Don’t think the fad for “draining the swamp” began on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. It didn’t, although the “swamp” to be drained in the days after the 9/11 attacks wasn’t in Washington; it was a global one. Of course, that’s ancient history, more than 15 years old. Who even remembers that moment, though we still live with its fallout — with the hundreds of thousands dead and the millions of refugees, with Islamophobia and ISIS, with President-elect Trump, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, and so much more?
In the never-ending wake of one of the most disastrous wars in American history, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, it’s hard to imagine any world but the one we have, which makes it easy to forget what the top officials of the Bush administration thought they would accomplish with their “Global War on Terror.” Who remembers now just how quickly and enthusiastically they leapt into the project of draining that global swamp of terror groups (while taking out the Taliban and then “decapitating” the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein)? Their grandiose goal: an American imperium in the Greater Middle East (and later assumedly a global Pax Americana). They were, in other words, geopolitical dreamers of the first order.
Barely a week after 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already swearing that the global campaign to come would “drain the swamp they live in.” Only a week later, at a NATO meeting, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insisted that, “while we’ll try to find every snake in the swamp, the essence of the strategy is draining the swamp [itself].” By the following June, in a commencement address at West Point, President George W. Bush would speak proudly of his administration’s desire to drain that swamp of “terror cells” in a staggering “60 or more countries.”