Over a week ago, someone in Yemen flipped some missiles at the USS Mason, an American warship on patrol off the coast. It was determined that the Houthis, a group aligned with Iran, was responsible, even though the Pentagon admitted they could not be sure who actually did the shooting. No matter. The Mason fired a twin salvo of cruise missiles into Yemen, and just like that, the United States became a much more active participant in yet another Middle Eastern killing field.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Egypt and Yemen: Either through direct fighting, “advising,” and/or the arming of various participants, we have spread our martial wings over the region in a manner all too consistent with the fever dreams held close by our neoconservative cabal for the last quarter of a century. Remember the Project for a New American Century? They never left; they just got new jobs.
Saudi Arabia is pleased. It has been bombing Yemen for a while now using American weapons and intelligence, killing thousands, including more than 100 mourners at a funeral this month. This is passing strange, since the Saudi Arabian government is a boon ally of ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Sunni fighting force which congealed into a lethal actor in Iraq and Syria after George W. Bush’s war “ended.”
The US is currently fighting ISIS in the city of Mosul, and in Syria. Who are our friends over there, really? Who are our enemies? It depends on the time of day, who you ask, and where you are on the map. It also depends, of course, on who’s cutting us checks for the weapons.
Mosul is a perfect example of the chaos we have unleashed in the region. The city has played host to fierce fighting ever since the 2003 US invasion, and is today a rubbled killing jar reminiscent of Aleppo to the west. ISIS took over Mosul several years ago and turned it into a stronghold, riddling the city with underground tunnels in a tactic highly similar to what the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong did in Vietnam many years ago.
Right now, a ragged coalition of Iraqi forces, US advisers, Kurdish Peshmerga, Shiite militia and Sunni tribesmen are pushing into Mosul. None of these groups like or trust one another. For example, everyone is worried the Kurds will keep Mosul for themselves if they succeed in taking the city. Turkey entered the fray the other day by killing some 200 Kurdish militia members in a bombing raid. Meanwhile, ISIS littered Mosul with improvised explosive devices and other booby traps, and are continually hurling truck bombs and suicide squads at the advancing forces, the latter of which use those tunnels for the element of surprise to great effect.
Mosul, in short, is the ultimate urban warfare nightmare: Close quarters, bombs everywhere, invisible foes, all surrounded by civilians seeking only to live through the day. Residents of Mosul, as the attack approaches, have joined the massive tidal flood of refugees seeking some semblance of safety from the carnage in the region. It will likely take years and an ocean of blood to “secure” the city, and even if that is accomplished, Mosul will be devastated. As with the cities of Tikrit, Ramadi and Falluja, Mosul will resemble a place that was dropped out of the sky to smash on the ground.
The fight for Mosul has claimed its first American casualty. A US service member was killed by an IED outside the city on Thursday. The chief petty officer is the fourth service member to die in Iraq since 2014 while serving in what is called “Operation Inherent Resolve.” Some 5,000 US troops are currently in Iraq. According to Reuters, “The Pentagon this week played down any new role for US forces in Iraq’s battle to retake Mosul and said they would be behind the forward line of troops. But as the United States has increased its presence in Iraq this year to help in the Mosul fight, officials have acknowledged Americans will be ‘closer to the action.'”
Translation: There will be more, because there are always more. You can count on it. One wonders how many people in the US know about any of this.
This is only the Cliff’s Notes version of the reality that is the Middle East today. Make no mistake about it: All of this — every last little bit of it — was caused by war. We seeded the ground with Desert Storm, exacerbated the trauma with years of missile strikes and debilitating sanctions, and put an exclamation point on the whole affair with the invasion and occupation in 2003. During those intervening years, we bombed water treatment plants in Iraq, which introduced sewage into the drinking water, which is biological warfare by any other name, and that’s not counting all the depleted uranium from our ordnance.
When we toppled the Sunni government of Iraq and disbanded the Sunni Ba’athist Army, we gave birth to ISIS. The war caused a massive, persistent wave of refugees to flee into Syria to escape the fighting, which upended that country and gave ISIS a base of operations along with a flood of willing recruits. The rest of the countries where we are actively involved in fighting popped off like a string of firecrackers, and we have been bombing our own weapons over there for quite some time now, an ancillary financial windfall for the weapons dealers. The situation is so unfathomably confused that elements supported by the CIA found themselves in March of this year locked in active combat in Syria with elements supported by the Pentagon. Just another day at the office.
All of this was caused by war, and the only solution we are being offered is more war. This grim alternative is underscored by the fact that either a blatantly bigoted fearmonger or an avowed war hawk is set to sit in the Oval Office come January. One will almost certainly lurch us into further conflict, while the other will likely do so deliberately. “Defense” spending will skyrocket, bodies will drop, new enemies will be made, and the war profiteers will laugh all the way to their bailed-out banks. It has been this way for 25 years now. It will be this way tomorrow.
Not so long ago, a strong and vocal anti-war movement came to vivid life again in the US. February of 2003 saw the largest gathering of anti-war demonstrators the world has ever witnessed, and the movement only grew from there. After 2008, lacking a shared enemy in George W. Bush, and due to simple exhaustion after so many years of struggle, the movement splintered and disintegrated. The gap left by this near-absence allowed the war machine to grow, spread and flourish. This escalation of violence only seems likely to continue during the next presidential administration, no matter who is sitting in that round room.
That is on us, and so it is our responsibility to shake off the doldrums of cynicism and despair. It is a daunting enterprise, as we are almost back to square one again, but the alternatives do not bear contemplation. Freedom and change begin with a “No,” with people in the streets, with a convergence of raised voices, with a decision to try and prove that what is does not always have to be. The anti-war movement must be reconstituted in strength, and soon.
It has been done before. It must be done again. Win or lose, we have to try.
So let us, once again, rise.
For Tom Hayden.