Superman and Batman Tried to Warn Us About Iraq

A 1999 comic book examined humanitarian intervention and regime change, predicting the Iraq War catastrophe.

Dictators are bad, therefore intervening to remove a dictator is good, right?

For many Iraq War supporters it was as simple as that, and they derided opponents as apologists for Saddam Hussein. Even now that the War has become a self-evident catastrophe and debacle, dead-enders among its architects still have the nerve to resort to this line. For example, in June of this year, John Bolton whined on television:

President Bush did absolutely the right thing in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and it’s kind of stunning to me to see you libertarians defending that dictatorship.

One might be tempted to call this a cartoonish, comic-book view. But as it turns out, that would be an unfair insult to comic books, since one particular comic book had a far more sophisticated and accurate perspective on the matter. In fact, it anticipated, in broad outlines, what would actually result from such a war four years before the Iraq War was launched.

In the 1999 graphic novel JLA: Superpower (written by John Arcudi and illustrated by Scot Eaton and Ray Kryssing), Superman, Batman, and the other super-heroes of the Justice League of America (JLA) struggle over what to do about “Kirai”, a “rogue” Middle Eastern country clearly based on Iraq.

Initially, Kirai is only on the fringes of the story. For example, a television in the background is shown to announce, “In other news, U.N. weapons inspectors were turned away in Kirai today.” This is probably an echo of then-recent developments. In 1998, the year before the comic was published, President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which targeted that country for regime change, prompting Saddam to end cooperation with UN weapons inspectors. (In late 1999, UN inspectors were allowed to return .)

In the main thread of the narrative, the Justice League recruits a powerful young superhero named Mark Antaeus. Antaeus is extremely driven and idealistic. Years prior, due to the limits of his power, he wasn’t able to save a family from the collapse of a burning building. This failure haunted him, leading him to vow, “never again,” and to undergo extreme body modifications to greatly boost his power.
Continue reading “Superman and Batman Tried to Warn Us About Iraq”

Frankensteinian Hubris: Bush’s “Redirection” and the Rise of ISIS

Monster and maker meet again.

As the ISIS Sunni radicals, after proclaiming a new Caliphate, continue to conquer Iraqi towns, and the Al Nusra Front Sunni radicals proclaim a new Emirate in Syria, it is good to remember that the policy that led to this mess was initiated under the Bush Administration, with full cognizance of the possibility that it could result in severe terroristic and destabilizing blowback. It was in 2007 that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia launched what Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in The New Yorker, called “the Redirection.” Under this policy revolution, the U.S. and the Saudis (with Israel’s blessing and prodding) began trying to bolster Sunni radicals in an effort to “contain” the “Shiite resurgence” brought about by the U.S. empowerment of the Shiites in Iraq. It all started in Lebanon (emphasis added):

In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda. (…)

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

(As it turns out, as reported by Patrick Cockburn, not all of the Saudis embraced such a blowback-inviting policy, so it would be more accurate to call it a victory for the Prince Bandar bin Sultan line.) The fact that U.S. policymakers concluded that beleaguered Iran, with its long track record of not attacking a single country, is more of a danger than Sunni radicals, like the ones responsible for 9/11 and every other Al Qaeda attack, is an indication of just how little our overlords care about actually protecting us, as compared to pursuing regional power politics.

Continue reading “Frankensteinian Hubris: Bush’s “Redirection” and the Rise of ISIS”

Really? Anticipated Study Finds No Evidence of Iraqi Birth Defects

Baby Seif in Fallujah, born with spina bifida. Credit: Donna Mulhearn
Baby Seif in Fallujah, born with spina bifida. Credit: Donna Mulhearn

Human rights and health observers have been waiting a year for the results of a World Health Organization/Iraqi Health Ministry study that would, at last, shed some “official” light on a problem that local doctors and journalists have been reporting for years: that a disproportionate number of babies in areas that saw heavy western bombardment during the war are being born with horrifying birth defects.

Well, after a summer of anticipation, a “summary” of the report was quietly released on Sept. 11 and it says the complete opposite of what health officials — even the Iraqi ministry officials in charge of the study! — have been saying:

The rates for spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital birth defects found in the study are consistent with or even lower than international estimates. The study provides no clear evidence to suggest an unusually high rate of congenital birth defects in Iraq.

The full summary report can be found in .pdf form, here.

Using 72 local teams, the ministry last year conducted a survey of Iraqi women of child-bearing age and their households in 18 districts across Iraq (two districts in each governorate). The districts represented those that “had or had not been exposed to bombardment or heavy fighting” during the war. Out of the 10,800 households visited, 95 percent or 10,355 had responded, according to the summary. The questionnaire was chiefly concerned with determining the number of stillborns, spontaneous abortions and birth defects among live births, the presence, magnitude and trends of birth defects and “limited risk factors” involved. On all counts, the summary report seems to find no evidence of a high incidences of birth defects or of babies born dead.

Antiwar has been covering this story for years now. Where the WHO/Ministry of Health report laughingly refers to the lack of study on this issue, we know that prominent doctors like US-based Dr Mozhgan Savabieasfahani have been working on this and have done several studies indicating a “epidemic of birth defects,” demanding more study on the link to war pollutants, like heavy metals, radiation from depleted uranium (DU) and other contaminants left over from the war. Savabieasfahani has already found higher levels of lead and mercury in children in Basra, which could account for the reported higher rates of cancer there.

There is the testimony from activist Donna Mulhearn who has been there. Even the ministry officials who went on record with BBC last spring said the study would confirm the worst and blamed it on the war. Why are they changing their stories now?

There are many questions to be asked. Why does WHO suddenly take a tiny role in this study, resigned to providing “technical assistance” to the MOI when it was originally billed as a “collaboration,” “co-financed” by both organizations?

Dr. Savabieasfahani published a response to the summary on Sept. 16 raising a number of questions about the methodology, the preliminary results, and wondering, too, about the “reviewers” — all British and American researchers — as well as the apparent anonymity of the report’s authors:

Another unusual and outrageous feature of this report is its anonymity. No author(s) are listed or identified. An anonymous report is rarely seen in epidemiological reporting given the multiple questions that often arise when interested readers examine complicated study designs, large data sets, and multiple analysis. Identification of corresponding authors is critical for the transparency and clarity of any report. Without author names and affiliations, without identified offices in the MoH, the reader must ask, who is responsible to answer for this report? To whom must the public direct their questions and concerns about this report?

Media Lens has also published a lengthy article on the subject, interviewing a number of interested parties, including former WHO advisors who are obviously disgusted with the way things have gone so far.

Dr Keith Baverstock, the former WHO adviser on radiation and public health mentioned earlier, told (Media Lens):

‘I have not had time to study this report in detail so I will not comment on the scientific aspects. However, there are aspects which cause me very considerable concern. Firstly, this is not the independent academic analysis that is required – it certainly would not find a place in a reputable scientific journal. So it is strange to my mind that apparently reputable scientists have, through what is purported to be a peer review process, endorsed this study. I would have several questions for these people, none of whom I know. For example, how did they ensure that there was no selection bias: why was such a simplistic approach taken to the statistical analysis of the results. The implication is that these people were appointed by WHO although WHO does not appear to be a co-author, or in other ways connected with the report. If this peer review group have had access to information not in the report where and when will this information be made public?’

The summary is a big disappointment and and even greater mystery, considering those WHO officials who reportedly spoke to BBC last March with assurances that the report would find obvious rates of increased birth defects in Fallujah and Basra. There have been reports of government/western pressure on local physicians, but this is too much. Seeing the full report now is even more essential, but can we trust what it says?

Iraq: This is what it looks like when you rip off the Band Aid

Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)
Iraqi Children look at aftermath of a spring bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad (AFP)

As of July 1st, there have been 1,405 people killed in Iraq, mostly civilians. That number is likely to change by the time you read this — just yesterday, 45 people died as a result of numerous terror attacks across the country. One bomb had been planted near a cafe, another by a playground. According to reports 1,057 people were killed in July (2,326 wounded) alone, which means as of today, 348 Iraqis have been slain only in the last two weeks.

These are numbers not seen since the bloody days of 2008.

If you Google “Iraq ‘band aid’ war” you get about 3.7 million results. That’s because, beginning in 2007, astute observers noted that the so-called “Surge” into Iraq was nothing more than a bandage on a gaping wound — one we opened over the course of the previous four years. We allowed (if not assisted) a sectarian bloodbath against the Sunni population, then when Al-Qaeda became a problem, paid poor, battle-wracked Sunnis to fight them off. Then we supported the Iranian-Shia-backed Nouri al-Maliki’s government against his Shia opposition (Muqtada al-Sadr), pumped up Maliki’s Army, and were on our way.

Many had predicted the tenuous “peace” would not hold. It only needed a spark. Some say it was Maliki’s crackdown on Sunnis who were protesting not only the poor government services, but a lack of jobs for their people and disproportionate imprisonment and even torture. The so-called Sunni  “Sons of Iraq” whom the U.S had paid to do its bidding, are again penniless, and disenfranchised. But armed.

Today we see what it looks like when the Band-Aid is ripped off the wound. Whether it was Maliki who did it doesn’t matter. The blood is flowing.

Currently, I am reading (Ret) Col. Gian Gentile’s new book, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. Gentile is a friend of, having sat for an interview back in 2009. His consistent criticism of counterinsurgency (COIN) amid the unprecedented drumbeat for it by the civilian and military power establishment was both vilified (by COINdinistas) and welcome to those of us opposed to U.S war policy overseas. In his book, he has the last say, gazing on the ruins of American power in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything he predicted then is playing out each night on the (very) brief news reports about Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) attacks against Maliki’s government and the civilian populace. But we doubt Gentile, who fought in Iraq during its deadliest moments in 2005, is taking any satisfaction.

Meanwhile,  the national security writers clique remains as aloof and somewhat deluded as ever. Most people aren’t talking about Iraq at all. But this piece by Jason Fritz, a regular online raconteur during the heady COIN days, takes a rare stab at making sense of what is going on in Iraq. But he gets it all wrong. First, he attempts to use mythology as metaphor, bringing in a version of the Labours of Heracles, who kills his family in a fit of madness after taking on 12 heroic “labours” to prove himself to the gods. Fritz suggests that the Iraqi people are in a fit of madness, one that threatens everything they had accomplished thus far.

Writing for the new War on the Rocks, Fritz says:

Iraq has traveled a long and violent road and endured many labors in an attempt to build a modern state for its people. And yet madness and fury have returned, drawing the country back down that long and violent road.

This seems a bit strained, to say the least. It was our “labors” that set Iraq on its current course; it was our “Band Aid”  that held it together until we could beat it out of there with enough face to declare “peace.” However subtle, Fritz’s chiding of the Iraqi people for letting that peace slide is patronizing and completely off the mark, overlooking the American catalyst for all of it. Just take this ex-soldier’s take on the current troubles in Iraq, shared with NBC News last month:

What it makes me feel is deeper guilt,” said Mike Prysner, an anti-war activist who, at 19, was part of the 2003 Army invasion. He served in Iraq for 12 months and left the service as a corporal. 

“One of our roles was to shred their national identity. What is happening today is a direct result of the U.S. occupation’s strategy,” added Prysner, 30. “I remember the Iraqi government being setup along ethnic lines by the U.S. occupation. I remember arming certain ethnic groups to fight others. I’ll live the rest of my life knowing I was a part of that.”

Worse, Fritz takes the opportunity to suggest more U.S intervention might be necessary. As though we hadn’t already done enough. Is this not a touch of madness in itself?:

We now have a new question: if Maliki is unable or unwilling to stem the growing violence and infringements on Iraq’s sovereignty, is it up to the United States to do something to create the necessary capability or will to affect the situation?

Certainly the United States should not reintroduce general purpose forces into Iraq. That war is, by all accounts, done and dusted even if the political objects (impossibly framed as they were) were never achieved. Still, the United States could provide more policing and counterterrorism training, procure more advanced weapons for Iraq’s air defenses, and apply the political pressure necessary to get Maliki to act in a positive way that averts a civil war while meeting both Iraqi and U.S. objectives.

No offense, but our  “training” — which has already amounted to billions of dollars and that much more in weapons, equipment, armored vehicles and aircraft — has done squat for the Iraqi security forces, which can’t seem to get a handle on the insurgency terrorizing the country today. But that is of no consequence, really — Washington has long said sayonara to Iraq, and frankly, looking at the piddling news coverage of today’s violence (which should be front page news, considering our huge investment), the rest of America has too.

But soon, it will become too much to ignore or explain away with Greek myth or COIN folklore. The Band Aid is off. What happens now not even the gods will be able to contain.

Mainstream Lookback at Iraq: Yes, You Can Scream Now

Twitter has been on fire today with myriad quips, snarks, I told you sos and above all, honest lamentations on the 10th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. There’s also something else — blowback on the mainstream punditocracy and media sheeplesphere, not so much for getting it all wrong on Iraq — we’ve flogged that one enough over the years. No, it’s a visceral reaction to the offhand way that hacks and so-called “experts” admit to mistakes in judgement without really taking responsibility for their mistakes in judgement. You know, like that old mealymouthed meme, “well, we were wrong, everyone was wrong, we just didn’t know then what we know now,” or my personal favorite, “we in the media weren’t asking the right questions, and we should have asked more.”  Anyone who says those things is a Grade A boob, a real fleeb. It at once shakes off any personal responsibility for laziness and lack of professional integrity, while insisting that the entirety of the journalistic world begins in the White House press gallery and ends at the bar at the National Press Club. Welcome to reality, you’re a little late to the party.

This is why I know exactly what Jeremy Scahill, one of the most dogged investigators in the war-reporting business, who had to write a fabulous book about Blackwater, win a few awards and pound out reams of GWOT exposés before he got a mere whiff of attention from media insider claque, was feeling when he tweeted that he had thrown his shoe at the television this morning.

 Russert is the 27-year-old son of the late Meet the Press legend Tim Russert. Russert now works as a correspondent for NBC and was 17 and attending the prestigious St. Albans School when the Iraq War broke out. I’m sure Scahill’s ire wasn’t fully trained on Russert, but rather for what he symbolized at that moment: the whole of the corporate infotainment craptastrophe, whose only “deep diving” over the last 10 years has invariably involved several celebrity overdoses, marrying monarchs and sordid murder trials we hardly remember anymore.

I like to save my ire for the foreign policy/national security hive dwellers who consistently get asked by the lobotomized mainstream media what they think went wrong with Iraq. We know what went wrong with Iraq, it was the very people who are now being asked to pontificate on it today. If they weren’t being a) honest b) unafraid c) critical d) self-correcting then, what in tarnation do you expect from them now, aside from their so-called Washington credentials, which to me aren’t worth a stick if they couldn’t even be right about the most obvious foreign policy disaster this side of Vietnam.

Today, Foreign Policy online presents to us the most frustrating of all anniversary  retrospectives: Washington navel-gazing. It does this by “teaming up” with the Rand Corporation “to bring together many of the key players who launched, fought, analyzed, and executed the (Iraq) war.” Which means, in essence, a lot of dodging, deflecting, elaborate excuse making, a little peevishness, and a lot of minutiae about nothing. What you won’t find in this ponderous, nearly 8,000-word “conversation,” are the words “sectarian,” “torture,” “abuse,” “Abu Ghraib,” “night raids,” “occupation,” “interrogation,” “WMD,” or even “IED,” the most effective weapon against our troops during the war (and for which, by the way, we will be paying billions in veterans’ health care costs for decades to come).

What you also won’t find, aside from sanctioned critic Paul Pillar, are the contrarians, the folks who braved the ridicule and the rebukes to stand against the war policies when it wasn’t so popular to do so. No Andrew Bacevich or Gian Gentile or Patrick Cockburn. Certainly no one from this stalwart arena, nor anyone from The American Conservative, though there are plenty of scholars and great journalists there too, whose prescient writing always seems to get lost during these fatuous ivory tower rituals.

Instead, we get John Nagl, Douglas Feith, Gen. George Allen, Eliot Cohen, Stephen Hadley, Peter Mansoor, Peter Feaver, Kenneth Pollack … need I go on? I won’t bore you with what the establishment had to say, I’ll let you treat yourself. I’ll just say there seems to be a fine line between tedious and infuriating. Largely a giant waste of space. Not even worth throwing a shoe at — though you may want to scream.

Go ahead, we’ve earned it.