Call it strange, but call it something. After all, never in history had there been such active opposition to a war before it began. I’m thinking, of course, about the antiwar surge that, in the winter and early spring of 2003, preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Starting in the autumn of 2002, in fact, the top officials of President George W. Bush’s administration couldn’t have signaled more clearly that such an attack was coming. They had been ready to do so even earlier but, as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card so classically put it, “From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.”
In the months that followed, one of those “new products” would turn out to be an antiwar movement. Outraged citizens took to the streets globally by the millions and, in this country, in small towns and large cities in staggering numbers carrying handmade signs saying things like “Contain Saddam—and Bush,” “Remember when presidents were smart and bombs were dumb?," and "How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand?" It was an unprecedented planetary movement of protest. More than a decade after the Soviet Union imploded, Patrick Tyler of the New York Times even suggested that those demonstrators might represent a second superpower. (“There may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”) And then, despite such opposition, the Bush administration launched its mission-accomplished invasion and, though in the years that followed disaster ensued, the marches died away and that antiwar movement seemed to evaporate.
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Ever since, as the U.S. military intervened again and again—from Iraq to Yemen, Libya to Syria—throwing away literally trillions of dollars in the process, bombing, killing, uprooting, destroying, but never actually winning, next to no one would take to the streets in protest, no handmade signs would be made, no attention would seemingly be paid. Washington would continue to fight its endless sinkhole wars across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, unsettling whole swathes of the planet, with nary a peep at home.
Consider it one of the mysteries of our moment. Congress (until recently) remained supine when it came to those conflicts, while Americans basically looked the other way and went about their business as their tax dollars were squandered on a set of wars from hell. It’s in this context—and that of a president who claimed he would get us out of our forever wars but only seems to keep getting us in further—that former Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, an antiwar activist (as I was) in the Vietnam era, looks back on that distant moment with a strange sense of regret (one that I deeply understand).