The Trump administration is trying to ring in the new decade with a new war.
The attack on Iranian officials at the Baghdad International Airport happened without congressional approval. That is nothing new. But it also came without even the trappings of a public debate. The airstrike was sudden, and we now have to contemplate its causes and consequences—and fight to stop what could be a horrific bloodletting—even as we are swept into the chaotic events of the conflict now unfolding.
The attack in Baghdad is in many ways continuous with decades of disastrous U.S. intervention in the Middle East. But the destructive powers of the imperial presidency are now wielded by a man with little capacity for imperial management (let alone any alternative goals), and one who has systematically escalated conflict with Iran since coming to office. With the state’s apparatus of violence abroad under Trump’s control, there is little in the coming weeks that we can confidently predict.
But if the recent past is any indication, there are some things we should be prepared for regarding elite discourse in the United States. Media figures and politicians who supported the Iraq War will come out with sympathetic readings of the killing of Qassim Suleimani. They’ll point to the many years of conflict between the United States and Iran since the revolution in 1979. They’ll give credence to Defense Department statements about how this attack was necessary to prevent worse violence. They’ll call for us to line up behind patriotic symbols if and when Iran retaliates.
As the deadening pall of national security discourse once again falls over the United States, we need to hold onto the shock and outrage of these first hours. The immediate task is obvious: to mobilize against the war. We’ll need massive marches and rallies. We’ll need to be prepared to escalate disobedience and disruption if the fighting ratchets up. And, because this is an election year, we’ll need to make it clear that the change in presidential leadership we’re hoping for must also mean a reversal of whatever damage is already being done.
The U.S. left is stronger than it was in the run-up to the Iraq War, but its focus has been on rebuilding American society. Foreign policy, to many, looks like a far more impenetrable elite realm. Now, there is no choice but to push against those political limits. This will be a test of organizational strength, and one that could provide the slimmest chance to build on the war-weariness expressed by so many Americans—before it is reconfigured into something frightening under an onslaught of nationalist sloganeering. There’s little time to waste.
Nick Serpe is a senior editor at Dissent.