Ten Years Ago and Today: A Warfare State of Mind

sean penn iraqOn a plane circling Baghdad in gray dawn light, a little Iraqi girl quietly sang to herself in the next row. “When I start to wonder why I’m making this trip,” Sean Penn murmured to me, “I see that child and I remember what it’s about.”

After the plane landed at Saddam International Airport, we waited in a small entry room until an Iraqi official showed up and ushered us through customs. Soon we checked into the Al-Rashid Hotel. Back in Washington the sponsor of our trip, the Institute for Public Accuracy, put out a news release announcing the three-day visit and quoting Sean: “As a father, an actor, a filmmaker and a patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation (at least attempt) to find my own voice on matters of conscience.”

With U.S. war drums at feverish pitch, Sean Penn’s sudden appearance in Baghdad set off a firestorm of vilification in American media. Headlines called him “Baghdad Sean”; pundits on cable news channels called him a stooge for Saddam.

But as the U.S. media attacks got underway, our focus was Baghdad. At the Al-Mansour Children’s Hospital, youngsters lay on threadbare mattresses with haunting dark eyes, mournful mothers sometimes seated next to their tiny beds. As we left, Sean said to me: “You don’t even want someone to slam a door too loud around these children, let alone imagine a bomb exploding in the neighborhood.”

There were meetings with Iraqi officials, including Tariq Aziz, who — with his well-cut suit and smooth talk — epitomized the urbanity of evil. But most of all, we kept seeing children and wondering what would happen to them. The threat of war overshadowed everything.

UNICEF took us to schools in the city, and improvements were striking in the ones being helped by the agency. Sean and I visited the office of UNICEF’s Iraq director, a Dutchman who talked about prospects for aiding the country’s emaciated kids. But what if an invasion happens, we asked. Suddenly, there was silence.

On our last morning in Baghdad, across a breakfast table of pita bread and hummus, I watched Sean write out a statement on a pad. Later in the day, speaking at a huge news conference, he said: “I feel, both as an American and as a human being, the obligation to accept some level of personal accountability for the policies of my government, both those I support and any that I may not. Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands.”


That was 123 months ago, in mid-December 2002. The invasion of Iraq came a hundred days later.

The resulting tragedies have been so horrific and large-scale that the overall reporting by U.S. mass media scarcely provides a clue. In real time and in retrospect, the dominant cliches about this war have stayed in circular motion, self-referential, within American bubbles.

Occasional, usually dimmed, strobe lights flicker on the real suffering of American soldiers and their loved ones. Numerically much larger, the Iraqi suffering gets short shrift, barely discernible in the shadows of U.S. media and politics.

A just-released report, “Iraq War Among World’s Worst Events,” provides a cogent summary of devastation so extensive and terrible that readers will be challenged to not turn away. In the report, David Swanson offers a 10-year overview of human consequences of moral turpitude for which no American official or propagandist has been held accountable.


Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, don’t expect the vast numbers of media hotshots and U.S. officials who propelled that catastrophe to utter a word of regret. Many are busy with another project: assisting the push for war on Iran.

Days ago, speaking of possible actions against Iran, President Obama told an Israeli TV reporter: “I continue to keep all options on the table.” Earlier this month, Vice President Biden told AIPAC’s annual conference that the president “is not bluffing.” Biden said “all options, including military force, are on the table.” Those statements are similar to the threats from President Bush and Vice President Cheney before the invasion of Iraq.

Norman Solomon

Monday, 18 March 2013


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    OK, so allegedly the Obama-Biden statements about Iran are similar to the Bush-Cheney statements about Iraq. The inferences that the author would have us draw simply don’t follow. Lots of things are similar in this world. There are also big differences.

    Military action vs the Iran regime would be a matter of days and airborne only, not a ten-year occupation by tens of thousands of ground troops. There are ‘wars’ and then there are ‘wars’ – and one cannot reasonably equate them all. In Iran the purpose would be clear and not made-up or speculative: taking out enough of the nuke-making apparatus to send a clear message that the globe’s prime terror sponsors don’t get to make readily deployed nuke weapons to carry out their threats.

    For going into extended war in Iraq, Bush-Cheney were openly foaming at the mouth for any excuse, even outright blatant lies about connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Even with Saddam out of the way, Bush-Cheney compulsively had to keep an occupation going on for years and years.

    Meanwhile, Obama-Biden have been equally crazily gung-ho in the opposite direction: looking for any excuse to pretend that the Iran ayatollahs (and even Assad) are really reasonable guys (in the western sense) – i.e. corruptible folks who care more about their prosperity than about creating martyrs for Islamic supremacy (despite ample evidence to the contrary from their decade long futile million-casualty war vs Saddam). So far, the main ‘beneficiaries’ of the Obama ‘peace’ policies have been the Syrians: 70,000 dead, over a million refugees – with no end in sight – all thanks to the compulsive passivity of Obama-Biden which insists on doing nothing even as much as a no-fly zone even when confronted by the dogged commitment of Khamenei (assisted by our alleged friend Putin) to keeping Assad in biz.

  2. says

    Sean Penn’s visit brought about shades of name calling, as in Hanoi Jane. Even though I went to Viet Nam, I respected Ms. Fonda’s opinion because it was basically anti-war. I was very disappointed when she apologized to us because I felt she had done nothing wrong. I’m hoping Sean Penn will never apologize for bringing light to a subject we mostly choose to remain blind to.

    Why is it that diplomacy has gone down the drain in this world? An American sports figure showed how easy it is to visit and spend time with what most think of as a demonic tyrant. World leaders know absolutely nothing about diplomacy and it makes me wonder how in the hell they got into politics to begin with except to line their pockets.

    I see mention of Iran in this article; a chance of war with them in the future. Meanwhile, the citizens of Syria are being decimated by a cruel leader and the world sits on its collective ass and watches.and winces and does diddly. If the United Nations was worth the property its building sits on, any leader who turns his/her nation’s guns on its own people should be captured by a United Force that should prevent such atrocities. If one or two nations disagree in that outfit, well, it’s just too bad about the mass murders, isn’t it?

    Is America so busy trying to prove that just because it left Viet Nam with its tail between its legs that it will never happen again? Look what that attitude has done to Israel! A child throwing a stone can bring about a bombing, for God’s sake!

    The whole system of communications in this world has to be reworked. It is being voted on in African states whether to kill people for being gay. Until the final vote, torture and prison time will do just fine. Palestinians still sit in refugee camps and I can’t even remember when all that started. If our children had to grow up in such conditions (which, by the way, some do but in a different fashion), we’d have blasted the perpetrators into the ground in no time flat.

    It’s always allies and enemies in the eyes of politicians, and fear that the enemy is going to take over (thus rumors that President Obama wants to be king, is a Marxist, is a Communist, is a whatever the Bachmans and Coulters and McConnells want people to believe). I so no olive branches going out to enemies amongst warring or cold-war-style nations. And I see absolutely no help going to Syrians when it is clear that families are being slain and tortured and separated forever by their own government. Doesn’t this totally duplicate what happened in Chechoslovakia? Who ever hears of what progress, if any, has been made over there since then?

    Funny, though. America is rushing into a second civil war and I blame politicians for that, too. They pelt us against one another like they’re playing chess with human lives. I try to stop arguments on social media in the “comments” sections by pleading with people to look at how we’re treating each other. I warn them that Rome Part II is fast approaching if we don’t find a way to come to terms with our differences and stop hating on each other. My posts are generally too lengthy (like this one) for anyone to sit through because they’re longer than a tweet. But I’ve kept silent with these feelings for too many years to stop now. Technology is passing up the growth of our minds and if we are going to use the brilliance of scientific advance to hold us back instead of pulling us forward, then what good is it?

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