decades, this had been the site of choice of protest. A contingent of people, including both students and others from Brown University, made up the protest against war that day.

On March 17, 2023, Vladimir Putin was indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. Where was the indictment in 2003, as Bush et al. practiced regime change with which they would become so fond? War crimes charges need to be leveled objectively and not subject to the dictates of hypocrisy and power, but that does not factor in the realpolitik of empire, or the US control over the narrative of how war is portrayed and accepted by masses of people within the empire.

Empire seems unstoppable. First, draw Russia into a preemptive war with NATO expansion and create a false enemy in China. It’s remarkable at how the reactionary military-industrial-investment forces in the US call the tune in making Taiwan a gazillion dollar jackpot. Russia did not have to be pulled into the NATO trap, but it was. The latter is not an excuse for illegal preemptive war. Taiwan doesn’t have to be yet another proxy for war.

Why would Biden begin the deportation of men who sought asylum from conscription into the Russian military (Guardian, March 18, 2023) if it weren’t for the policy of keeping the Ukraine war at a boil? Keep the war there at a slow boil and Russia as a military power and economic player will be worn away and so will the China-Russia nexus.

Back to the future in matters of war. I stood near the curb looking out over Kennedy Plaza wearing a George W. Bush rubber mask, and a sign hung from twine around my neck that read “War Criminal.” I expected someone to assault me given the pro-war propaganda that was so prevalent after the 2001 attacks and the War in Afghanistan and the false claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and false charges of Saddam Hussein’s collusion in the 2001 attacks. Instead, a reporter from the United Press International interviewed me.

With the mask partially pulled up over my head, a welcomed respite from the heat generated from its material, I noted that reports coming out of Baghdad reported many civilian casualties and civilian areas bombed by the US. I said that besides the Iraq War being a preemptive war of regime change banned by the international laws of war, targeting civilians and civilian districts in Baghdad were war crimes and that George W. Bush was a war criminal. The next day I received a call from a relative telling me that a celebrity had taken my statement about Bush and sent it out on the Internet that ushered in a paroxysm of vitriol. Other Internet sites carried reports of my protest in front of the federal building, some highly critical and many insulting.

Typical of the propaganda machine of the mass media in the US, major opponents would be labelled “Hitler.” Hitler’s rampage resulted in the deaths of some 70-85 million people, but our opponents were easily cast into this false category of ultimate evil. This slander and libel would not be allowed for a US leader no matter how murderous.

It’s fairly curious, that two decades later, Russia is condemned for its preemptive war in Ukraine, now a proxy war, but the preemptive war in Iraq was hailed as a war to liberate Iraq and bring democracy there through regime change. The effects of that war with masses of innocent people killed hardly mattered on the heels of the 2001 attacks. Hussein, who had been a steadfast ally of the US during the Reagan presidency and early in the George H. W. Bush presidency, was now an impediment to US hegemony in the region and a threat to peace, or at least how those in power in the US viewed peace. Following the sanctions of the Gulf War, life went downhill, ending with the catastrophe of the 2003 Iraq War (Guardian, March 17, 2023). Civil war and the Islamic State in Iraq did the rest in highlighting how US regime change leads to disaster. The New York Times puts a unique spin (March 18, 2023) on its view of the successes of the Iraq War. The newspaper of record has become the war promoter and record keeper of war. George Orwell would not be shocked. Billions for war, but some food assistance benefits through Snap in the US that were implemented during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic are now cut (Guardian, March 17, 2023). Well, we can’t have lots of social-economic benefits going to those in need! It’s the trillions of dollars pissed away on war and the preparations for war that matter.

Two subplots take place during the period immediately following the 2001 attacks. First, George W. Bush advises those in the US to go shopping at the beginning of endless wars and endless war preparations. Next, the beginning of the erosion of individual and institutional liberties takes place under the same administration that is then codified into law and expanded by subsequent administrations. The Bill of Rights is shredded, in part, and the human and institutional rights codified in law are thrown to the wind. Masses of people choose safety, or the perception of safety, over individual and institutional rights.

That these wars, the Ukraine war and the Iraq War, were and are violations of international order under the UN Charter and international laws of war matter little. It’s the propaganda and death toll that are most obvious. The louts that threaten the peace and the environment climb to the heights of Mt. Everest. That they’re in leadership positions to do the most harm to the Earth and its people and other species is self-evident.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).