In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work — and Iraq has formed a government — we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.
—Barack Obama, Remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014
This is a promise that is foolish to make. Maybe he’s right that the proxy wars on the ground and the U.S. war in the air won’t end up dragging U.S. forces deeper into a quagmire on the ground. But there is no way he can confidently promise this. War is not a weapon that you can aim, not even if you are President of the United States, and expect that you’ll hit exactly what you hoped to, with no complications or unexpected results. Modern wars are always conducted on the basis of classified information, secret strategic interests that are not disclosed to the public, half-accurate information and politically-filtered intelligence. They operate away from any possibility of informed consent by ordinary people, who don’t have access to the information government keeps secret, and indeed even away from the possibility of informed decisions by that government, which finds itself blundering through the fog of its own secrecy, errors, self-deception and political rationales. Wars develop a logic of their own and they always involve both deception of the public about the likely outcomes, and also consequences unintended or unforeseen even by their architects. It wouldn’t be the first time that U.S.
military advisors got drawn into a land war in Asia. It wouldn’t even be the first time that U.S. build-up was really only a prelude to a wider war in Iraq.
Certainly, it has already proven a prelude to bringing the U.S. war power into a wider regional war.
The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground.
The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.
–Randolph Bourne, War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12
Seven Arts (June, 1917).
End all war, immediately, completely, and forever.
It’s maddening to reflect that literally every single president of my lifetime has been involved in a war in Iraq. For more than 20 years of my life, U.S. presidents have been continuously at war against Iraq in some way or another. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, every one of them, started a new assault on Iraq at some point in their presidency, whether in the form of cruise missile strikes and aerial bombing, or lethal sanctions, or for the third time now a ground invasion. The only president of my lifetime who did not start a new war against Iraq was Ronald Reagan; and that’s only because he was too busy helping the Iraqi government get chemical weapons so they could fight a bloody proxy war for him against Iran.
The U.S. government’s two decades of continuous war and blockades in Iraq has killed over a million people, most of them civilians and children, in the name of national policy. The details of the policies always shift, every enemy turns out to be
unique in their brutality, but the means of enacting them always remain the same: more missiles, more bombs, more soldiers, and more dead children in Iraq. And now the president speaks of
Yesterday night, President Obama gave a speech announcing that he would escalate the U.S.’s third war against Iraq, and that he would widen the war into Syria as well. I can’t say that the speech is extraordinarily belligerent; but only because what is outrageous in the speech is so ordinary, after all these years so deeply familiar with year after year of war in Iraq. The language is as shopworn as it is mendacious. In his speech, the President said:
Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we're hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.
— Barack Obama, remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014
These words — these exact words, without any change, could have been uttered by George W. Bush. They sound like him, full of
hunting down terrorists and
If you threaten America…. They could have been spoken, just as they are, by William Jefferson Clinton. They read exactly like every war speech that George H. W. Bush ever gave.
The dates and the names change, but the war rhetoric is always the same. Every President is a war President, and in war, every President talks in the same voice, from the same mouth, with the same lies, for the same ultimate purpose: to legitimize politically-organized mass murder. If you elect a liberal President who marched against the Vietnam War, what you’ll get in the end is a President. If you elect a
humble foreign policy conservative, then he will govern as a President anyway. If you elect a Progressive President, then the fact that he is President will always turn out to be far more relevant than the fact that he is a Progressive. Electing presidents or changing political parties will never end war: No matter who you voted for, the winner always becomes the Government.
- GT 2013-03-19: The Same Government
- GT 2009-01-25: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
- GT 2008-05-13: Gosh that’s tough
- GT 2008-03-17: March 17, 2003, 8:01pm EST
- GT 2007-05-13: Cry havoc! and let slip the pronouns of war…
- GT 2006-12-21: In ten words or fewer (personal pronouns edition): George W. Bush on the next year of the Iraq War
- I was born in 1981.↩