It is a tragic coincidence of timing that two of the grimmest anniversaries of the 21st century happen to be converging.
Friday marked one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Our own Jack Crosbie is in Ukraine right now; you can read his dispatches here.) And in just a couple of weeks, it will have been exactly 20 years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Ukraine anniversary will, in all likelihood, get a good deal more attention than the Iraq anniversary. That is understandable—the Ukraine war is still going on, after all—but we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to understand the lessons that both wars have to teach us, especially because they are so similar.
Before anyone starts listing the many difference between the wars in Ukraine and Iraq, yes, of course, they are not exactly the same. Iraq didn’t have NATO and a ton of other countries helping arm its resistance to the US, for one. There was (to put it mildly) no love for Saddam Hussein in the way there is for Volodymyr Zelensky, and Hussein was removed from power almost immediately. The people of Iraq did not receive the same instinctive sympathy as the people of Ukraine. And the geopolitical context surrounding both wars diverges in quite a few ways.
But even so, it is remarkable how much the wars in Ukraine and Iraq resemble each other. Think about it. Both wars were started on a tissue of lies. Both Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush fed their respective countries fantasies about a righteous war that was both necessary and easy to win.
Both men kept up the ridiculous pretense that they didn’t want war, despite fanatically pursuing it. Both made highly staged appearances designed to project the image of hyper-macho swagger and military might. The major media in both countries eagerly went along with the war propaganda. Both leaders continued to insist that the war was going well, even when it was obviously not.
Both conflicts caused deep suffering. Both caused profound global chaos and instability. Both were wars of choice. Both are crimes against humanity. Both are examples of imperialist madness. Both countries were told by the rest of the world that they were making a terrible mistake. Both countries refused to listen.
And both wars went catastrophically badly for the country that chose to launch them. The wars in Iraq and Ukraine stand as perhaps the two most insane and calamitous foreign policy decisions that any country has made this century. Bush and Putin and their respective governments were living in an alternate universe, guided by blind hubris and the idiotic certainty that subduing an entire country that had no desire to be invaded would be as simple as walking a dog. (Yep, both of them are dog people.) We all know how that turned out.
There is one more key difference I need to mention. Whereas the invasion of Ukraine has left Vladimir Putin in the permanent hall of infamy, the war in Iraq, and the attendant horrors it produced, do not appear to have left any lasting stain on George W. Bush’s reputation. On the contrary, he is more beloved than ever, and the Iraq War is an increasingly distant memory that nobody seems too bothered about. Imperialist atrocities carried out by Russia invite eternal ignominy; imperialist atrocities carried out by the United States are just another day at the office.
If we are to have the better world we seek, it is vital that we dispense with such thinking. We want a world with no more Ukraine wars, but we want one with no more Iraq wars as well. We want a world where the forces that produced each conflict are defeated, and where the Putins and Bushes of the future are not allowed to inflict such harm. As these anniversaries converge, let the legacy of both wars be: never again.
20 years on and nothing has been learned. Christ.
It was bad enough the first time, but who let Cros go back to Ukraine?!? I mean, do we all need to pay like $5 more in subscriptions so you can afford a strait jacket and padlocks?
Sigh. Stay safe Crosbie.