Except for those directly involved, the war fades steadily from U.S. attention, mentioned mainly on major anniversaries like this week's. Convenient amnesia increases the damage done in those years.
Life is a best efforts endeavor. Our best efforts - like those of any athlete, scholar, worker or parent - improve much with practice. That decisions and actions which disregard the actual circumstances, let alone which involve denial, misrepresentation or manipulation of the circumstances, are sometimes called best efforts, including by the deciders/actors to themselves, are parts of our nation's - and our species's - perpetual moral challenge.
The chickenhawk series is on point. I was 17 in 2003, and I remember mostly staying away from the Iraq discourse. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't take a stand against it with many of my fellow classmates. There was a sense that those who stood for peace were naive or kinda needless meddlers. I was no hawk, but I decided to serve in large part because of the Iraq war, because I did not want to be a chickenhawk (before you named that term so aptly). And now as a veteran, I finally have the courage that my anti-war classmates demonstrated so many years ago.
Jim, thank you VERY MUCH for this particular post. What a trove! One result of my reading it is that I just bought Craig McNamara's book.
My close colleague and friend Jeb Wyman, whose previous book of combat veterans' oral histories, What They Signed Up For, I published with Blue Ear Books in 2017 (new edition due this year - https://blueearbooks.com/books/what-they-signed-up-for/), is writing an ambitious book about how the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed American culture and society. I'm working closely with Jeb on that book and have great hopes for it. Jeb is very well read in relevant literature, and he very often cites Paul Fussell's classic book as a major influence, which was the first thing about your post that caught my eye.
My recollection is that the UN inspectors had not yet finished their search for WMDs when we began our attack on Iraq. I was outraged that we were in such a hurry, not allowing those inspectors to do their job, and of course, no WMDs were ever found. I'm still angry when I think about that. So much damage and so many lives lost because we just couldn't wait.
I remember Richard Cohen’s Washington Post oped in 2003 that ended “War fever. Catch it.”
As to the military leaders, I recall one, unworthy of highlighting because his actions were emblematic of a culture of those promote self rather than the group. I am reminded of Anton Myer's 'Once an Eagle': "Men in power are usually surrounded by a coterie. That's in the nature of things. A few are unselfish and devoted, some a brilliant and ambitious in a broad sort of way, most of them are self-serving and ambitious in a narrow sort of way."
I'd say that since Iraq (and even before), accountability has become a terrible funhouse of distorted mirrors in the US. Few above mid-level in banking and finance were ever substantively held accountable for the myriad bad investments and bogus "securities" that crashed in 2008.
The GOP while in power a while back held over a dozen absolute sham 'accountability' hearings, investigations and reports about Benghazi. There were of course things to learn from that era and that failure in particular, but none of the hunts were about that. They were aimed squarely at political damage (as now-Squeaker McCarthy openly admitted some time ago).
Of course the big looming crisis du jour is about wether some scintilla of accountability will come the way of a man who appears to have never paid a personal price for serial bankruptcies, horrible calls like execution for the Central Park Five, and a spectacularly bungled response to Covid (vaccines being, for a short time at least, the notable exception).
I note the Kenneth Pollack article in the second Atlantic issue you cite.
Pollack gave a lot of intellectual cover for those advocating for war with Iraq. It disturbs me that he continued to get platforms for his views well after the war went sour.* But truthfully, I don't know how we should treat people with prominent, influential voices who turned out to be so disastrously wrong. I don't think "punishment" is warranted, but at the least I think they should be demoted substantially and their prominence replaced by that of people who saw the looming disaster a lot more clearly.
*I mean, just a year after the damnable decision to invade Iraq, he came out with a book making the case for confronting Iran, even including threats of force (though he wasn't as hawkish here as he was with regards to Iraq). It's a free country, with free speech, but why aren't such people shunned?
This is a gigantic subject that will be with us in tangible ways for decades, even if we only consider the veterans that are suffering in so many ways even as we type. Just think about the one year typically spent in Vietnam vs. years and years (and more years) by the modern army. I personally know someone that had over 10 deployments.
As for the real time reporting during the run up to the invasion, I just want to mention the reporters at Knight Ridder/McClatchy that had the greatest impact on my thinking. The comparison to Woodward and Bernstein came up frequently as the truth finally came out.
What about the war in Ukraine
No Question it is America’s War
It is a fiction of the highest order when President Biden or US state department officials confidently say that President Zalensky and the Ukrainian people have to decide.
Meanwhile, a State Department official today stated that the United States does not support any Chinese sponsored peace plan for Ukraine. Nor does Biden support Pope Francis' Peace Plan.
I am sure that the American people would support a cease fire. But our leaders and main street media will not allow for this to happen. Everyone else is silenced.
It is up to the US to decide when the shooting bloodsheding and carnage will stop.
This is a proxy war between the US and Russia and it will be fought up until the last Ukrainian is bleeding.
With the flood of US weapons missiles, tanks, drones and money, America is in the drivers seat.
The US is supplying over 90% of the funds to arm Ukraine.
Ukraine has been an American puppet regime since 2014 when we helped overthrow a democratically elected pro Russian president.
Putin is a murderer and his invasion was stupid and brutal. But the bloodshed must stop.
American does not have clean hands here and no one is allowed to talk about it.
Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer (scheerpost.com) have been effectively silenced.
As they say truth is the first casualty of war.
"Everything about democracy, especially the decision to make war, is an ongoing struggle and debate."
Exactly. And in our ruminations about what occurred 20 years ago I hope one fact will rise to the surface: labels don't work. Simplistic moral descriptors don't work. They didn't work then and they don't work today.
Nicholas Kristof published an editorial today congratulating George W Bush for the single greatest life-saving achievement of any recent president: the PEPFAR program that is credited with saving 25 million lives in the fight against AIDS. The responses were overwhelming: "But he's still a war criminal!" Many readers were outraged that Mr. Kristof had referred to Bush as "a hero."
The reason is simple: today, perhaps more than at any other time in history, we Americans have divided ourselves into two disparate groups. Depending on perspective, "we" are good and "they" are bad. It's all nonsense. We are all individuals, and each of us has good and bad qualities. When we view others or ourselves with this unidimensional lens, we diminish ourselves and our fellows, robbing all of us of so many of those qualities that might make us appear more human to those who think differently. Historical reviews such as this one help us along that path.
The conclusion of the matter, for me, is this: we need to look harder for the good in our ideological opponents, and for the bad within ourselves. Not for some ethereal, kum-ba-ya nonsense, but to improve all of our lives.
The cheerleaders in the media for war — Thomas Friedman, David Remnick, Richard Cohen, George Packer, William Kristol, Peter Beinart, Bill Keller, Robert Kaplan, Anne Applebaum, Nicholas Kristof, Jonathan Chait, Fareed Zakaria, David Frum, Jeffrey Goldberg, David Brooks and Michael Ignatieff — were used to amplify the lies
Many thanks. My husband and I, both journalists, lived in Seattle at the start of the Iraq War. We had both voted for Al Gore and didn't believe Bush's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that is until the NYT began to share Bush's view. It was a struggle for me to start believing something I hadn't believed before. But the NYT carried a lot of weight with me. When the truth came out, I lost a lot of confidence in the NYT and especially the Bush administration.
Amnesia is a favorite American past time. Iran-Contra, anyone? Americans, in general, simply are not reflective. Most of us are future-oriented, continually escaping our pasts, striving for something better. Perhaps this is inherent in a nation of immigrants?
In any event, it is a pity because I remain puzzled why there was such a rush among the elites to go to war. One would think that the knowledge that W was careless and uninformed, and that Cheney was Dr. Strangelove reincarnated (I'm not exaggerating, right? We all knew this), would have at least prompted some caution. But it was quite bewildering how there was such a juggernaut for war.
To echo other readers' comments, you're right about the absence of accountability. And I remember "accountability" being one of W's favorite words.
Maybe another reason we don't have more discussion about Iraq is that we don't want to face up to what we did.
One sidelight: In October 2022, the Dakotas were represented by 4 Democratic senators.