Cosmetic Surgery

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

By Robert C. Koehler

“In Iraq, al-Qaeda launched an offensive to take control of two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, that U.S. troops sacrificed heavily to clear of terrorists between 2004 and 2008.”

And so the new year begins, with a heavy dose of same old, same old. This is the Washington Post editorial page, which Robert Parry dubbed the neocon bullhorn, blaming the al-Qaeda uprising in western Iraq on President Obama’s withdrawal of troops from that country, along with his failure to invade Syria last fall, all of which, the editorial charges, adds up to complacency in the face of growing danger and a lack of protection for “vital U.S. interests.”

And for good measure, the Post lets loose a cry for the troops and their sacrifice on behalf of those vital interests. It’s obviously not too early to start performing cosmetic surgery on Bush-era history (boy, we had those terrorists on the run), even as its consequences continue to hemorrhage.

The Washington Post knows as well as you or I that American “vital interests,” as defined in the Bush (and more queasily in the Obama) era, float in a context of lies, stupidity, waste and war crimes. Yet its editorial page so reflects the Beltway addiction to war that it pushes for more of it no matter how counterproductive the last one turned out for any rational assessment of U.S. vital interests.

For instance, former CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar, in an essay that ran at Consortium News, notes with irony that “the Bush policies could be said to have stimulated democratization in the Middle East in large part through Middle Easterners reacting negatively to the policies themselves.” That is to say, democratic movements sprang up in the region as self-defense, in opposition to the U.S. pursuit of its alleged vital interests: Being pro-democracy meant being anti-American.

“This fusion brings us back to the hoary dichotomy of democratic values versus hard-nosed U.S. interests, but with a different twist,” Pillar writes. “The dichotomy may be real not so much because of pro-U.S. sentiments of dictators, but instead because of anti-U.S. sentiments of democrats.”

But the unforgiveable sin of the Post’s pro-war blather about our vital interests — democratic values be damned — is the utter dismissal of the harm we inflicted on Fallujah, Ramadi and all of Iraq in pursuit of them, and the smug acknowledgement only of American loss and “sacrifice.” This is a moral failing of serious dimensions, and shockingly brazen in light of recent, still-festering history.

We wrecked Iraq. We caused the deaths of as many as a million people and displaced internally and externally, another 4.7 million. Today there are still more than a million Iraqis lost in their own country — internally displaced — mostly in Baghdad, according to unembedded journalist Dahr Jamail.

“Most of them have fled from sectarian cleansings,” Jamail said when he was interviewed on Democracy Now! last year, on the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. “They’re living in horrible situations” — without government help, without hope for the future, surrounded by garbage, anticipating only more sectarian violence.

Our invasion wreaked havoc on the physical and social infrastructure of the country. And the weapons we used, including depleted uranium munitions and white phosphorous, shattered its health. In 2010, for instance, The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published an epidemiological study, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009,” which found that Fallujah — the city we “cleared of terrorists” with two bloody assaults in 2004 — is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.

The country as a whole, according to Jamail, has seen an enormous jump in cancer rates since the U.S. began dismantling it. In 1991, before the first Gulf War, there were 40 registered cases of cancer per 100,000 Iraqis, he noted. By 2005, “we saw 1,600 Iraqis with cancer out of 100,000.”

And Fallujah, in particular, has been devastated by an increase in birth defects since 2004 — 14 times higher than the rate measured in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after they were bombed, according to Jamail.

It’s common in Fallujah, he said, citing Iraqi Dr. Samira Alani, “for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, babies being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, cyclops babies literally with one eye — really, really, really horrific nightmarish types of birth defects. And it is ongoing.”

This is the context in which war talk and the “vital interests” of empire must be placed. Such a context is unacceptable to the corporate and political status quo, of course; so the media it controls have begun to perform cosmetic surgery on recent U.S. history, resurrecting the goodness and purity of our intentions and the simplistic evil of “the terrorists.” All they need to be successful is complete denial of reality.

But the invasion of Iraq, Jamail said, “is a crime against peace, according to the Nuremberg Principles.” And that makes it, and all future wars, a crime against our own, and the planet’s, vital interests.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at