In 2003 I was a devout Republican, I use the word devout with all due implications because it was a religion for me. I am not sure if I was aware of other political parties, but I surely never thought much of being Independent. I was firmly on the side of choosing one of two sides and sticking to that side no matter what.
I wasn’t in lock step with all of the traditional republican ideologies: I never had issue with gays getting married, couldn’t understand why marijuana should be illegal even though I never used it (most of my friends smoked back in the day and there were only a couple “stoners”). But I believed much like a spouse or family member, you had to defend your political party at every opportunity. Some of that likely still exists today with me, though I am much more likely to call out inconsistencies with the Libertarian Party and its candidates than I ever was when I was a republican.
So when party line backed up against my own privately held beliefs, I defended the party: I remember answering “unsure” in a poll outside of a polling station in the mid-2000s asking if same-sex marriages should be legal and I can remember claiming marijuana was a gateway drug along with all of my other republicans, even though I didn’t think the drug itself was dangerous.
With age and maturity, I was able to reverse course and begin calling out members of my own party for the areas I was in disagreement with the party line. Eventually I would grow tired of voting for the lesser of two evils and actively sought alternative candidates.
But worse than all of this, I was a war hawk. Nothing filled me with greater national pride that an overwhelming display of military force. In 2001, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I seriously considered joining the military. I easily talked myself out of it, but I was proud that our men and women were taking the fight to the terrorists and that they would make them pay.
But the war in Afghanistan wasn’t quenching that desire for unmerciful retaliation. Sure we had the Taliban on the run and we were bombing the Hell out of the mountainside, but there was no clear victory in sight; there was no dead bin Laden. I needed that Mission Accomplished moment.
When the war drums began beating in 2003, I was all in. In Iraq we had a clear enemy, someone we could push over and a clear destination. I believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, I believed he was training terrorists; I bought that shit hook, line, and sinker. I yelled down those who opposed military intervention in Iraq, I clasped onto every justification the President and media fed me and spit it back in the face of anyone who questioned our motives.
I needed this war, I needed shock and awe and a clear goal, the ousting of Saddam and his cronies. We had been here once before, back when I was a kid we rolled through Saddam’s pathetic military before all of the troops were off the plans. It was the best of both worlds, we would annihilate an enemy swiftly and very few American servicemen would be lost. We would display for the world the full power of the American military and leave them knowing we weren’t even trying that hard. We would let every single terrorist POS hunkered down in whatever cave they were crawling in know that you simply do not fuck with the big dog and walk away.
When no terrorist camps were found, I knew they still had WMD’s buried in the sand, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. When no WMDs were found, at least we were still liberating oppressed Iraqis.
That was what mattered after all. Sure retaliation was good, but as the biggest, baddest White Hat on the planet, it was our moral duty to seek out oppressive regimes and destroy them and free the people living under them. It was our responsibility to spread democracy in a region that existed solely in totalitarianism.
Please don’t think less of me, I wasn’t a bad guy. I was patriotic, I was deeply hurt and scared after 9/11 and I wanted a little payback. My logic was justifiable, I felt introducing freedom into a part of the world completely devoid of it would be a catalyst that would change it forever. I was a victim of dishonest leadership and media.
It took an honest look within myself and lots of research and open-mindedness for me to see the picture for what it really was. The day I realized that MY president lied to ME, and this happened much later than it should have, was the day that shook me to the core.
This is all relevant today because we are seeing it played over again. Here we sit yet again with another administration that won while losing the popular vote, an administration shrouded in controversy that desperately needs something big to go his way.
And worse, we again have a bunch of war hawks that desperately need a win. The Iraq War didn’t finish the way the rule books say a war is supposed to finish; we toppled a leader, installed a government, and were greeted as the great liberators. But Iraq remains in chaos, now there really are terrorists in Iraq, as well as Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. That entire part of the world is more unstable after what we did, not less.
So, we look to North Korea, who for decades has been threatening to destroy America, who is stockpiling “WMDs”, who tests our limits every few months and ignores international sanctions against them.
This is the big win the republican war hawks need (and btw, you democrats aren’t clean of this, you guys did the same stuff for 8 years). In North Korea, they have justification as there is very little doubt that they have nuclear weapons and intend to use them. The people are legitimately oppressed and need to be liberated by the Great White Hat. And we would have international support if we decide to take military action.
Again, the war hawks see this as an opportunity to complete the Mission Accomplished moment that Iraq was supposed to be. They see a military that hasn’t engaged in conflict in decades, a leader that nobody would mourn. Well, the people of North Korea would mourn, at least until it was safe not to. That time likely would never come as the regime we replace the current one with will likely be as oppressive as the old one, and then they might stop mourning because they would be seen as sympathizers to the old regime.
This is the war the Trump administration needs to take the heat off and it’s the war the war hawks need to quench that thirst for a resounding victory.
I look back at myself in 2003 and I try to think what somebody could have done to reach me, to show me why going to war in Iraq was wrong, and I’m not sure anything could have. A lot of people tried to convince me, I heard all of the arguments against it, from the war being about oil to the war would actually destabilize the region, and I ignored them all.
But, it can’t happen again can it? In 2017 people are more aware that they are being lied to, they can see the mistake that Iraq was; we can’t fall for all of this again! I guess if I could reach out to that guy in 2003, I’d tell him to think more for himself, to do his own research, to not be so naïve and to entertain the thought that even though he may find it justifiable, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. But I wouldn’t have listened.
Mark Anderson lives in Frederick County, Virginia, where he chairs the libertarian advocacy group Frederick County Libertarians. He was the 2015 Libertarian Party candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 33rd District. Mark is currently earning his Associates Degree in Business Administration with plans to study Economics at George Mason University.