In our era, war isn’t hell. War is mundane.

I wrote this essay for The Guardian following Donald Trump’s assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Suleimani.

Donald Trump may act like a schoolyard bully and an impetuous infant, but he is not the only one to blame for recklessly bringing the world closer to a catastrophic war. While the responsibility for approving the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s top general, in a drone strike near Baghdad international airport is certainly his, Trump’s actions would not have been possible without the deep infrastructure for war that lies at the core of the American political system, especially since 2001.

After the “War on Terror” began, the United States – already a deeply militarized country – essentially abdicated public deliberations of war and peace when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The executive branch has been invoking the AUMF for almost two decades as its primary legal basis for military operations around the world.

Put another way, war isn’t hell. War is mundane.

We’ve already arrived at the point when even the Senate armed services committee couldn’t tell you who, precisely, the United States is at war with, as a must-hear 2014 episode of the show Radiolab made clear.

This corrosive lack of transparency recently led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to add language to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense budget bill, that would have required Trump to get Congress’s approval before striking Iran. That bill failed in the Senate, which Trump will no doubt interpret as freeing his hand even more when it comes to war with Iran.

As Representative Ro Khanna tweeted, “Any member who voted for the NDAA – a blank check – can’t now express dismay that Trump may have launched another war in the Middle East.”

I hear the objections to this point already: Trump is so lawless, some will probably say, that none of this legal parsing matters much. But it’s this legal infrastructure of waging war – notably assassination by drone – that makes Trump’s actions possible in the first place. And that drone program was legally expanded and entrenched by none other than Barack Obama. Considerable responsibility lies with Obama and all those within the Democratic establishment who continued the march toward today’s manifestation of the imperial presidency, which itself began under George W Bush.

And, of course, Iran would not even be a powerbroker in Iraq if Bush and his administration had not overseen what is one of the largest crimes against humanity of our time: namely, the invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq. With over a million of their people dead, their country in ruins, and corruption rampant, the Iraqi people are the unheralded victims of the recent strike.

Over the past months Iraqis had been peacefully rising up to protest the sectarianism of their political system and lack of opportunity to improve their lives, only to be viciously gunned down by their own government. Stuck precariously in an escalating proxy battle between Iran and the United States, their fate is bound to get worse.

But the struggles of the Iraqi people will remain largely invisible to the American public because we like our wars to be uncomplicated, to be caricatures of war, to be wars between identifiable good guys and bad guys, between cowboys and Indians. And make no mistake. Muslim are today’s Indians.

This all leads to a media fascination with war that is dreadfully simplistic and sometime almost gleeful. The cheerleading the American media radiates when discussing US military maneuvers would disturb Americans if such joy were expressed by any other country, yet it continues without self-reflection. And January 2020 feels like the return of 2003.

Read the rest here.

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