The Gnarly Psychology of Unnecessary War

We have a big problem in Iraq: We Really. Really. Really. Screwed up.

The basic scenario we all know, of course. Saddam Hussein, admittedly a bad guy, was also a secularist who kept Islamist fundamentalists and Al Qaeda out of his country, as well as Iran’s dictatorship at bay. With our invasion of Iraq (see Charles Ferguson’s extraordinary documentary, No End in Sight) — to the tune of two trillion dollars, almost 5,000 American lives lost and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost – we paved the way for what is happening now. Terrorists too radical even for Al Qaeda have taken over the second largest city in Iraq and seem headed for Baghdad, while Iran is now more of a problem than when Saddam was acting as a buffer.

This entire scenario could have been predicted – in fact was predicted– by those arguing against the invasion of Iraq at the time. Such voices were easily marginalized, however, by mainstream media simply towing the government line about weapons of mass destruction. Government PR lackeys posing as journalists underreported the anti-war movement, painting a picture of those who opposed the war as unsophisticated peaceniks, fuzzy-brained ragamuffin types who simply didn’t understand the complicated analysis and profound, wise warnings being touted by the esteemed warmongers in business suits then running our affairs.

The warmongers spoke in well-modulated tones, drowning out the voices of those who were upset by the prospect of innocent people dying for no good reason. There were anti-war protests all over the country but little good they did when basically ignored by the media hacks who capitulated, no-real-questions-asked, to the Administration’s Iraqi war plans. I remember Dennis Kucinich saying there would be hand-to-hand combat in Baghdad, and the elite just rolled their eyes. Like really, how ridiculous; did he not know we would be out of there within six weeks?

So here we are. As an Iraqi woman bitterly expressed to me on my radio show several years ago, “When Saddam and his sons were alive, we knew we had three devils. But we were waiting for them to die, and planning what we would do then. Now, with what has happened, there are devils on every corner.” I think about that woman now; the militants who have captured Mosul have declared Shariah law in that city, saying they will do so in every city they capture and shooting on sight anyone refusing to acquiesce.

President Obama and his foreign policy team will decide what to do now. Do we aid the Iraqis against the militants at this point? And if we do, in what way? What if Iraq falls to the fundamentalist insurgents? I don’t envy anyone having to decide what to do with the mess we have on our hands now.

Nor do I claim to have any answers on a military level. But I know this: military issues are not the only level of the problem, and they’re not the only level of the solution. Nothing the government does now – no action or non-action on its part – will change the fundamental trajectory of national tragedy – and I don’t just mean Iraq’s – if we, the American people, do not wake up to what has happened here. We have gone from a country that fought World War 2 with a sober understanding of the perils if not the necessities of war, to a country repeatedly prey to the militaristic prowess of a military-industrial-governmental complex we seem to have a hard time recognizing for what it is: often anything but patriotic and often anything but sane.

The American people have been suckers for decades now, for serious-sounding men and women in business suits spouting nationalistic crap about the necessity of applying brute force in places where it is patently absurd to do so. 

Like an emotionally addicted lover who will simply not admit that our partner is a narcissist with no capacity for empathy or concern for anyone’s needs but their own, the American people have allowed ourselves to be played like a fiddle at the cost of blood and almost unimaginable suffering for hundreds of thousands of people.

This is not just a political problem, it is a psychological one. And until we solve that problem – until we take our house keys back from a sociopathic establishment — we will continue the tragic dysfunction that has already taken us from Vietnam to Iraq, and already evident in heady though blessedly distant drum rolls of the genuinely insane dingaling, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

The American people have been suckers for decades now, for serious-sounding men and women in business suits spouting nationalistic crap about the necessity of applying brute force in places where it is patently absurd to do so. That crowd of well-dressed liars sent young, brave but surely terrified Americans into an unnecessary and ill-conceived war in Iraq which they planned ten years prior to Bush even being in the White House, while they sipped champagne and kissed each other on the cheek at Washington cocktail parties. They lied about yellowcake uranium, they played Colin Powell like an unsuspecting puppy, and — oh, did I mention this? — they and their friends made millions and even billions of dollars by prosecuting this war. According toThe Financial Times, Halliburton has earned $39.5 billion on the Iraq War so far.

If karma, or the Law of Cause and Effect, applies to nations as it applies to individuals – and it does – then God help us. And it is time to admit to ourselves the painful truth: that we allowed all this to happen. Too cowed, too busy, too unconcerned – whatever we were – we allowed it to happen in big ways and small, and every individual has to decide for him or herself what he or she might have done differently in the run up to this awful moment. One thing is for sure, however: we as a generation have allowed ourselves to be played. It’s hard to admit this, but things will not fundamentally change until we do.

This problem will not be solved by merely changing the political guard in Washington; it will be solved by changing our hearts, waking up as citizens, and taking responsibility for the awful fact that none of this could have happened had we not been far too eager, time and time again, to look the other way while the voices of militarism, warmongering and economic imperialism – simply by manipulating media symbols and our emotions – had their way with us, turning a great nation into fools.

It happened in Vietnam. Now it has happened in Iraq. How many times will we allow people to die in wars about which the planners of the war say in retrospect, as Robert McNamara did about Vietnam, that it was “a terrible mistake”? 

It happened in Vietnam. Now it has happened in Iraq. How many times will we allow people to die in wars about which the planners of the war say in retrospect, as Robert McNamara did about Vietnam, that it was “a terrible mistake”? There is, quite simply, too much blood on American hands. With a 650 billion dollar national Defense budget and a military-industrial complex extracting from the pool of our national resources not only our money, but the blood of our young soldiers and our moral standing with God and the rest of humanity, this is just one more reason why it’s time for the American people to take back our country, reclaim our democracy, and make right our conscience before it’s too late.

The process of healing – whether in an individual’s life or in a nation’s life — begins with a simple, humble atonement for our errors. We need to take ownership of the problem before we can take ownership of the solution, and the biggest problem is within ourselves. With a Presidential election coming up, it’s extremely important that we stop being such easy marks for tough-on-national-security arguments that only use and abuse us. Sometimes, wisdom only comes when we’ve faced the horrible fact that we’ve behaved like fools.

In our foolishness, we acquiesced to nothing short of patterns of willful, unnecessary killing. For killing is what war is. And that is why it should never, ever happen for any other reason than the most radical necessity. Those who say this are not immature children; in fact, increasingly they’re the only grownups in the room. A stupid, unnecessary war is not something to brag about; it’s something for which to humbly ask God’s forgiveness.

marianne-campaigningIn the words of Abraham Lincoln in declaring a National Day of Fasting and Prayer on March 30, 1863, “…It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon…”

With events like those occurring in Iraq right now, we should realize that our window of time is closing. Lincoln’s injunction that we should throw ourselves on the mercy of God might sound crazy to the warmongers, but it’s time at last for them to sound crazy to us.

Marianne Williamson


  1. Ryder says

    It seems to me that this article is incomplete… and seems to forget history in convenient places. Where just about a year ago, the Obama administration and supporters were claiming victory for themselves in how well they handled Iraq… but now, as we see President Bush’s exact warnings come true… the administration and supporters cannot seem to backpedal fast enough, as if withdrawal from Iraq was not their idea. As if it was not what they wanted.

    It was handled exactly how Obama and his supporters wanted, according to Obama’s campaign promises in 2007. But also in 2007, George Bush, the dumbest man to ever live in the Whitehouse, said this:

    “To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready … would
    mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be
    risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the
    terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in
    Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops
    would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”

    If the dumbest President ever, understood the consequences of this kind of mistake… then what does that say about those of us that didn’t see it coming? Those of us that voted for it? Of the man that made it happen?

    It is now simply a progressive tradition to reflexively oppose armed conflict of any kind, especially when a Republican is in office due to its inherent political potential.

    When progressives predict that any involvement in a war automatically results in catastrophe, all they are doing is predicting their future intentions that lead to the final outcome… abandonment. So in that sense, it is not a prediction, but a statement of intent.

    People have been saying that we invaded Iraq for so long, they have forgotten that we did not. Iraq invaded Kuwait, and we chased them back, and only through a cease fire agreement, with strict conditions, did we suspend the hot war. It is a matter of historical fact that in the ensuing years Iraq would violate the terms of that agreement numerous times, as attested by many UN resolutions. Even President Clinton, just months before he left office, specifically warned Iraq that the cease fire might be ended if they failed to return to conditions demanded by the cease fire…

    Yet Iraq remained in violation as Bush took office. Then of course there was 9/11.

    Bush, clearly, and rightly, angered over Arab belligerence and defiance, did what most leaders, and certainly any Texan would do… start cleaning up the mess.

    Iraq had violated the cease fire, and Bush resumed the hot war… literally picking up where we left off. Not some new invasion. That is what Iraq did to Kuwait.

    Unless cease fire agreements are adhered to, they become meaningless, and as the best tool to end bloody conflict, allowing the cease fire process to lose all meaning and utility would be a terrible failure…

    But once resumed, the reprisal against Iraqi aggression carries with it responsibility… like after defeating Germany and bombing Japan with nuclear weapons, the responsibility, seldom adhered to by nations, was part of an important American tradition. Post war Germany and Japan were cases where the US moved in and stayed… handing them their new constitution, and instructing them in how things would go moving forward, and we never left.

    We are still in Japan and Germany. We never left. 50,000 American soldiers are still in Japan, and some 40,000 in Germany.

    Both nations are prosperous… both are allies with normal relations.

    Raise your hand, if you think Japan and Germany lose sleep over this fact. Raise your hand if you do…

    I’m not saying decisions in war are easy, but when the dumbest president ever had better predictive power than the man currently there, or many of the voters… I start to wonder about how honest we are with ourselves.

  2. llozano says

    We can’t undo the mistakes of the past but we can do something about how we respond to the current situation. My two cents is to stay out and get all our people out asap. Let them sort it out. Most of the area was doing quite well before the U.S. and Europe went in and divided the land and resources. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and their is only room for one rooster in the coup.

  3. Dick Price says

    This debacle reminds me of the American escape from Saigon. Remember those pictures of the last Huey choppers picking up the final remaining American soldiers and embassy personnel, plus as many Vietnamese civilians as would fit who had been working closely with the Americans and who faced a most perilous future once the NVA took over?

    It’s not quite the same this time — because our American war machine learned a few things from Vietnam:

    — No loose cannon reporters and photographers sending home an accurate picture of the battle scenes.

    — No pictures of American dead, even in caskets, even being buried, even when the families wanted to show the sacrifice their loved ones had made.

    — No draft — no Selective Service draft at least — just an economic one.

    — No American soldiers handling rear-area jobs. Instead use civilians — preferably from some other country — to handle the cooking, truck driving. And shift as many other outfits as possible to neighboring, less hostile countries.

    — Use professional soldiers, not civilian soldiers who would quickly go home and try to melt back into their communities back home. (And these soldiers who served three, four, and five combat tours are as professional as you can get.)

    — And, most importantly, get the hell out of Dodge before the house of cards implodes, as it’s doing now in Iraq and will almost certainly do in Afghanistan shortly after the last American soldier slips out.

    This whole business is on us, just as you say. Saddam was a typical Middle Eastern despot, just like the ones who ran all the countries in the region for decades and decades, backed by one Western power or another or a whole bunch of them. Only Saddam had been our CIA client, running the country for us, making sure the oil flowed expeditiously, and could expect special treatment. And with an iron hand, he kept the warring factions apart in what is not really a country, it seems, but three countries or territories artificially stitched together by one of our arrogant, all-knowing allies a century ago.

    In our own overwhelming arrogance, we thought we could “Shock & Awe” Saddam out of power — I guess because he showed just a little spine (and maybe had hatched a failed plot at one point to assassinate George The Elder). We were going to pacify the country in, what, six week? I remember quite vividly the cold dread that descended upon me as I watched images of our missiles lighting up the Baghdad sky. Had we learned not one goddam thing?

    And 12 years later — or whatever it is — we’re still stuck there, still on the hook for an impossible situation, foolishly making enemies all around the globe. (China, by the way, is building roads and dams and schools in Africa, not foxholes.)

    Yes, we have little choice but to try to protect the current government from falling apart completely, with drones, and bombs, Seals and Green Beret advisors secretly sent in, and all the sabre rattling we can manage.

    Most likely, it won’t work, not for long, but we have no choice but to try. We created the mess. We own it.

    But then we need to make sure the finger of blame gets pointed directly at Dubya and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Perle and the whole claque that supports our huge war machine. It was their war. They wanted it. They got rich running it. They lied us into it. They know they lied us into it and they don’t care, because you and I, we don’t matter in their book.

    It can’t end up that this debacle gets laid at Obama’s feet because he wasn’t hard-assed enough. Or else the next White House denizens will either be freed or will feel required to rain hellfire and brimstone unending on the next set of enemies we think are jeopardizing the soft lives our elites enjoy.

  4. harry says

    I am sure you are a really nice person. I doubt you have ever partaken of the horror of war first hand. Waiting for Saddam Hussein (and sons) to die says a lot about the will of the people in Iraq. Did she think they would all, sons, generals, etc included, die on the same day??

    You said nothing of the bodies laying in the streets who were killed by gas bombs dropped on people by Saddam. Do you mention the ethic group that was being wiped out? You do not mention the Iraq documents Saddam had with him in his hole in the ground claiming to have a nuclear weapon system in the production stages. He did not, but who would be brave enough to face him and tell him he did not? We had the same Intel and could not prove or disprove it.

    You have cherry picked your evidence, leaving much out. You give little blame to us for the way in which we departed, we left the place in a mess. The current population has three major ethic groups and you do not mention how the current government is playing one against the other. We led them to the promise land and they refused to allow all to enter.
    retired combat vet

  5. BBunsen says

    “How many times will we allow people to die in wars about which the
    planners of the war say in retrospect, as Robert McNamara did about
    Vietnam, that it was “a terrible mistake”?”

    I would point out that neither Bush, Cheney, nor Rumsfeld have said that Iraq was a mistake, terrible or otherwise. They seem to be steadfast in their self-righteousness, perhaps because their children, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers didn’t die waging that war. The fact that they probably all made money from it didn’t hurt either.

    • harry says

      how is it that you know all this? If you have facts of criminal acts, you should report them to the current POTUS, he blames Bush for a lot of things but I have not heard him blame Bush for what you did.

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