top of page

Podcast Review: Blowback

By Sophie Williams

Art by Sophie Williams

Blowback shownotes:

“A podcast about the Iraq War.”

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 constitutes the greatest crime of the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, and Iraq was plunged into a cycle of violence and crushing poverty that endures to this day.”

Blowback is a 10-part podcast investigation into the war, the decades of policies that led us to destroy Saddam Hussein's government, and the aftermath of the American invasion. Co-hosts Brendan James and Noah Kulwin examine the ways in which the American government interfered in Iraqi politics long before we ever put boots on the ground, and why America turned on Saddam Hussein, the U.S. government's former favorite strongman in the Middle East.

Episodes are available wherever you get your podcasts.”

Blowback: n. blow·back

/ˈblōbak/ the unintended adverse results of a political action or situation.

(definition from the CIA, the organized crime branch of the american ruling class)

But are these effects really unintended? Or are they expected, welcomed, and often repeated?

American confrontations with Iraq span across at least six U.S. presidencies, costing billions of dollars and millions of lives and destroying an entire country, with troops stationed in what’s left of Iraq. From the show notes:

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 constitutes the greatest crime of the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, and Iraq was plunged into a cycle of violence and crushing poverty that endures to this day.”

Yet the Iraq war is a confused and buried memory in American history. Why did the United States of America commit to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq? This material question is exactly what Blowback tries to demystify.

Conservatives and liberals alike base the ethical standing of the war on whether or not the U.S. could decisively “win” (kill enough Iraqis, commission enough military equipment, and forge an elusive-enough Iraqi oil deal to cover the returns) or “bring democracy” (an insult to a thousand-year civilization that was democratically run before the United States-endorsed Ba’athist coup). Many perspectives — like Vox editor Ezra Klein’s episode Why the Hell Did We Invade Iraq? — focus on the “confused foreign policy” and bumbling incompetence of American political leaders. Overwhelmingly, these inquiries and explanations omit any of the clear material motives and gains gleaned from these imperial policies.

Militant group ISIS is often mentioned in U.S. media — but never the fact that it exists because of the Iraq invasion. Today, most people understand that the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” claim was fabricated and even that the Iraq War was “fought over oil.” But mainstream arguments are still stuck on “whether or not the war was successful” rather than “there should never, ever have been a war.”

In ten episodes of an hour each, Blowback offers an analytical account of the U.S. war on Iraq. It displays the motivation (ever-present but rarely mentioned) behind every imperialist war: expand the empire, amass wealth to amass power, and amass power to amass even more wealth. It wasn’t a stupid, absentminded accident. In fact, for those who orchestrated the war, it was a profitable success. (Listen for further details.)

Blowback is both heartbreaking and entertaining as ****, a masterful technique to soften (and laugh bitterly at) the horrors. Episodes conclude with a hollow, contradictory, and propaganda-loaded audio clip from the time, the voice of a reporter, president, or statesman. This underlines the episode’s content, leaving the listener feeling empty, enraged, or flat-out battered.

My primary criticism is that the podcast uses “we” as a pronoun for the actions of “America.” It is always good to remember that it’s almost never “we the people” committing this or that atrocity or imposing this or that horror. If you mean “the United States corporate interests as aligned with state military power” went to war with Iraq, then say so. If you mean we, us, the people of the republic — we whose children, labor, and tax dollars are sent to Iraq to terrorize Iraqis and die — we who protested the war in the millions — then say we.

Boiled down, the answer to Ezra Klein’s question — Why the hell did America invade Iraq? — is best answered by recovering academic Michael Parenti: “The ruling class has only ever wanted one thing: everything.”

He’s right. The least we can do is understand them. Blowback is a good place to start.

Random Bonus Episode:

American Exceptionalism and Innocence: Liberal Ideology and American Creation Myths. (Revolutionary Left Radio, Dec. 8, 2019).


bottom of page