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A missing piece of the puzzle of Trump’s victory: the 2003 invasion of Iraq

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Nearly all the postmortems about Donald Trump’s victory have left out one significant factor: the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, including its impact on the American men and women who served there. A long, otherwise valuable article in The New Yorker about the reasons for Trump’s support only had one single solitary sentence about the Iraq War.

A survey before the election showed that Trump was leading Hillary Clinton by 19 points among veterans who were registered to vote. What is striking is that Trump’s popularity among vets was not shaken at all by his belief that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and that he had opposed it from the start. The pundits held their breath after he spoke out against the war and attacked George W. Bush during the primary campaign in South Carolina, a state with so many military installations it is in danger of sinking into the Atlantic. He still won that state easily — and veterans continued to rally to him.

The mainstream media nit-picked over when Trump had actually come out against the 2003 invasion, without sufficiently noting that Senator Clinton had voted for the war and then spent years running away from any discussion of it. Although some are labeling Trump voters as proto-fascists and warmongers, let us remember there was no groundswell of spontaneous support from Middle America to invade Iraq. Americans in the Rust Belt, as elsewhere, wanted to defend our country against recurrences of the September 11 attacks, but what I would call the plot to misdirect that fear toward Saddam Hussein was hatched in Washington, D.C., not Youngstown, Ohio, or rural Wisconsin.

One young ex-Marine lieutenant who served in Iraq in 2004 and who I am fortunate enough to count as a friend told me recently, “We went to war believing to our very core that we were defending our country and keeping our loved ones safe.”

This former Marine continued:

To come home and hear about the problems with the Veterans Administration and our fellow veterans committing suicide while waiting for an appointment just compounded the problem. The U.S. military is more often being used as a tool of our foreign policy with less and less of our elected leaders having ever served in uniform.”

Unfortunately, our country is so divided that someone like me, who no longer lives in a place where many volunteer for the military, is too out of touch, which is why I partly missed the pro-Trump surge. There are 22 million vets in America, and although of course not all of them served in the Middle East, the ones who did all have families and friends. My ex-Marine friend summed up:

I don’t think anyone knows what President-elect Trump is going to do to fix the VA but I can see why veterans have faith that he will. . . I guess there is a parallel between vets and the blue-collar workers who voted for Trump. Can he really bring manufacturing back to America? Time will tell, but the workers in the Rust Belt felt Trump would be their representative in Washington because no one else has been.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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13 Responses

  1. pabelmont on December 3, 2016, 1:48 pm

    Many comments about the Clinton loss mention that she was supported by DEM regulars who are all (or very largely) members of elites who live “inside a bubble” where this phrase means (it seems) that they believe a small group of beliefs that are ideological rather experiential, moral, etc.

    So one thing they seemed to believe is that all the USA’s d–m (almost entirely perceivable as anti-Islamic) wars are “good” and, moreover, broadly perceived in the USA as good. That’s a bubble-thought if a majority of Americans believe the wars to be bad, unnecessary, evil or the like.

    another thing they seemed to believe is that the economy is improving so all Americans just loooove the DEMs for doing such a good job on the economy, and they are “shocked, shocked” at the idea (expressed, inter alia, by Bernie Sanders) that the economy is lousy if you’ve been fired, foreclosed, are in college debt, have a badly paying job (especially if you ever had a better paying job), etc., which appears to mark a large majority of people. How could party-regulars believe such tripe (and how could Clinton run on more-of-the-same without so much as a nod to Bernie Sanders and his voters) except by being in a bubble?

    Trump is in a climate change bubble, so there are bubbles all over the place. It is not just a DEM problem. But it is an avoidable problem and it is stooooopid. And dangerous.

    As to bubbles, see:

  2. annie on December 3, 2016, 1:57 pm

    hi james, it wasn’t about iraq — it was about syria. there were several articles before the election, i could swear i’ve linked to one here before — military families against nation building. they overwhelming did not want more war with syria and regime change. this is probably why they voted for trump.

    here’s one such article “After 15 years of war, America’s military has about had it with ‘nation building'”

    and in the poll they specifically asked how do you view nation building in the middle east and africa.

    also, trump and johnson tied in the poll, clinton only got %16.

    • JWalters on December 3, 2016, 7:55 pm

      Thanks for the interesting links Annie.

      It seems to me the Syria issue was a major immediate concern, but a major part of the reason for that was the preceding disaster in Iraq. And as time goes on more people are realizing the disaster in Iraq was due to it’s being a manufactured war for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many. In this respect it was like that other recent disaster, the Great Recession, also benefiting the few at the expense of the many. The increasing awareness of this larger pattern, it seems to me, underlies the political tectonic plate shifts we are seeing.

      • annie on December 4, 2016, 11:19 am

        yes i agree on the increasing awareness point, totally. had the iraq war been a blip a decade ago it would of been one thing. instead it’s seen as a decade of war a blip ago — that left a big hole that spurned isis. and clearly the US military doesn’t want to be fighting on the side of and aligned with AQ/isis to bring down assad or for any other reason, understandably.

        and what james said “its impact on the American men and women who served there” — had that not happened they would not be so adamant about not wanting a repeat on syria.

  3. Danaa on December 3, 2016, 6:26 pm

    I am with annie here on the issue of Syria, though I also agree with james North’s take on the lack of support for the Iraq war in fly-over country.

    I know quite a few who are in active duty in the military as well as veterans. To a person they were all dead set against America’s misguided intervention in Syria on the side of Jihadis and to a man – and woman – they are quite opposed to the kow towing to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, knowing full well who supported the Wahabis and the muslim brotherhood, and suspecting the nefarious purposes behind such support. The resistance of the military to any bombing of the Syrian army has been written about and many pointed out that this played a role in pulling back from such misguided missions following the chemical false flag attack (not one military person I know believes it was anything other than a false flag, since, as military trained individuals, they are all trained to look for the Qui Bono, and there was none for Assad. No need to look too deep into that or be a high fallutin’ strategist to see that. Common sense would suffice, and that can be possessed even by some not-so-eminents).

    But more than that, I have not met or read any veteran or active duty person praising Hillary or having much confidence in her understanding of strategy and tactics and the difference between them. many professed some envy that the Russians can have someone like Putin whose heart and soul is obviously in promoting and serving the Russian national interest, something everyone believes. No, it’s not always aligned with America’s interests (no reason it should), but the clarity Putin’s Russia has brought to military and economic conflicts are the object of no small amount of admiration, because it is so transparent. The US, by contrast, is perceived as having no clarity, either of vision or tactics. Its policy is mired in squabbling groups of unknown allegiances, which brought a chaotic approach to almost every task (just take the CIA – perceived as divided between the “good CIA” and the “bad CIA”). The military thrives on and needs clarity of goals and well defined missions. They feel they got none under Obama and were expecting more of the same veil of confusion under a Hillary..

    For all these reasons I am pretty sure that Trump got the lion share of votes from military people, that despite the myriad of reservations many had about him as a person and as a leader.

    What I find ironic is that it is Hillary’s very hawkishness that got her to lose a substantial number of votes, even as Trump, the muslim lambasting clown, could trumpet his almost “peacenik” approach to foreign policy, including in muslim countries (emphasis on irony, of course. No, I don’t think Trump is a true “peacenik”. Only Bernie was that, and even he would have had to pay homage to the military-industrial complex, were he to run and get elected (insert sad face here)).

    • annie on December 4, 2016, 11:31 am

      were expecting more of the same veil of confusion under a Hillary….For all these reasons I am pretty sure that Trump got the lion share of votes from military people

      i think it cost her the election, it’s why i couldn’t vote for her. libya was a total disaster too, so she proved she couldn’t handle military intervention and her judgements are not sound and then she runs as hawkish NFZ candidate. stupid.

  4. JWalters on December 3, 2016, 7:43 pm

    A great many Americans do not believe the official reasons given for the Iraq war. The oligarchy media keeps hammering the view that doubting the official story is a crazy conspiracy theory. Oligarchy media pundits (e.g. Willie Geiss at Morning Joe) dutifully parrot this presumption. But the internet has made available an overwhelming amount of evidence that has been kept out of the oligarchy media. Their hold is slipping. Now they are making a major effort to discredit websites that reveal and discuss the truth. One such site is Consortium News, which has an excellent article on this latest McCarthyist, Orwellian move.

  5. Mooser on December 3, 2016, 7:47 pm

    “What is striking is that Trump’s popularity among vets was not shaken at all by his belief that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake,”

    Well, who would know better?

  6. RoHa on December 3, 2016, 10:21 pm

    I have found that the people who have to do the actual shooting-and-being-shot-at part of the business are frequently pretty cynical about it. People like myself – armchair strategists who never been in the military – are often much more enthusiastic about wars.

    • Citizen on December 4, 2016, 8:44 am

      WW1 Doughboy naivety lingered, but has been gone since Vietnam. If they had to implement the Military Draft, they’d find nobody answering the call; they’d be home playing war games on their computers same as the big boys hired to protect and enhance rich folks’ property investments around the world and here. Not to mention young women would have to be subject to it too, now that they can hold any combat job if they want. I figured that would happen if Hillary got to be POTUS, another example of unintended consequences foiled by Trump.

  7. Jackdaw on December 4, 2016, 10:50 am

    @James((( Jews don’t need your help fighting anti-Semites)))North

    Phil has already blamed Bush era Jewish neo-cons for the Trump victory. You’re just re-heating leftovers.

    • Mooser on December 4, 2016, 12:13 pm

      “Jackdaw” have you and the ilk adopted a tactic of spitting non sequiturs loaded with trigger words and phrases?
      You all seem to be doing it.

  8. Mooser on December 4, 2016, 12:21 pm

    It has been my observation that veterans usually judge the actions they fought in on the basis of whether they survived them or not.

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