I undoubtedly have readers here and friends on social media who think I'm a little unhinged for harping on the 2003 U.S. war in Iraq so much almost 13 years after it begun. That war undoubtedly occupies an out-sized place for me and some others of my generation...it was the first "event" that I seriously followed, and for months I debated it daily in my junior U.S. history class with the teacher who force-fed us daily doses of FOX News, which along with most of the supposedly “liberal” media beat the war drums with feverish abandon. People I knew in high school were sent off to die in a purposeless conflict.
It is for these reasons and others that I am appalled that the Democratic Party looks capable of nominating a candidate for the presidency who voted for that war. The Bush administration was transparent in the dishonesty of its arguments for the war and as a teenager who read the newspaper daily even I could see that the evidence didn't add up or make any sense.
Hillary Clinton voted to authorize that war. As a result, thousands of U.S. citizens died. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, and the institutions and infrastructure of their country were obliterated. Not all of these were praiseworthy, and many were downright despicable, but institutions and infrastructure are all that can tie together a country that was the product of an imperial imagination in the early 20th century.
The war that Hillary Clinton supported strengthened Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration (led by Dick Cheney) lied about having a presence in Iraq prior to our invasion. The war that Hillary Clinton supported helped to spawn ISIS, a horrific reaction to the death cult of neo-conservatism apparently embraced by Clinton.
Because although Clinton and her campaign have been working overtime to reassure voters that her vote for this war was an aberration, her actions as Senator, as presidential candidate, and as Secretary of State demonstrate that she shares the neo-conservatives’ admiration of authoritarianism, their embrace of violence and terror, and their defense of colonialism.
As Secretary of State, she advocated for the “surge” in Afghanistan that put more and more U.S. citizens in harm’s way while delivering little in terms of institution-building for Afghans. She advocated for regime change in Libya, typically not bothering to think through the consequences. All those who feel the temptation to meddle must also consider whether their intervention will actually do good for those whose lives they seek to restructure, and Clinton has omitted to do so time and again. She was also an advocate for large-scale intervention in Syria, and happily our President resisted the temptation to follow her advice.
During the Arab Spring, a series of grassroots uprisings across the Middle East mounted by citizens and subjects against dictatorial regimes, Clinton took the side of the autocrats against the democrats, prizing stability over change much as she appears to do based on the little we know of her speeches to Goldman Sachs.
As Senator, as Secretary of State, and as presidential candidate Clinton has supported colonial regimes which have no place in the 21st century. She has supported them (in Israel and Morocco) to the detriment of their country’s citizens and institutions, to the detriment of the colonized people, and to the detriment of our own country’s security. She has backed colonial governments and the savagery that accompanies colonial warfare in the knowledge that nothing good can come of such an unequal relationship for any of the parties involved.
In all of her roles Clinton has defended the actions of a rogue security state. She has defended it against whistleblowers and journalists, serving a term that surpassed even the imperial Bush administration in the fervor with which it attacked these brave individuals who seek to bring the truth to the public. She has given fulsome backing to a drone war that is nothing more than an international version of the profiling and killing that many of her supporters are willing to condemn when it occurs on our own streets. The use of disposition matrices and other profiling mechanisms make a mockery of justice and claim the lives of thousands of innocent people. War waged from the air has destroyed hospitals and schools and countless lives, in clear violation of international laws, without consequences for those who perpetrate or make possible such violence.
My generation together with those that follow have borne and will continue to bear the brunt of Clinton’s murderous hubris. Young people of my generation were asked to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan in illegal and immoral wars of aggression. My generation and particularly those that have come after it—my students today—are suffering the consequences of our economy having been subverted so fully to a war-making machine that gobbles up endless resources while we are told that the free higher education and stronger welfare state that older generations enjoyed is something we can never aspire to.
So if as a reader or a friend or an acquaintance you wonder why I keep writing about Iraq, I offer this as a reminder and an explanation. Aside from the immorality of U.S. imperialism, and the self-defeating wars that we incessantly wage, there is something very close to home about this conflict. It made the world I grew up in in so many ways and I find it grotesque that people can forgive those who authorized it and then strengthened the logic and practices by which it and other related conflicts have been prosecuted.
I genuinely believe that it is possible to turn a corner on this sinister era in U.S. history and to forge relationships with the wider world based on strong institutions that we and others respect; on law and order conceived fairly and applied to the powerful as well as the weak; on a recognition that economic and social inequality are ills that are as important “over there” as “over here”; and on a commitment to ending all forms of oppression, whether perpetrated by colonial governments, religious fundamentalists, or our own state.
In short, we need some form of solidarity, and institutions to go along with it. Building such things takes hard work and won’t be accomplished in a presidential term. But the election of a neo-conservative as compromised by 13 years of violence as Hillary Clinton will be a terrible setback that I hope we can avoid.