“When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.“
As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)
I don’t mean to be too harsh — There’s nothing terribly wrong with this edutainment-y attempt to explain de-Baathification, highly dubious detainee procedures, and most notably the faked WMD casus belli to disinterested laypersons by way of action-thriller. And, in a way, I sorta admire the gutsiness of the the attempt. But, if you were already well aware of these grim developments, and I assume most GitM readers are, then it’s hard to escape the sensation that one is mainly just being talked down to for two hours. Wait, there were no WMD in Iraq? You’re kidding me, right? And, while I’m a great fan of Greengrass’ previous output — I said over and over again in this space that I wish he had stuck with Watchmen, and on the Top 100 films of last decade list, Bloody Sunday was #84, his two Bournes were at #49, and the exemplary United 93 was at #6 — The Green Zone feels quite a bit more leaden than usual.
As with the political edutainment project Greengrass aspired to here, I like the idea of fusing his highly visceral action work (the Bournes) with his fly-on-the-wall discursions into recent history (Sunday, ’93)…on paper. But The Green Zone gets lost somewhere in the interstice, and lacks the gripping power of either of these previous Greengrass grooves. Instead, Zone ends up mostly being two grainy hours of watching Matt Damon run around at night, as he tries to uncover an insidious government plot that our nation has been fully aware of for years…and has chosen to greet with a yawn.
More on that depressing problem in a bit, but, first, to bring y’all up to speed: Loosely based on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction examination of Dubyaite imbecility and excess in post-war Baghdad, Green Zone begins with a brief sequence set amid the original Shock-and-Awe period of the war, followed by, a few weeks later, a tense raid on a possible WMD storehouse by American soldiers. Led by Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Damon), this crack MW2-ish assault ends up finding, well, bupkis, just like the time before and the time before that.
To Chief Miller, the problem here is obvious — the intel must be rotten. But, when he brings this up at the next briefing for high-level military muckety-mucks, he is basically told to shut up and do his job. Nonetheless, events soon conspire to introduce Miller to the “Jack of Clubs” in the Dubya deck, a Baathist general (Yigal Naor) with a still-clearly extant power base in Baghdad. And, when our hero digs deeper to figure out how this Jack might know “Magellan,” the top-secret source of all this lousy intel, he soon finds himself trapped — along with a very Judith Miller-y reporter (Amy Ryan) — in a power play between a slimy executive branch bureaucrat (Greg Kinnear, stuck no more) and a grizzled CIA hand (Brendan Gleeson), one that might just end up getting Miller fragged by the creepy Special Forces guy (Jason Isaacs, with great accent) who keeps popping up…
Along the way, there’s a digression into a detainee facility with all the makings of an Abu Ghraib waiting to happen, the tearful homecoming of the administration’s hand-picked Iraqi stooge (re: Ahmed Chalabi), some rather pained attempts to make the decision to de-Baathify an action beat…In other words, Green Zone is basically an attempt to dramatize the Iraq war for people who, for whatever reason, weren’t paying much attention the first time ’round. And, to be fair, it’s done with solid acting all around (including several folks recognizable from United 93), quality production values, and a reasonable degree of versimilitude throughout. (Note also the brief Paul Rieckhoff cameo, which should nip any IAVA whining about dramatic license right in the bud.)
But, for all its edutainmenty truths to tell, Green Zone still ends up feeling rather fake and film-ish to me, perhaps in part because — unlike Greengrass’ other recent histories — it seems to subscribe to a very movie-like All the President’s Men view of things, where, once word of misdeed gets out, justice will be done tho’ the heavens fall. Not to get all Debbie Downer up in here, but that’s not really the way the world works anymore, is it? One of the saddest and scariest moments in the recent and very worthwhile Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America is when Ellsberg explains how he thought everything would change once the Pentagon Papers got out…and then he finds that, in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence of government wrongdoing, most people just shrugged.
This is the uncomfortable horror that Green Zone almost seems willfully designed not to recognize. The whole premise of the movie seems to be that, if We the People knew what really went down in Iraq (or could just be taught via action-movie), we would be totally livid about the corruption involved. But, is the problem really that the American people don’t know what happened in the build-up to Iraq? Or is it that we know pretty well what happened and don’t much seem to care?
Just as with our indefensible dabbling in torture and indefinite detention in recent years, we have known about the lies and incompetence that fueled the Iraq fiasco for awhile now. And, alas, nothing ever happened. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the whole awful, lying lot are still deemed Serious People with Serious Opinions by the nation’s domesticated media watchdogs, who, by the way, have also been studiously ignoring the Blair hearings overseas. Our current president, elected with the largest mandate for change in a generation, has deemed all of this just the sins of the past and refused to “look backward” (or worse, made himself complicit in these Dubya-era crimes.) And life continues, much as it has this past age, with no sense of reckoning whatsoever for the Big Lies that were told.
One of the main reasons Bloody Sunday and United 93 work so well is that they offer complex, nuanced portraits of complicated times. But, as Green Zone moves along, it just ended up feeling more and more like a cartoon to me, and one predicated mainly on wishful thinking. Like I said, I guess I admire what Paul Greengrass & co. were trying do here, but Green Zone as an action film feels flat and mostly uninvolving. And Green Zone as a political enterprise — Iraq War: The Movie!, basically — often seems at best condescending and at worst dangerously naive.
Do you remember the Iraq War of 2003? Remember those heady days of euphoria when it ended two months later, with only 139 American lives lost? Journey back with me — TIME-LIFE style, if you will — to the scene of our triumph: “Chris Matthews on MSNBC called Bush a ‘hero’ and boomed, ‘He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.’ PBS’ Gwen Ifill said Bush was ‘part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.’ On NBC, Brian Williams gushed, ‘The pictures were beautiful. It was quite something to see the first-ever American president on a — on a carrier landing. This must be very meaningful to the United States military.’“
Well, today marks the five-year anniversary of our glorious victory, the day that “splendid little war” came to a close. Among those honoring the day, and the remarkable achievement of our Commander-in-Chief:
Paging Yuri Orlov: By way of Dangerous Meta, a new Congressional study finds the US atop the leaderboard in terms of selling weaponry to the developing world. “Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers…The study makes clear also that the United States has signed weapons-sales agreements with nations whose records on democracy and human rights are subject to official criticism.“
“OPEC would like you to believe that it’s an international agency dedicated to world peace and economic development, like the United Nations or the World Bank. But of course, OPEC is a cartel.” Tim Noah examines a new bill before Congress that would work to bring OPEC’s behavior under American antitrust law. “The White House Office of Management and Budget says it opposes the NOPEC bill ‘adamantly.’ Perhaps this is because, as I’ve noted before, OPEC is just about the only international organization that President Bush has any regard for.“
“It’s ironic that President Bush is now endorsing a diplomatic stance toward Iran so similar to the stance that President Clinton took toward North Korea. When he first took office, Bush so feverishly opposed the Agreed Framework with North Korea in large part because Clinton had produced it.” Slate‘s Fred Kaplan wonders whether President Clinton’s Agreed Framework with North Korea might help to contain Iran. The verdict? Possibly maybe, particularly given that we have no real alternatives.
“In short, [the letter] provides a perfect opportunity for Bush to do what he should have been doing for the last few years — to lay out what America stands for, what we have in common with Muslim nations, and how our differences can be tolerated or settled without conflict.” Also in Slate, Fred Kaplan offers some sage advice on how to respond to Admadinejad’s recent letter. “Bush and Ahmadinejad — two of the world’s most stubborn, self-righteous leaders. It’s at once hopeful and pathetic that the next step in their confrontation — whether it intensifies or slackens — could be determined by whether Bush answers or brushes off a goofy letter.“
“‘The president’s military advisers felt that the size of the force was adequate; they may still feel that years later. Some of us don’t. I don’t,’ Powell said. ‘In my perspective, I would have preferred more troops, but you know, this conflict is not over.‘” In a slap at Rumsfeld, Cheney, and his other one-time nemeses in the Dubya White House, former Secretary of State Colin Powell airs some of his grievances with the build-up to war in Iraq. “‘At the time, the president was listening to those who were supposed to be providing him with military advice,’ Powell said. ‘They were anticipating a different kind of immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad; it turned out to be not exactly as they had anticipated.’”
“Observers describe Bush as ‘messianic’ in his conviction that he is fulfilling the divine purpose. But, as Lincoln observed in his second inaugural address, ‘The Almighty has His own purposes.’ Invoking also Lincoln’s remarks on the Mexican War, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. laments the rise of preemption, senses dark forebodings in Dubya’s saber-rattling with Iran, and concludes that “there is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war.”
“The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy.” Retired CIA officer Tyler Drumhiller, formerly the highest ranking CIA officer in Europe, calls out the Dubya administration anew for their manipulation of intelligence during the lead-up to Iraq. “‘It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure,’ Drumheller told CBS’ Ed Bradley. ‘This was a policy failure. I think, over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time.’“
“Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties — Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush — have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures — an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities.” As seen all over the place, historian Sean Wilentz wonders aloud in Rolling Stone if Dubya is the worst president in American history.
To my mind, the only other president that even comes close is James Buchanan. Sure, Warren Harding was lousy, but he knew it (“I am a man of limited talents from a small town. I don’t seem to grasp that I am President.“), and thus didn’t go out of his way to be actively terrible like Bush has been. (Plus, for all the corruption of the Ohio gang, Harding’s cabinet also included Charles Evans Hughes, Andrew Mellon, and Herbert Hoover, all impressive in their own right.) Speaking of Hoover, both he and Ulysses Grant have been given a bad shake. Even if the Depression basically ate his administration alive, Hoover — once renowned as the “Great Engineer” — was a more innovative president (and empathetic person) than he’s often remembered. And Grant’s administrations, although plagued by corruption, at the very least tried to maintain Reconstruction in the South. (In fact, I’d argue that Grant’s sorry standing in presidential history is in a part a reflection of the low esteem in which Reconstruction was once held by the now-woefully obsolete Dunning School.) Regarding the other Reconstruction president, Andrew Johnson is assuredly down near the bottom too, but to be fair, he faced an almost impossible situation entering office in the time and manner he did, and — as with Clinton — his impeachment was a bit of a frame-job. And Richard Nixon, for all his many failings, had China (as well as the EPA despite himself, and, although it didn’t pan out, the Family Assistance Plan.) Nope, I think it’s safe to say that we may be experiencing perhaps the most blatantly inept, wrong-headed, and mismanaged presidency in the history of the republic. Oh, lucky us.
“There are two likely outcomes from serious American efforts to negotiate, both good. First, if Iran cooperates with the talks, then it might suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Second, if Iran doesn’t cooperate, then the Bush administration will have made its case to China, Russia, and Europe that the regime is dangerous and untrustworthy. At that point it will be much easier to impose the economic sanctions that will scare the Iranians into better behavior.” With the military strike option looking increasingly ill-conceived, if not suicidal, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan makes the case anew for a diplomatic solution to our current problems with Iran. Update: Dubya the Decider declares, “All options are on the table.” (Yes, that includes nukes.)
While the Pope, Kofi Annan, Richard Clarke, and others try to stem the increasing saber-rattling over Iran, more trouble brews in Tehran: Along with possibly expanding their nuclear fuel plants and upgrading their centrifuges, the “Iranian government has intensified efforts to illegally obtain weapons technology from the United States.” Well, let’s at least hope the White House isn’t helping them this time…
“Surveys consistently show that Americans are viewed as arrogant, insensitive, over-materialistic and ignorant about local values. That, in short, is the image of the Ugly American abroad and we want to change it.” Concerned about the “worryingly accurate” international stereotype of boorish Americans abroad, the State Department and several corporate partners create a handy etiquette manual for would-be world travelers. Some sample advice: “Listen at least as much as you talk. (By all means, talk about America and your life in our country. But also ask people you’re visiting about themselves and their way of life.)” Hmm…can we get a copy to Dubya?
“God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.” Although Dubya is personally dismissing the report as “wild speculation”, The New Yorker‘s Sy Hersh argues in a terrifying piece that the administration is actively planning for “regime change” in Iran, and — no joke — the use of tactical nuclear weapons (particularly “bunker-busters”) is on the table.
No doubt about it, this is trouble. A nuclear Iran would represent a grievous threat to the region (and particularly Israel), and must be prevented by diplomatic means if at all possible. But, after the Iraq WMD debacle, this administration has become the boy who cried wolf, and — just as the US is facing perhaps its thorniest diplomatic issue yet, neither our European allies nor many US observers trust Dubya’s motives or credibility any more, to say nothing of his basic competence. (“Speaking of President Bush, [one] House member said, ‘The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.’.”) And, needless to say, if Dubya and the neocons screw this one up, the consequences for both the entire Middle East and the war on terror — as well as our own homeland security — could be nightmarish. “If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us…If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.“
Update: ““I’m announcing officially that Iran has now joined the countries that have nuclear technology.” The situation darkens with Iran’s successful (increased) enrichment of uranium. “Iran had previously enriched uranium to a level of about 2 percent, using a smaller cascade, and separately enriched uranium to about 15 percent during laser experiments in 2002. Bomb-grade uranium must be enriched to a level of well over 80 percent…Though it is technically possible, most nuclear experts agree it is unlikely Iran would be able to make bomb-grade uranium with the[ir current] 164-centrifuge cascade.” Still, Russia and Britain are decrying the advance, and Secretary Rice wants “strong steps” by the UN Security Council in reply.
In somewhat related news, the administration’s freefall in the polls continues, with even conservatives now admitting that Dubya is quacking like a lame duck. Meanwhile, some congressional Republicans begin to hear strains of 1994 in their own corruption and excess. And, with the Christian Coalition also nearing the End of (its) Days to boot, one has to wonder: Could we Dems ask for a more favorable electoral terrain against the Dubya-DeLay GOP heading into this November? And when are our party leaders going to rise to this opportunity and start offering a vision of leadership the American people can get behind?
“‘Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq,’ Buckley said…’If he’d invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn’t get him out of his jam…It’s important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure.’”
By way of Cliopatria, National Review founder and Firing Line wit William F. Buckley discusses Dubya’s failings, his own problems with neoconservatism — “The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country.” — and the presidents of his lifetime. “‘[Bill Clinton] is the most gifted politician of, certainly my time,’ Buckley said. ‘He generates a kind of a vibrant goodwill with a capacity for mischief which is very, very American.’”
“‘You’re going to have more change than you expect,’ one GOP insider said.” According to CNN, Andy Card’s permanent vacation was just the beginning of Dubya’s White House shake-up: The next victims may well be press shill Scott McClellan and Treasury Secretary John Snow. Update: In related news, Gen. Anthony Zinni calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation on Meet the Press.
“I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration.” Madam Secretary, you said it.
“The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.” The NYT relates the details of a January 2003 pre-war meeting between Bush and Blair, and it’s not pretty. Not surprisingly (and like the July 2002 Downing Street memos, the recollections of Paul O’Neill, and countless other sources), this new material confirms that Dubya and the neocons wanted a war in Iraq, come hell or high water.
“‘There seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric in Washington about what this is all about and what we hear here,’ Feingold said. McCain responded that he did ‘not want to get into a back-and-forth with one of my best friends.’” While visiting Baghdad, Senators McCain and Feingold argue “cordially and pointedly” over Iraq. “Feingold…said he was dismayed not to hear any of the military commanders he met with mention al-Qaeda as a source of the problems in Iraq. The Bush administration and U.S. officials here often point to the radical group as a major source of instability in the country.“
“It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world’s most powerful nation upon that fiction.” In a must-read LA Times editorial, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright witheringly dissects Dubya Diplomacy. (Via Medley.)
Remember “We’ll be greeted as liberators“? How ’bout “I think they’re in the last throes…of the insurgency“? As the administration reaps the dividends of a severe credibility gap on Iraq, Dubya ventures forth once again to tell the nation about all the progress we’re just not seeing over there. “‘I understand people being disheartened when they turn on their TV screen,’ Bush said, adding that ‘nobody likes beheadings’ and other grim images.”
“If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.” As the war in Iraq enters its fourth year (US casualities) and civil war appears increasingly likely on the ground, Dubya and Cheney trod out the same stale talking points we’ve been hearing since “Mission Accomplished” (while Rummy attempts variations on a theme.) Update: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan surveys the mistakes.
“We may have been seduced into something we might be inclined to regret. Is strategic failure a possibility? The answer has to be ‘yes.’” Several internal Downing Street memos, recently obtained by the Guardian, suggest that our British allies have been wary of US mismanagement in Iraq since at least 2003, when Baghdad envoy John Sawers called the US post-invasion operation “an unbelievable mess.” (By way of Dateline: Bristol.)
“‘It seems to me the United States is not studying the history of Iran very carefully,’ Pourostad said. ‘Whenever they came and supported an idea publicly, the public has done the opposite.‘” As Fred Kaplan pointed out several weeks ago (and as indicated by the results of the last Iranian election), many democratic activists in Iran believe that Dubya’s ham-handed approach to promoting reform is backfiring in a big way.
By way of a friend, the State Department releases its mandated yearly human rights report for 2005 (here), finding cause for alarm in Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Burma, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe and (surprise, surprise) progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report doesn’t delve into human rights violations here at home (although China tries to fill that gap in response every year), but it does unequivocally state — in bold, no less — that “countries in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world’s most systematic human rights violators.” Hey y’all might be on to something. Deadpans the head of Amnesty International: “The Bush administration’s practice of transferring detainees in the ‘war on terror’ to countries cited by the State Department for their appalling human rights records actually turns the report into a manual for the outsourcing of torture.”