The reality that America is at yet another foreign war set in as Iran launched missiles at American targets in Iraq on Tuesday night in retaliation to President Donald Trump authorizing the assassination of a high-ranking Iranian general last week. As troops were being deployed to the Middle East, the topic of conscientious objectors was quietly bubbling up on social media.
For civilians watching the developments unfold in real-time from the safety of their own American homes or workplaces, the news of what appeared to be a full-on war between Iran and the U.S. was a foregone conclusion after Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, was killed at an airport in Baghdad. But for enlisted and reserve soldiers keeping tabs on the world’s reaction to the drone strike that many have called a war crime committed under false pretenses, things were much more complicated.
Trump and his surrogates have insisted that the killing Soleimani, who the U.S. has long called a terrorist, was not only legal but it also was a preemptive strike to prevent an impending attack by Iran against American interests. But there has been no proof of those claims and there has been no impromptu presidential address from the Oval Office to inform the American people of what’s happening, two standards when the U.S. engages in a foreign war. In fact, there hasn’t been much of anything coming from the country’s commander-in-chief aside from a random tweet Tuesday night that “all is well” while doubling down on the repeated claims that the U.S. has “the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world.”
But it was not unreasonable to think that some members of the U.S. military would like to know more about the situation they’re being deployed into so hastily after Trump’s apparent hastier decision to attack a foreign nation’s military leader on the land of another sovereign country without Congressional authorization to do so.
When news first broke that Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani, there was an instant suspicion from some that he did so for two reasons: 1) to delay his impending impeachment trial in the Senate and 2) to improve his chances at being re-elected.
That might be enough to raise the suspicions of some enlisted military men despite the oath of enlistment they took to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
It’s not just the Trump factor, either.
An Instagram video posted on Tuesday night by rapper Lupe Fiasco showed one Iraq War veteran outside of the White House in 2010 — when Barack Obama was president — urging active members of the U.S. military to remember that they “have the absolute right to refuse to take part in these criminal wars … and that’s the right that all of you should exercise.”
A handful of tweets Tuesday night aimed to raise awareness about soldiers’ right to declare themselves as conscientious objectors, a designation recognized by the Department of Defense and defined as a “firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief.”
One Twitter account for “About Face: Veterans Against the War,” which has more than 15,000 followers, tweeted advice for any soldiers considering going AWOL or declaring his or herself a conscientious objector.
The GI Rights Hotline website said that “every year hundreds of military personnel apply for conscientious objector status” and that conscientious objectors “have been with us as long as there have been wars.”
Anyone looking to be recognized as a conscientious objector must register with the Selective Service System and apply to obtain that status. However, the Selective Service System’s website warns, “a man’s reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest.”
Some of the more noteworthy conscientious objectors in U.S. history include Muhammad Ali and, more recently, Bowe Bergdahl, who openly questioned the War in Afghanistan before deserting his troops there and allegedly being kidnapped by the Taliban for several years.
In the meantime, more than 3,000 soldiers have been deployed by the Pentagon to join the existing troops in Iraq, from where the U.S. military was being ordered to withdraw. It was an indication that the U.S. may be in yet another foreign war for the long haul after Trump appeared to start a conflict that wasn’t in the best interest of America.
But the bigger picture may be that no wartime president has ever lost his bid for re-election. Considering Trump’s documented history of launching distractions, it would be naive to think that he was unaware of that fact nearly a year ahead of the 2020 election while amid the uncertainty of an impeachment trial.