War Is Easy When There Is Nothing to Learn

March 19 was the 13th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Today, as noted by Antiwar News’ Jason Ditz, US Marines have been deployed in Kurdistan in order to aid Iraqi forces as they attempt to take back oil fields from the Islamic State. In full, shameless JFK-in-Vietnam mode, the fact that there are combat troops in Iraq is not to be mentioned or overstressed. No, these aren’t advisers, they’re just helping the Iraqi forces, these marines. Who are on the front lines.

This is our Iraq in 2016, starring some 3200 American soldiers. This is the nation that has suffered the deaths of up to 175,000 civilians since the US decided Saddam Hussein had to go. This is the war which Barack Obama allegedly ended in 2011. This is the war that was sold as a heroic intervention to prevent a mad dictator from using weapons of mass destruction, and dipped an entire region into civil war and gave us a new theocratic mob that scares even Al-Qaeda.

And damn, the Islamic State is chilling. They appear to be both more brutal and potentially more competent than Al-Qaeda, in that they’ve discovered the savvy tactic of decentralized terror attacks that require only a few people to pull off. It would be great if something or someone stopped their spread.

And yet, is the US slowly dribbling back into a war it never really stopped fighting going to do that? Remember when the Taliban was the worst group possible? And then Al-Qaeda? Remember, before that, when the Mujahideen could save Afghanistan from the horrible, Godless Soviets? 

The biggest enemy conceivable to the US tends to change with a baffling cynicism. The most honest of the imperialist cynics admit this, and say that nothing matters except for the current convenience of the United States and its foreign policy. But most politicians and the pundits who echo them simply depend on outrage and demonization to drive policy – we must invade, Saddam is a villain, the USSR is full of monsters and communism must be contained. There is often some truth to this, in that foreign dictators or oppressive, collectivist nations and groups hurt people. However, it does not follow – and it never will follow – that a coup, a bombing campaign, or a full-force invasion will change anything for the better, or can be done without myriad civilians casualties. Nor is it true that such actions – even when done by the pure and noble West – will lead to regional stability, or, to use a now-cliché, a population that will welcome us with flowers.

How much proof do we need before people believe that intervention makes things worse? How can we try everything except for leaving, and not starting any more wars? Why is the answer always that we didn’t fight hard enough, when we should never have fought at all?

A perfect follower of the fallacy of “not enough war” is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who famously clashed with former Rep. Ron Paul over blowback in 2007. Now Giuliani has made headline with his argument that Hillary Clinton helped to bring about ISIS by pulling out of Iraq too soon, and not invading Syria.

There is not a candidate running for president who doesn’t plan to keep making war. Donald Trump has spasms of contrarian isolationist spirit, yet he can be pushed easily into suggesting that 30,000 ground troops to fight ISIS is reasonable. He is a wild card, but there are simply too many factors that would push him into supporting war as the official status quo.  And Saint Bernie, the middle class’ friend will continue the drone war and will keep bombing ISIS, but less so. Or something. Nobody wants to change any tactics, because when they are in charge, the impossibility of forcing change on a foreign location will magically disappear.

Again, those honest imperialists who care most of all for the US staying a mighty power are to be slapped on the back for their forthrightness. The Obamas, the Clintons, and – potentially – the Sanders school of thought seems to be that wars can be fought to save people. The convenient fact in our nasty world that these do-gooders forget is those wars tend to look an awful lot like the wars fought to line Halliburton and Blackwater pockets. In fact, they’re generally the same wars.

Much like the biggest, baddest villains around change – and often do so by metastasizing into something even worse post-Western invasions – so do the reasons for wars. Somehow, 70 years after it began, the complicated reasons for World War II are flattened out into a slogan-ready “saving the Jews from Hitler.” The nobility of beating Hitler is all that remains in a war that included a US alliance with Josef Stalin, the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To say nothing of the world leaving six million Jews to die anyway.

More recent conflicts do not have such a perfect villain as Hitler, but the longer ago they were, the easier they are to pack away as history. Any conflict that happened under the umbrella of the Cold War was understandable given the horrors of Soviet communism. The USSR was an oppressive country, and therefore waging proxy wars and forcing small nations who might otherwise want self-determination to choose one titan’s skirts to hide under was right and just.

Still fresher conflicts such as the invasion of Libya in 2011 defy explanation quite literally. Saving a people from their own dictator looks to have always been about deposing that dictator. Yet, so unimportant is Libya that it doesn’t seem to have hurt presidential contender Hillary Clinton one iota, except when it comes to the right and their obsession with what happened at the Benghazi embassy. The fact of the war and its ensuing mess is of no concern to right or left.

This is all so easy. Thanks to the attacks in Paris, California, and now Belgium, ISIS is front page news again. The world is big and bad, and the only thing to do in it is to fight the same wars for any reason that works best at any time. The only thing to do is to fight the big bad of today, because they are the epitome of evil and brutality. The only thing to do is keep doing the same thing again and again, and never explain why it had to happen, but assure everyone that without that war it would all be so much worse. The only thing to do is to never learn anything from a war.

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.

Author: Lucy Steigerwald

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and an editor for Young Voices. She has also written for VICE, Playboy.com, the Washington Post.com, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is www.thestagblog.com. Follow her on twitter @lucystag.