We’re approaching the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq — an appropriate time to reflect upon the antiwar ferment that gripped the globe at that time.
Virtually the entire world opposed the U.S.-led invasion. Feb. 15, 2003 was the largest single day of antiwar protest in history. An estimated 10 million people demonstrated against the war in hundreds of cities on every continent — more than a million in London and hundreds of thousands in Barcelona, Rome, Sydney, Berlin, and New York.
The protests continued right up to the eve of the invasion. A petition signed by a million people was delivered to the U.N. on March 10. On the weekend of March 15, an estimated 6,000 candle light vigils occurred in more than 100 countries.
Of course the protests were not able to stop Bush’s pre-planned invasion. As Jonathan Schell poignantly observed at the time, “candles in windows did not stop the cruise missiles.”
The antiwar message proved correct, however. The war was completely unnecessary and was based on false premises. There were no weapons of mass destruction. U.N. sanctions and inspections in the 1990s were highly effective in limiting Iraq’s military capability and removing its nuclear and chemical weapons threats. Al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq prior to the invasion but it found fertile ground in the armed resistance that arose to challenge the U.S. occupation.
Opposition to the war continued in the United States after 2003 and morphed into a powerful constituency within the Democratic Party that fueled the candidacy and eventual election of Barack Obama, as I have documented. Obama was true to his election pledge to end the war and removed the last U.S. troops from Iraq in December 2011, but his administration has continued many of the aggressive approaches put in place during the Bush administration. The President has accelerated the policy of targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries — arousing further hatred against the United States and violating international legal principles.
We were right to speak out against an unnecessary war ten years ago. The invasion and occupation took more than 4,000 U.S. lives, led to the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqis, and cost the U.S. Treasury more than $1 trillion and counting. Meanwhile Iraq remains bitterly divided and torn by sectarian violence, with a barely functional government that is more closely allied with Tehran than Washington.
We are always right to speak out against unjust war. We should be doing more today to speak out against illegal drone strikes, and to voice our unequivocal opposition to any consideration of military action against Iran — an act of insanity that would dwarf the folly of Iraq and plunge the region into deeper chaos and destruction.
Let’s keep the candles burning in the windows, but let’s also continue to mobilize in the streets and the corridors of power.
David Cortright, a Sojourners' contributing writer, is director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. His books include, Ending Obama’s War: Responsible Military Withdrawal from Afghanistan. David also blogs at davidcortright.net.