This piece by Vietnam veteran John Grant was originally posted January 4, 2020 on the blog, This Can’t Be Happening
Here we go again. We lived through George Bush Senior’s war, then George Bush Junior’s war and now we have Donald Trump’s war. Our leaders don’t learn from our mistakes very well. True, the curtain is just rising on Act Three, and the players are just now entering the stage; no one in the audience knows how it’s going to end or who and how many are going to die. Everyone is on the edge of their seats: the in-your-face, heart-stopping suspense is palpable, which is just the sort of thing Donald Trump, the showman, thrives on and what makes his enthusiastic fans shout with delight.
Based on experiencing Acts One and Two, one thing needs to be cleared up right away. Despite presidential flag Tweets and Sean Hannity’s rabid fulminations about heroes and patriotism, those of us opposing this audacious, un-democratic escalation toward war with Iran bear no responsibility for the harm that may come to the young US soldiers Mr. Trump has put in harm’s way. The tiresome Stabbed in the Back charge that always arises when wars begin to go badly (a direction this one may go soon enough) can have no credence in this war. We’ve learned too much over the past 18 years.
The president should have known better than to irresponsibly open a Pandora’s Box with a risky assassination of such a key, beloved Iranian leader like Qasem Soleimani. Two previous presidents knew this. In the eyes of Iranians, Soleimani very effectively led the elite Quds Force for years; he may have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers in Iraq, but those unfortunate deaths were in a war started by another president of the United States following attacks in New York that Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with. Lots of people die in wars, which normally sobers our leaders’ bravado. The George W. Bush Iraq War is now seen by a bi-partisan consensus as one of the worst foreign policy blunders of the post WWII era. As Iraq’s neighbor, Iran was simply looking out for its own interests once the US invaded with its shock & awe campaign. The fact George W. Bush’s Iraq debacle turned the keys of Iraq over to the 70 percent Shiite population of Iraq allied with Iran cannot be seen as Iran’s fault.
Here’s a quote from a recent article in The National Interest magazine on how in past wars US leaders tragically and consistently misread their enemies. It’s by historian Derek Leebaert, cofounder of something called the National Museum of the US Army. For what it’s worth, Henry Kissinger is the Honorary Chairman of the board for the magazine, and Grover Norquist is on that board.
“Paying minimal attention to the ironies of history is a key reason why America has failed at four wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and, as is often forgotten, Korea,” he writes. “What passes for considered policy is instead a twisted sequences of ad hoc decisions hammered out under the stresses of sudden foreign urgencies and heavily politicized responses.” Leebaert goes on: “America’s insularity is also forgotten as we exaggerate our ability to affect faraway places, which we don’t bother to understand.” There’s another essay in that conservative journal by George Beebe on the Ukraine imbroglio that criticizes the tendency for “groupthink” – i.e., cover-your-ass bureaucratic agreement on bad information — first seen, he writes, when it was realized the best and the brightest analysis focused on Vietnam in the 1960s was totally “wrongheaded.” Same-same, he says, all the “expert consensus” that told us of those WMDs in Iraq.
For over 35 years, I’ve worked on the anti-war left as a writer and as a protester hollered this stuff in the streets. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the above analysis from a right-wing conservative journal; though I no doubt disagree with these writers on important things, it’s an example of strange political bedfellows that should lend this criticism some mainstream credibility. Fact is, many of us in the anti-war movement tried to say exactly this in the early days of the Iraq War in mainstream print and TV venues that simply did not want to hear it. The attitude then was, you couldn’t question the war “for the troops.” Now, it’s different. Now, we must oppose this war “for the troops.”
In this war with Iran, any harm that comes to our well-trained and dedicated young US soldiers is Donald Trump’s responsibility and his responsibility alone. It was his decision – made for his reasons — to take a stick and whack a huge, buzzing hornets’ nest and, then, send our young men and women into the resultant war zone. This situation never would have, or should have, existed had he not stupidly torpedoed an imperfect, but promising, peace negotiation with Iran begun by his predecessor. Instead, he decided to rely on his self-congratulatory deal-making talents, in this case, utilizing hatred and violence as leverage.
The very dramatic drone killing of General Soleimani — reportedly along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the shiite Popular Mobilization Forces militia and the second in command of Hezbollah in Lebanon — was certainly an impressive coup for President Trump in the short run. His fan base predictably resounded with cheers and bloodlust, as they compared Iranian enemies with their domestic political enemies. In the long run, however, if past experience of post-WWII US wars is any kind of indicator, this will likely go badly for the United States.
One, Iranians know that President Trump is the leader of an incredibly divided democratic nation, having seriously alienated a huge proportion of the US population. His political base is composed of many well-armed, over-zealous Christians who feel confident God is on their side, while many of his domestic political enemies prefer dialogue and negotiation to war. Iranians are not stupid; they know all this. In fact, Iran as a society suffers from a similar polarization between hard-line religionists and more secular humanists.
Two, following 18 years of fruitless, bloody war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people have become weary of war and killing. They’ve seen too many of their sons and daughters come home in flag-draped aluminum caskets offloaded from C141s at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Around the world throughout history, war-weariness is the most powerful reality contributing to a desire to end wars. The US population doesn’t have to wait 10 or 15 years for this feeling to reach critical mass, since they’ve already lived through those 10 to 15 years in Acts One and Two.
Act Three in Iran could be a quite short but intense act in this three-act tragedy. Iranians lived through the horrific Iran-Iraq War, so they know war much more intimately than Americans do here in the comfy, secure United States. It’s true Iranians are also weary of war, having been in a virtual state of war with the United States since 1979. But this new war is an existential war of survival for Iranians, while for us Americans it’s more a matter of pride and face-saving. Most Americans don’t even know where Iran is or that it’s four times the size of neighboring Iraq and much more sophisticated, with an educated middle class that, truth be known, only wants to share the good life Americans take for granted. But they won’t accept it as an American imperial bribe with no dignity.
And, finally, Europe and much of the rest of the world is fed up with Donald Trump and his narcissism and gangster-boss style of un-democratic leadership seemingly modeled on his friend Vladimir Putin, who in this case, can’t be counted on for support due to factional connections with Iran.
Despite his calculated, wordless flag Tweet and other instances of bluster, it should be made crystal clear in the venues of meaning in America and around the world that this is Donald Trump’s war — not America’s war. For the history books, any glory derived from this war will be his; considering the likely consequences, that also goes for the other possibility: eternal condemnation.
John Grant is a Vietnam War veteran and an active member of Veterans For Peace. For 11 years, he served as president of the Philadelphia VFP chapter. He has taught documentary photography at Widener and Drexel Universities and for nine years has taught creative writing to inmates in the Philadelphia Prison.