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When Fiction Trumps Fact, the Next Generation Loses

Words: Kate Hewitt and Namratha Somayajula
Pictures: Shutterstock

President Trump recently announced that the United States would re-impose sanctions on Iran. In doing so, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. According to world powers that negotiated the deal — and leading US national security experts — the Iran deal was working. Now, as millennials, we find ourselves wondering if our generation will pay the price for dangerous, ill-advised decisions guided by the same mentality that led the US into Iraq 15 years ago.

Let’s rewind. When we were ten and six years old, the “War on Terror” began. Then-President George W. Bush stood before the nation and pledged that 9/11 marked the beginning of a war that would “not end until every terrorist group of global reach [had] been found, stopped and defeated.”

A year and a half later, on March 19, 2003, the United States declared war on Iraq.

The Iraq invasion, as we now know, was largely based on fabricated evidence. As our colleagues, Abigail Stowe-Thurston and Erin Connolly, remind us, Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, but 15 years later, our generation is still embroiled in a needless war.

On the eve of the invasion, we were too young to understand what opponents of the Iraq War foresaw: thousands of lives lost, trillions of taxpayer dollars wasted, and the foundations laid for wars still being fought today.

Unlike those who lived through the draft, we can easily separate ourselves from the battlefield. But the perpetuity of war defines our outlook on foreign policy. We are conditioned to regret the decisions made by war hawks who came before us — decisions that we now have a duty to prevent.

On the eve of the invasion, we were too young to understand what opponents of the Iraq War foresaw: thousands of lives lost, trillions of taxpayer dollars wasted, and the foundations laid for wars still being fought today.

The evidence preceding our Iraq invasion was largely based on the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which suggested the Iraqi government was restarting, and hiding, its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. After the invasion, the United States discovered that Iraq had ended its nuclear and chemical weapons programs in 1991, and its biological weapons production in 1996. As Paul Krugman put it:

The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that.

The United States was determined to pursue regime change in Iraq. To do so, the Bush administration misled Americans into thinking that peaceful efforts with Iraq would be of no avail — after all, Bush said, “we are not dealing with peaceful men.”

Similarly, President Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions has little to do with fact and everything to do with a preconceived perception that such a radical regime as Iran can never be trusted. However, that’s exactly why the deal was put in place — to allow the international community unprecedented access to verify that Iran would keep its word. And Iran did.

The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal was not based on corroborated evidence of an Iranian violation — in fact, the US intelligence community, State Department, and International Atomic Energy Agency have all verified that Iran’s activities are on the up and up.

Today, we fear that Krugman’s words could just as easily be applied to Trump and Bolton’s vision for Iran.

Instead of constructing a well-reasoned path forward, both Bush and Trump relied on fear and demonization to create political cover for their objectives. Bush’s decision ultimately led us into wars that continue almost two decades later. In the wake of US withdrawal from the Iran deal, we now fear a new war is brewing.

As part of a generation that is still paying the price for rash, misguided decisions, we strive to acknowledge past mistakes in order to prevent them from dictating the future. Watching as our sisters, nieces, and nephews grow up — the kids of Generation Z, in the era of Endless War — we feel the weight of our own generation’s unique responsibility to guide diplomacy with integrity and facts, rather than with fear and misguided perception. We call on every American millennial to hold our government to a higher standard. We, as the next generation, must demand that our country do better.

Kate Hewitt and Namratha Somayajula are Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellows working on issues of nuclear nonproliferation in Washington, DC.

Kate Hewitt and Namratha Somayajula

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