Students march for gun control; women march for a variety of causes, and, well, against anything Trump; but who is marching for less American war in the Greater Middle East?
Why? Why isn’t there a passionate coalition willing to combat the American war machine? A machine that is, by now, on autopilot.
This weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched to protest gun violence; in January, hundreds thousands of women – and their supporters – staged a second annual protest against all things Trump. Leaving aside the relative merits of each issue, the sheer number of marchers physically descending on various cities, rather than engaging in far easier social media activism, is impressive. Right or wrong in their convictions, these citizens, exercising their First Amendment rights, made this author proud…and then sad.
Sad because of what I know: that there is no constituency of any comparable size ready or willing to march against the single greatest disease in 21st century American society – creeping militarism and endless foreign war. As I write this, on a Sunday morning, I’m certain the key weekly television programs – "Meet the Press," "This Week," and "Face the Nation" – will focus on, at best, three issues. First: Russia-gate, the Left’s favorite daily soap opera; Second: gun violence, the NRA, and a nation divided over firearms; and, if we’re lucky, Third: the John Bolton appointment and the potential for a future war in Iran.
You can bet there will be hardly any mention of Yemen, Niger, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, or Afghanistan – seven of the countries in which Americans have killed and been killed in the last year. There will be no cost-benefit analysis or discussions about which conflict – if any – is in America’s vital, national interest. There will be no nationwide antiwar protests to cover, no dissenting veterans interviewed, no investigative reporters on the ground with disgruntled local civilians in a Mideast locale. No, the Sunday shows will be all about politics, or at least what passes for political discourse these days, and, of course, the ongoing national culture wars.
These are, mind you, important issues. Nonetheless, the relative silence regarding America’s seven – at least – ongoing shooting wars is itself instructive. No one cares. Military intervention, bombing, even the occasional dead servicemen – how many readers even know there were seven killed in Iraq this past week? – hardly register in the news cycle. War is the new normal. Young people know nothing else. A junior in high school, marching against guns violence this weekend, was likely born in 2002 – he or she has never known peace. In each year of that young student’s life, at least scores – and usually many hundreds – of U.S. troops have been killed fighting indecisive, barely reported, wars in the Greater Middle East.
Without a draft, and with taxes as a percent of GDP trending downward rather than up, most Americans are hardly touched directly by the forever war. A shrinking, familial, warrior caste fights in these ill-advised, unsatisfying contests, and will do so until, inevitably, they are brought to an indecisive conclusion. Their thanks comes in the form of airport adulation, minor discounts at the local Texas Roadhouse, and excessive verbal expressions of gratitude. We thank our troopers, then we ignore them and retreat, inevitably, back to our post-Trumpian political battle stations to fight the wars at home: the culture wars.
Still, it is a new protest march that the republic requires. A march for peace, maybe, or at least a march demanding de-escalation and prudent policy in the Middle East. Let us have no illusions: terrorism will continue, Islamist extremism must run its course, and the Levant will remain an ugly place. The term "peace," may even be inadequate for these times. Nevertheless, the citizenry must march, must protest, if it wishes to send a message to their deerelict-in-their-duty congressmen: no more unnecessary war in our name.
Every protest needs an enemy. Lobbyists tend to make excellent villains. So do individual politicians. The students believe they’re combating the NRA; the women, well, they hate Trump. Who, then, would our imaginary marchers do battle with? Here’s an idea: the military-industrial-congressional complex. Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and the representatives they pay off in Washington; the 55 cowardly senators who just this week refused to even allow a vote on US complicity in the horrific war in Yemen. The liberals among the protesters could call out the ten Democrats who joined with the Republican majority to tacitly lend approval to Saudi terror bombing in Yemen: bombing which could not continue, mind you, absent extensive American military support in the way of U.S.-supplied munitions, U.S.-supplied intelligence, and U.S.-supplied in-flight refueling.
The marchers would need to think strategically and avoid platitudes and words sure to trigger alienation on both sides of the political spectrum. They’d have to take the world as it is and recognize the US military will continue to have (a very limited) counter terror role in an undoubtedly dangerous world. But the protesters’ arguments would be simple and nearly incontestable: that the only remaining vital US national security interest in the Mideast is transnational terror.
Times have changed. The old interests no longer jive with existing realities. Deterring Soviet power in the Persian Gulf is oh so 1980s; securing access to oil resources is so 1990s or 2000s. Russia, even at its Putinian worst, is decidedly not the Soviet Union. Furthermore, a combination of renewable energy options and new domestic hydrocarbon resources are changing the calculus of Mideast oil politics. Still, nothing has changed in the US military posture in the region. Consider it the American inertia strategy: more interventions, more troops, more bombs, more…everything.
The protesters I’m imaging would rally around two simple foreign policy demands: do less and be consistent. For 17 years now, the US has doubled down on hyper-interventionism, despite the obviously counterproductive results – there are more worldwide terror attacks and more Islamist groups now then there were at the outset of the foolishly declared "war on terror." The US has also lost any and all credibility on the "Arab street." That shouldn’t surprise us: we’re oh so inconsistent in the region.
The US talks talks peace, liberty, and freedom but remains the world’s largest arms dealer. Some 49% of all US sales go to the Mideast, including to absolute monarchies (think the Saudis), autocrats (think Sisi in Egypt), and Islamist-allied militias (think the messy Syrian "opposition"). This isn’t solely a Trump problem, either; arms sales exploded under Barack Obama, though the current president does appear to be doubling down.
So here’s the rub: US military action, the outright killing and dying it does in at least seven states of the Greater Middle East, along with the arms sale bonanza the Mil-Industrial Complex profits from, have not made us any safer.
According to the comprehensive, Brown University Costs of War project, some 7,000 US servicemen and women have died since 9/11. Their numbers pale in comparison to the upwards of 200,000 civilians killed in the wars of choice that Washington unleashed on a fragile region. The blood, much of it anyway, is on our hands and shed in our name. And, tragically, all that death and destruction hasn’t made the US, or the world, a safer place. Yet, on the wars go; where they’ll stop? Nobody knows.
That sounds like something worth marching about.
Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and regular contributor to antiwar.com. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]
Copyright 2018 Danny Sjursen