On the night of 19-20 March, 2003, the US air force began bombing the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The EU and NATO were deeply divided on whether to join the aggression: While newer NATO members from Central and Eastern Europe were in favor of the war, European heavyweights Paris and Berlin opposed it. The Iraq war also marked the onset of diplomatic coordination between Moscow and Beijing at the UN Security Council (UNSC). The two countries began in 2003 to apply similar voting patterns in the Council, first on Iraq, then on Libya in 2011, and over Syria in several key votes. That early Russia-China UN coordination has, 20 years later, transformed into a determined joint policy toward “guarding a new world order based on international law.”
Washington, D.C.—An estimated couple of thousand of people to “several thousand” marched on March 18 in downtown Washington D.C., calling for an end to the U.S. imperialist project that they hold responsible for 20 years of a “War on Terror” on millions of people. The weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. U.S. interference in the form of military invasions and other types of activities since 2001 have caused the global displacement of 38 million people and the death of at least 900,000 people, according to the Costs of War Project. Those are conservative estimates.
Two decades ago, I sabotaged my career at The New York Times. It was a conscious choice. I had spent seven years in the Middle East, four of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief. I was an Arabic speaker. I believed, like nearly all Arabists, including most of those in the State Department and the CIA, that a “preemptive” war against Iraq would be the most costly strategic blunder in American history. It would also constitute what the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the “supreme international crime.” While Arabists in official circles were muzzled, I was not. I was invited by them to speak at The State Department, The United States Military Academy at West Point and to senior Marine Corps officers scheduled to be deployed to Kuwait to prepare for the invasion.
The Establishment has still not reckoned with the essential lie behind the invasion of Iraq that began 20 years ago today, March 19, 2003. As an example, a New York Times Magazine’s puff piece in July 2020, purportedly to come clean on Iraq, instead soft-peddles former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s role in selling a war on Iraq to the U.N. Security Council using what turned out to be bad intelligence. “Colin Powell Still Wants Answers” is the title of the article, written by Robert Draper. “The analysts who provided the intelligence,” a sub-header to the article declares, “now say it was doubted inside the C.I.A. at the time.”
A New York Times Magazine article in July 2020 focused on then Secretary of State Powell and his U.N. speech of Feb. 5, 2003 and the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) upon which it is largely based. A lot of the detail in the article may have been new to many readers, but not to Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which had been established a month before. VIPS watched the speech, dissected it, and sent their verdict to President George W. Bush before close of business that same afternoon We gave Powell a charitable grade of “C”, faulting him for, inter alia, not providing needed context and perspective. We should have flunked him outright.
As anti-imperialist and Anti-war activists are preparing to mobilize in Washington D.C. on the 20th anniversary of the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its Western colonial allies, it is imperative that authentic anti-imperialist forces and those earnestly committed to an Anti-war principle recognize two things: the U.S. based transnational ruling class is fully invested in the doctrine of U.S. “Full Spectrum Dominance,” and as a consequence the U.S. state has become an existential threat to collective humanity on our planet. The recognition of these two “facts” are the only basis of a politics that can unite Anti-war and anti-imperialists and mitigate the ideological and political confusion that permeates progressive politics in the U.S. that has resulted in progressives and even self-defined radicals supporting pro-imperial policies under the guise of humanitarianism and anti-authoritarianism.
Twenty years ago on this coming weekend, I was in Mongolia as the Deputy US Ambassador. After writing a Dissent Cable in early March 2003 on the pending U.S. war on Iraq to my boss Secretary of State Colin Powell, I made the decision to resign from the U.S. government as it was poised to invade, occupy and destroy the sovereign state of Iraq. I was one of three U.S. diplomats who resigned—Brady Kiesling and John Brown resigned before me. For months, the Bush administration attempted to get the U.S. public to believe that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction and therefore was a threat to the United States and the international community.
March 19th marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq. This seminal event in the short history of the 21st century not only continues to plague Iraqi society to this day, but it also looms large over the current crisis in Ukraine, making it impossible for most of the Global South to see the war in Ukraine through the same prism as U.S. and Western politicians. While the U.S. was able to strong-arm 49 countries, including many in the Global South, to join its “coalition of the willing” to support invading the sovereign nation of Iraq, only the U.K., Australia, Denmark and Poland actually contributed troops to the invasion force, and the past 20 years of disastrous interventions have taught many nations not to hitch their wagons to the faltering U.S. empire.
I flew to Kansas City to see Tomas Young. Tomas was paralyzed in Iraq in 2004. He was receiving hospice care at his home. I knew him by reputation and the movie documentary Body of War. He was one of the first veterans to publicly oppose the war in Iraq. He fought as long and as hard as he could against the war that crippled him, until his physical deterioration caught up with him. “I had been toying with the idea of suicide for a long time because I had become helpless,” he told me in his small house on the Kansas City outskirts where he intended to die. “I couldn’t dress myself. People have to help me with the most rudimentary of things. I decided I did not want to go through life like that anymore. The pain, the frustration.…” He stopped abruptly and called his wife.
As a U.S. diplomat who resigned from the U.S. government in 2003 in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq, I hoped at the time that all Americans would not be vilified by the world for the actions of the Bush administration. As hard as it might be for some, I plead that we not vilify Russians for the actions of their political leaders. I hope that we can be as generous to peace-seeking Russians as the world was to anti-war Americans. I have visited Russia twice in the past six years and I know the Russians I spoke with, and I would guess that most Russians, do not want war and object to Putin’s war on Ukraine. Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest the war and have been jailed. Thousands of Russians have signed letters and petitions to their own government to stop the military action against Ukraine.
When I urge my writing students to juice up their stories, I tell them about “disruptive technologies,” inventions and concepts that end up irrevocably changing industries. Think: iPhones, personal computers, or to reach deep into history, steamships. It’s the tech version of what we used to call a paradigm shift. (President Biden likes to refer to it as an inflection point.) Certain events function that way, too. After they occur, it’s impossible to go back to how things were: World War II for one generation, the Vietnam War for another, and 9/11 for a third. Tell me it isn’t hard now to remember what it was like to catch a flight without schlepping down roped-off chutes like cattle to the slaughter, even if for most of the history of air travel, no one worried about underwear bombers or explosive baby formula. Of course, once upon a time, we weren’t incessantly at war either.
Nearly 20 years ago, in July 2002, I sat behind then-President George W. Bush as he gave a speech to my Army unit, the 10th Mountain Division. Less than a year later I was in Iraq, on Bush’s orders, as part of the US invasion. Tonight as Bush spoke at a so-called “Distinguished Speaker Series” event in Beverly Hills--with the cheapest tickets starting at over $500--I again watched from the crowd, before confronting the event. Primarily, I demanded he apologize for the 1 million or more dead, who are only dead because of his lies and his crimes. When George W. Bush took the nation to war in Iraq, he did so with full knowledge that Iraq possessed none of the Weapons of Mass Destruction he told the country he knew existed.
When word came down yesterday that former Defense Secretary and brazen orchestrator of mass death Donald Rumsfeld had shuffled loose the mortal coil at age 88, CNN and the other networks began to do their standard back-and-fill exercises to shore up the fiction while burying the truth after a genuine monster drops dead. “Controversial,” they called Rumsfeld, while showing footage of him scurrying around the wreckage after the Pentagon attack on September 11. “I think that’s what we’ll all remember,” said one talking head of those images. Not if I have anything to say about it. See, on the same day he was doing no more or less than what any average citizen would likely do at an emergency scene, Rumsfeld returned to his office and immediately began scheming to use the attacks as a pretense for invading Iraq.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) decided, on December 9, to abandon its inquiry into war crimes committed by British forces during the Iraq war, despite its investigation having concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were in fact committed. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, announced in a public statement that she had decided to close the preliminary examination and not pursue an investigation into war crimes committed by the British Armed Forces in Iraq. The Chief Prosecutor also confirmed in her statement that despite closing the case, the report had found “…that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the British armed forces committed the war crimes of willful killing, torture, inhuman/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence.”