2007 Protest Against the Iraq War - Chattanooga, TN
2007 Protest Against the Iraq War - Chattanooga, TN

When I was a child, my parents took me to India one winter. Upon my return, my sister told me that George H. W. Bush had started bombing Iraqi forces that were invading Kuwait. It was 1991, and the Gulf War had begun. From the time I was young, American presidents have always used our military as tools of war, extracting resources under the guise of promoting freedom. In 2007, I participated in an anti-Iraq war protest in my home town. The following year, I joined the people who were planning the protest. I volunteered my time to create our website and promotional material for the march. War has always been the part of American policy that I despised. The bar for peace is so low that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted at “at least” our current president hasn’t started any new wars1. The question remains, which presidential candidate is likely to keep America from foreign engagements for the next four years.

In 2016, I had just returned to the United States, during what I knew would be a horrendous election cycle. I simply stopped watching the news. I rarely ever heard Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump speak, but I knew everyone in Seattle hated Trump venomously. I’ve never thought elections really mattered, as policy in America correlates to the desire of high income earners over the general voting population. For that reason, I hoped that Trump would win, just so America would finally get angry about foreign conflict again. For years Obama supporters either ignored or apologized for his continued predator drone strikes, while he joked about them on stage at the White House Correspondences Dinner in 20102.

I was completely and totally unprepared for what came next. On MSNBC, Brian Williams praised Trump for launching missiles into Syria, calling them “Beautiful.”

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’” -Brian Williams3

It shouldn’t be a surprise that MSNBC’s current ownership stems from a General Electric merger4; GE being a company with a substantial footprint in the defense industry. It was one of the few times a major media network would praise Donald Trump. CNN would later report on Senator Lindsey Graham’s criticism of removing troops from Syria5. For the first time, friends who I considered politically left were speaking out against troop withdrawal. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan could jeopardize peace negotiations6.

“I’m willing to do anything I want to see peace” -Donald Trump, First Presidential Debate7

Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983
Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983

President Trump has secured three historic peace deals, solidifying treaties between Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Sudan8. Before you get too carried away with excitement, remember the famous photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam during the Regan years. Gaddafi was also an ally of the United States, until he wasn’t. During the presidential debates, Trump stated his first term involved a “…rebuilding of the military including space force and all of the other things…we’ve rebuilt our military…”7. Could Trump be preparing for a war, should he be elected for a second term? Its seems unlikely based on his policy so far, but defense expansion could still set the stage for future presidents to have a military prepared and ready to return to a policy of regime change, breaking treaties with the previous administration’s allies.

Soldiers and Drones

The New York Times claimed that Trump’s talk of troop withdrawal didn’t match military reality, even though they admitted he’s brought thousands of troops home from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as avoiding new military interventions9. The majority of Americans want troops to be removed from foreign theaters10, yet members of The House Armed Services Committee worked to block troop withdraws from Afghanistan earlier this year11.

A cursory look would seem to indicate the number of predator drone strikes have gone down under Trump12. However, that may simply be due to an executive order which removed drone strike reporting requirements13. According to the Chicago Sun Times, in his first two years in office, Obama launched 186 drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. In Trump’s first two years, he launched 23814. The BBC reports that there have been 2,243 drone strikes in the first two years of the Trump presidency, compared with 1,878 in Obama’s eight years in office13. Even the American Conservative was critical of Trump’s continued drone escalation, stating that his administration ordered 40 drone strikes in Somalia during the first half of 2020, compared to the 148 strikes that took place between 2007 and 201615. No matter which president takes office, it is unlikely we will ever see a reduction in drone warfare.

Endless War and The Bush Clinton Dynasty

In 2007, General Wesley Clark claimed the Bush administration was planning to go to war with 7 countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran16. Under President Obama’s Administration, the United States was actively bombing 7 nations, with considerable overlap with the Bush era plans: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia17. Obama era bombings led to a massive humanitarian crisis. Many refugees fled into Europe. He was the first president, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, to spend every single day in office in armed conflict. We were never at war though. The United States has not declared war since 1942. Most American conflicts have come to be known as extended military engagements18.

“…when I met with Barack Obama … He said the biggest problem we have … is North Korea. He indicated we will be in a war with North Korea. Guess what? It would be a nuclear war, and he does have plenty of nuclear capability. In the meantime, I have a very good relationship with him. Different kind of a guy, but he probably thinks the same thing about me. We have a different kind of a relationship. We have a very good relationship, and there’s no war, and you know, about 2 months ago, he broke into a certain area. They said, oh, there’s going to be trouble. I said, no, there’s not, because he’s not going to do that, and I was right. Look, instead of being in a war where millions of people – Seoul, you know, is 25 miles away. Millions and millions, 32 million people in Seoul. Millions of people would be dead right now…“ -Donald Trump, Second Presidential Debate19

In 1981 when Ronald Regan became president of the United States, George H. W. Bush was his Vice President for two terms. Bush became president in 1988 for one term, followed by Clinton in 1992 for two terms. Although Hillary didn’t succeed in her bid for president, she was still Secretary of State until she stepped down in 2012. From the time I was born until 2012, there was always a Bush or a Clinton within four people of the line of succession for the Presidency of the United States. For all of my childhood and much of my adult life, two great political houses sat on the Iron Throne we call the White House, and every member of that dynasty beat the drums of war.

With Trump, it’s obviously a gamble, and we would need to hope he would not reverse his war policy in his final term. However, Biden is clearly an extension of Clinton era politics. In the final debate, Biden said “[Trump’s] a very confused guy. He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people, because I disagreed with them19.” The Joe Biden I grew up with was a fickle man, changing his view from week to week. It made for great comedy on the late night satire shows, but the harsh reality is, if Biden were to win, I predict escalation in American armed interventions, and the growth of our war footprint, would be certain.

  1. Former Defense Secretary Gates: ‘At least’ Trump ‘hasn’t started any new wars’. 14 June 2020. Klar. The Hill. 

  2. Obama Jokes About Predator Drones At The 2010 White House Correspondents Association Dinner. 3 May 2010. (Video) 

  3. Brian Williams is ‘guided by the beauty of our weapons’ in Syria strikes. 7 April 2017. Hawkins. The Washington Post. 

  4. TIMELINE: NBC, Universal through the 20th century and beyond. 3 December 2009. Staff. Reuters. 

  5. Graham rips into Trump for removing troops from Syria. 7 October 2019. Cole. Cnn. 

  6. Trump’s Afghanistan withdrawal announcement takes US officials by surprise. 8 October 2020. Graham-Harrison and Borger. The Guardian. 

  7. Read the full transcript from the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. 30 September 2020. Staff. USA Today.  2

  8. Trump Secures Third Historic Middle East Peace Deal, This Time With Sudan. 23 October 2020. Davidson. The Federalist 

  9. Trump’s Campaign Talk of Troop Withdrawals Doesn’t Match Military Reality. 11 October 2020. Crowley. New York Times 

  10. Poll: About three quarters support bringing troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan. 6 Aug 2020. Kheel. The Hill. 

  11. House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on ‘incentives’ to attack US troops. 1 July 2020. Kheel. The Hill. 

  12. Number of Us Drone Strikes By Year. 19 February 2020. Rioku. Regimage. 

  13. Trump revokes Obama rule on reporting drone strike deaths. 7 March 2019. BBC News  2

  14. Under Donald Trump, drone strikes far exceed Obama’s numbers. 8 May 2019. Cupp. Chicago Sun Times. 

  15. Trump Escalates Killer Drone War and No One Seems to Care. 25 June 2020. Larison. The American Conservative. 

  16. Wesley Clark Interview with Democracy Now. 2 March 2007. Democracy Now. 

  17. How Many Countries is the U.S. Currently Bombing?. 27 October 2016. FUSION. 

  18. The U.S. Doesn’t Declare War Anymore. 18 September 2014. Koroma. Time. 

  19. 2020 Election Second Presidential Debate Transcript: Joe Biden & Donald Trump. 22 October 2020 at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. SpeakWrite.  2