20 Years Later, Echoes of U.S. Iraq Invasion Seen in Russia’s Ukraine War

Interview with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, and Nicolas Davies, author and Code Pink researcher, conducted by Scott Harris

March 19 this year marked the 20th anniversary of President George W. Bush’s launch of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a war of aggression based on a series of lies claiming that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that  threatened the U.S. and the world.  WMDs were never found in Iraq, but the U.S. invasion and the bloody civil war it triggered killed between 200,000 to 300,000 Iraqi civilians, 4,500 U.S. soldiers, countless wounded and disabled veterans on all sides – in addition to displacing more than 9 million Iraqi refugees and shattering the nation’s infrastructure for decades.

The dark legacy of America’s invasion of Iraq persists today with dozens of governments and millions of people in the global south who are distrustful of the motives behind U.S. foreign policy. After Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year many of these nations refused to comply with Western sanctions against Russia.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Medea Benjamin, co-director of Code Pink Women For Peace, and Nicolas Davies, author of “Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq,” who serves as a Code Pink researcher. Here they discuss issues of accountability and double standards in international law addressed in their recent article, “The Not-So-Winding Road from Iraq to Ukraine.”

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think it’s important to recognize that those 20 years of war were so devastating to the Iraqi people and that the American people really never understood how it created such upheaval, so much death and destruction, so much sectarian hatred, so much chaos and violence and led to the explosion of ISIS. It was just devastating for the country.

And while we know to the exact number, how many American soldiers were killed there, we have no idea how many Iraqis were killed. And people don’t realize that these kinds of interventions not only are devastating for the country, but they’re devastating for the reputation of the United States. And I think that’s one of the connections that we make in the article that so many countries, particularly in the global South, are so disillusioned with the United States.

One of the reasons is interventions like Iraq, where there was never any accountability. Nobody goes to jail for the crime of violating the sovereignty of another nation. And yet, the U.S. is leading the pack in trying to charge Vladimir Putin with war crimes and trying to get the whole world to be against the Russians for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine.

And we say that it’s very hard when the U.S. has squandered its legitimacy to get countries, especially in the global South, to go along with the U.S.

SCOTT HARRIS: Thank you for that, Medea. Nicolas, what would you like to add in terms of this marking of 20 years since the U.S. Iraq invasion and the current war in Ukraine?

NICOLAS DAVIS: One of the tragic aspects of the situation we’re in is that, in fact, the architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq still wield enormous, enormous influence over U.S. foreign policy. None of the administrations that have come along since the Bush administration have really renounced the U.S. exceptionalism and the idea that the U.S. predominance in military power gives it the right to use that military power aggressively against other countries.

You know, we talked in our article about the roles of Joe Biden, who was then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Antony Blinken, who was then the staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in ramming through the Senate approval of the war by failing to call any anti-war voices to the committee hearings and essentially shutting down any questioning of the neoconservatives’ plan to invade Iraq.

SCOTT HARRIS: I did want to turn back to you, Medea. As you mentioned, that the peace proposals and the sentiment calling for an end to this conflict in Ukraine. Many peace groups like Code Pink, as well as governments in the Global South, are calling for diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine. And China has recently proposed a peace plan, although it’s vague on specifics.

There is a growing sentiment that the United States should get on board and try to end this war rather than to fuel it. But the United States’ objectives in Ukraine were made pretty clear when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. goal in Ukraine was to weaken Russia militarily and economically. So it seems that they’re pretty upfront about not wanting to end this war anytime soon.

What’s your view of what should be done in terms of pressure from the U.S. people as well as the people of the world to end the war in Ukraine?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think all parties have to be pressured to go to the negotiating table, and I’m sure that China is pressuring Russia right now with the visit to be more open to negotiations and the framework for peace that the Chinese put forward is really just a, I think, initial putting out on the table some of the general ideas to start talking.

It wasn’t rejected by (Ukrainian President) Zelensky, it was rejected by the United States, who said that China is in no position to act as a mediator. Well, they just successfully mediated between two longtime enemies, Iran and Saudi Arabia. So they certainly are starting to set a trend towards being peacemakers. It is unfortunate that the U.S. keeps rejecting these proposals and doesn’t put forward a proposal of its own, doesn’t talk to the Russians.

So we don’t live in Russia. We don’t have a way to pressure Vladimir Putin. We live in the United States and our job is to pressure our members of Congress and the White House.

For more information, visit Code Pink Women for Peace at codepink.org and PeaceinUkraine.org.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies (16:33) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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