She became more prominent as a progressive when she voiced opposition to what became the 2003 Iraq War, appearing on CNN and Fox News to discuss it. She said that she was approached by groups such as MoveOn.org and Win Without War to go on TV, because these organizations say that the networks were not allowing antiwar voices to be heard. Garofalo and the other celebrities who appeared at the time said they thought their fame could lend attention to that side of the debate. Her appearances on cable news prior to the war garnered her praise from the left and spots on the cover of Ms. and Venus Zine. Garofalo has had frequent on-air political disputes with Bill O'Reilly, Brian Kilmeade, and Jonah Goldberg.
Prior to the 2003 Iraq War, she took a position on the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein. For example, in an interview with Tony Snow on a February 23, 2003 episode of Fox News Sunday, Garofalo said of the Iraqi dictator:
Yes, I think lots of people are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. But there's no evidence that he (Hussein) has weapons of mass destruction. There's been no evidence of him testing nuclear weapons. We have people that are in our face with nuclear weapons. We've got Iran and North Korea. We've got a problem with Pakistan. You know, I don't know what to say about that. There's a whole lot of people that are going nuclear. And I think that Saddam Hussein is actually, with the evidence, the least able to use nuclear weapons and the least obvious offender in that area at this moment.— Janeane Garofalo, Fox News interview
In March 2003, she took part in the Code Pink anti-war march in Washington, D.C. That autumn, she served as emcee at several stops on the Tell Us the Truth tour, a political-themed concert series featuring Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, and others. Throughout the year, Garofalo also actively campaigned for Howard Dean. While on Fox News' program The Pulse, O'Reilly asked Garofalo what she would do if her predictions that the Iraq war would be a disaster were to turn out wrong. Garofalo stated:
I would be so willing to say, 'I'm sorry'. I hope to God that I can be made a buffoon of, that people will say, 'You were wrong. You were a fatalist.' And I will go to the White House on my knees on cut glass and say, 'Hey, you and Thomas Friedman were right ... I shouldn't have doubted you ...'— Janeane Garofalo, Fox News interview
“(The invasion) was an event that has shaped international politics over the course of the last two decades in unpredictable and often devastating ways,” says CPH:DOX head of program Mads Mikkelsen. “Not least inside Iraq itself. (‘Blix Not Bombs’ and ‘Baghdad on Fire’) provide two different takes – a shot and reverse shot – on the course of events back in 2003 and on the current situation in Iraq as seen from the inside and through the eyes of the young.”
“Blix Not Bombs” follows Hans Blix, the former head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, who was sent to Iraq in 2002 to determine whether U.S. suspicions that the country was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction were founded. Though the final report found no evidence of an Iraqi weapons program under Hussein, the U.S. and a coalition of allies nevertheless decided to invade the country. Now in the final stretch of his life, Blix questions whether he did enough to prevent a war whose impact is felt to this day.
The corporate mediascape in the US was an echo chamber for state propaganda. It wasn’t just the Manichaean worldview of post-9/11 national security hysteria, but a deep-seated colonial mentality – variations on the white man’s burden. An analysis of US TV news in the few weeks preceding the invasion found that sources expressing scepticism of the war were massively underrepresented. The media performed its function quite well in manufacturing consent and parroting official propaganda. In March 2003, 72% of American citizens supported the war. We should never forget this. (Up until 2018, 43% of Americans still thought it was the right decision.)
In Cairo, I watched as the US began its “shock and awe” campaign – a terrifying rain of death and destruction on Baghdad. Poetry was my refuge and the only space through which I could translate the visceral pain of watching the violence visited on Iraq and seeing my hometown fall to an occupying army. Some of the lines I wrote in the early days of the invasion crystallise my melancholy:
The wind is a blind mother
over the corpses
save the clouds
but the dogs
are far quicker
The moon is a graveyard
the stars are women
Tired from carrying the coffins
the wind leaned
against a palm tree
A satellite inquired:
in the wind’s cane murmured:
and the palm tree caught fire.
I had always hoped to see the end of Saddam’s dictatorship at the hands of the Iraqi people, not courtesy of a neocolonial project that would dismantle what had remained of the Iraqi state and replace it with a regime based on ethno-sectarian dynamics, plunging the country into violent chaos and civil wars.
Four months after the invasion I returned to Baghdad as part of a team to film About Baghdad, a documentary about the war and its aftermath. The chaos was already evident. One of the tens of interviews we conducted that simmering July was with a man who was optimistic about the occupation. “But a lot of these people the US is bringing to rule are thieves and crooks,” I told him. “My son,” he replied, “if they steal half of our wealth we’ll still be better off with the other half.” I remember that conversation whenever I read about the astronomical figures and massive corruption of the post-2003 Iraqi regime.
Some Iraqis we interviewed were obviously seduced by or took American promises seriously. Others were too drained and desperate after more than a decade of another war in the form of the genocidal sanctions from 1990 to 2003, and thought “so be it”. There were those, inside and outside, who knew that this was colonialism and stood against it. But there were colonised minds aplenty. A group of Iraqi writers, poets and professionals later penned a thank you letter to Bush and Tony Blair.
When the nonexistent WMDs were not found, there was a shift in the propaganda narrative to “democracy” and “nation building”. The war’s lethal effects were rationalised as the necessary birth pangs for a “new Iraq”. The country would be a model in the Middle East for what global capital and free markets could offer. But promises and plans of reconstruction became black holes for billions of dollars and fuelled a culture of corruption. American war advocates themselves benefited from the war.
The invasion did bring about a new Iraq. One where Iraqis have daily encounters with the consequences of the war on terror: terrorism. The “new Iraq” that the warmongers promised did not bring Starbucks or startups, but car bombs, suicide bombings, al-Qaida and later Islamic State – the latter hatched in the US’s own military prisons in Iraq.
In the first few months of the invasion I saw a report on a US TV channel showing an embedded reporter with American soldiers in a Humvee about to leave a base near Baghdad on a patrol. When the Humvee exits the gate, one of the soldiers tells the reporter: “This is Indian country.” This, I learned, is a common, although unofficial, term, used in the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan to refer to “hostile and lawless territory”. NBC’s Brian Williams recounted how a US general giving him a tour in Iraq used it too.
The colonial frame and embedded notions of white supremacy illuminate how most Americans, military or civilians, can view, make sense of, or simply ignore what their government does. It was another frontier between the forces of an advanced and well-meaning civilisation and a hostile and violent culture, ungrateful for what was offered and burdened by its violent past.
The Iraq that the invasion begat must be one of the most corrupt states in the world. Iranian-backed militias (whose rise was a byproduct of the dynamics the invasion created) dominate the lives of Iraqis and terrorise opponents. They helped the regime brutally crush the 2019 uprising, which was spearheaded by Iraqi youth who rejected the political system that the US installed. One of their slogans in the uprising’s early days was: “No to America, no to Iran!”
Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.