Sean Penn and Naomi Watts reunite to tell the story of Valerie Plame and the imaginary yellowcake in the new trailer for Doug Liman’s Fair Game. Hmm, ok…but I’m getting a Lions for Lambs/Green Zone flavor from this trailer — edutainmenty and too little, too late. Still, it pretty much has to be better than 21 Grams.
“From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002-2008…The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63).“
By way of Greenwald and Sullivan, a Harvard study documents exactly how absurdly our national media carried water for the Dubya-era torture regime. “In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.“
This story, along with Politico’s gaffetastic reaction to Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings doing real journalism on the McChrystal story — (“Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks” — See also Lara Logan) and Joke Line deeming Glenn Greenwald a traitor because he dared to call unrepentant Iraq war evidence-falsifier Jeff Goldberg a horrible journalist (“Greenwald…so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world.“) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about our broken and corrupt Village media. And this is all just in the past week. Rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. (Pic via here.)
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:
“In a series of internal musings and memos to his staff, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld argued that Muslims avoid ‘physical labor’ and wrote of the need to ‘keep elevating the threat,’ ‘link Iraq to Iran’ and develop ‘bumper sticker statements’ to rally public support for an increasingly unpopular war.” The WP surveys the “snowflakes” composed by ex-SecDef Donald Rumsfeld during his tenure. “Rumsfeld, whose sometimes abrasive approach often alienated other Cabinet members and White House staff members, produced 20 to 60 snowflakes a day and regularly poured out his thoughts in writing as the basis for developing policy, aides said.” Uh, Rummy, get a blog.
“In grasping and exercising presidential powers, Cheney has dulled political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III…As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney’s multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.” Former Reagan Assistant Attorney General Bruce Fein makes the conservative case for Dick Cheney’s impeachment in Slate.
A new report by the Pentagon’s inspector general argues that former undersecretary of defense and Dubya war hawk Douglas Feith misrepresented intelligence findings during the lead-up to Iraq. Not a big surprise there, but it’s good to get Pentagon confirmation. “Feith’s office, it said, drew on ‘both reliable and unreliable’ intelligence reports in 2002 to produce a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq ‘that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration.’”
“‘Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about bin Laden,’ the former Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, told the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he was asked about Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s leader…’He specified that if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the U.S., he would have allied with North Korea or China,’ says a passage in the nearly 400-page report.” A new Senate intelligence report confirms what has become patently obvious: There was no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda before the war. “Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a member of the committee, said the long-awaited report was ‘a devastating indictment of the Bush-Cheney administration’s unrelenting, misleading and deceptive attempts’ to link Saddam to al-Qaida.”
“Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong, the press during the run-up to the war — timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking — came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existing in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest.” In very related news (as Dan Froomkin pointed out), Salon publishes an extended excerpt from Eric Boehlert’s Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over For Bush.
Add one more lie to the pile: “On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile ‘biological laboratories.’ He declared, ‘We have found the weapons of mass destruction.’…But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.” The Washington Post recounts step-by-step the tale of Dubya’s fake WMD trailers, sending White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan into a paroxysm of aggressively circular spin. As it turns out, even though Dubya had been notified the trailers were a red herring two days before his above comments, “for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.“
Thanks to more lies emanating from the Dubya administration, the Congressional Research Service is forced to set the record straight: Dubya saw more prewar intelligence than Congress. “The Bush administration has routinely denied Congress access to documents, saying it would have a chilling effect on deliberations. The report…concludes that the Bush administration has been more restrictive than its predecessors in sharing intelligence with Congress.“
“It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq.” In his final speech on Iraq before tomorrow’s elections, (text) Dubya admits the case for war was FUBAR, while insisting it was a good idea anyway. (“The United States did not choose war — the choice was Saddam Hussein’s.“) Of course, Bush neglected to mention that it was he, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al who cherry-picked through the available intelligence and continued to recite claims they knew to be false. Still, for someone who’s seems pathologically incapable of accepting reality at times, this has to be considered a step forward.
“What was striking about Cheney’s assault was that while denying critics’ charges of manipulation and dishonesty involving prewar intelligence, he resorted to exactly the tactics that inspired the criticism. As he did with the prewar intelligence, Cheney told no outright lies, but he exaggerated the case, picked only evidence he liked, and ignored the caveats.” In case it wasn’t obvious, Slate‘s John Dickerson explains how Cheney is still misrepresenting the lead-up to war. (In fact, he did it again today, although at least he didn’t join his congressional colleagues in their recent spate of Murtha-bashing.) But, really, can we expect any less from the administration that brought us imaginary WMDs and the phantom Iraq-9/11 connection? Like George Costanza at his worst moments, these jokers have been lying so long they’ve lost sight of the truth.
“President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence. Neither assertion is wholly accurate.“ Update: Slate‘s Fred Kaplan parses Dubya’s speech further.
As McCain calls for changes in Dubya’s Iraq strategy, White House National Security advisor Stephen Hadley inaugurates Dubya’s comeback plan, which will get more run in a presidential speech today. Step One: Call the Dems out on their pro-war votes. “‘Some of the critics today,’ Hadley added, ‘believed themselves in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, they stated that belief, and they voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq because they believed Saddam Hussein posed a dangerous threat to the American people.‘” Well, yes, but if Dems were relying on faulty and doctored intelligence to come to that supposition in 2002, that only brings us back to the $64,000 question: What exactly happened to our prewar intelligence once it reached the White House?
“Even before I went to jail, I had become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war…I believed then, and still do, that the answer to bad information is more reporting.” To no one’s surprise, Judy Miller “retires” from the New York Times, but not before getting in one last word (and setting up her own website.) Well, she was way wrong on WMD, but she’s right about this: The best thing the NYT can do to restore its credibility after Judy and Jayson Blair would be to lead an investigatory charge into the pre-war Iraq intelligence, and pronto.
Typical Dubya Doublespeak: Just as Bush tells the world, “We do not torture,” his vice-president continues his quest to exempt the CIA from a congressional torture ban, which would obviously be an unnecessary action were Dubya’s remarks truthful. In related news, the Dems want a wide-ranging inquiry into pre-war intelligence, and members of both parties are concerned about increased “terrorism” inquiries under the Patriot Act.
“I demand on behalf of the America people that we understand why these investigations aren’t being conducted.” In a bold and unblockable parliamentary move, Harry Reid closes the Senate doors to push for an inquiry into Libby and Weaponsgate. A blustering and blindsided Catkiller Frist, for one, was shocked — shocked! — by the closed-door session. “The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership…They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas.” Please, Frist, take it down a notch…your blind panic is hardly presidential. Besides, the GOP don’t have any convictions yet either…just plenty of investigations and indictments.
Update: The Dems dig in: “We’re serving notice on [Senate Republicans] at this moment: Be prepared for this motion every day until you face the reality. The Senate Intelligence Committee has a responsibility to hold this administration accountable for the misuse of intelligence information. They have promised this investigation. We will continue to make this request until they do it.” Bravo!
“‘Everyone thinks it is over for Karl and they are wrong,’ a source close to Rove said. The strategist’s legal and political advisers ‘by no means think the part of the investigation concerning Karl is closed.’” As Scooter Libby preps for his Thursday arraignment, Rove continues to sweat the Fitzgerald investigation. Meanwhile, Cheney picked Libby’s replacements yesterday, and they’re more of the same: The new chief of staff, David Addington, was the co-author of the infamous torture memo, and Cheney’s new national security advisor, John Hannah, acted as the conduit for false Iraq intel in the lead-up to war. And, as you might expect of Cheney’s cronies, both are already implicated in Plamegate.
According to National Security Agency historian Robert Hanyok, his recent work outlining a deliberate NSA cover-up following the Gulf of Tonkin incident has been suppressed by the agency since 2001, in part because of Weaponsgate. “He said N.S.A. historians began pushing for public release in 2002, after Mr. Hanyok included his Tonkin Gulf findings in a 400-page, in-house history of the agency and Vietnam called ‘Spartans in Darkness.’ Though superiors initially expressed support for releasing it, the idea lost momentum as Iraq intelligence was being called into question, the official said.“
As Iraq announces the approval of its draft constitution (which passed in a manner Slate‘s Fred Kaplan has deemed “the worst of both worlds“), the war claims its 2000th US military casualty. (Of these, 357 were under 21, 487 were National Guard, and 1863 — over 9 in 10 – have died since Dubya’s “Mission Accomplished” fiasco.) We’re still well under the casualty rate for Vietnam, true, but what comfort is that to the families of the fallen? Two thousand US men and women have been killed in the line of duty, and this blatantly amateurish administration still has no plan either to win or to disengage from a conflict they orchestrated, other than “stay the course.” As with so much else under this president, the conduct of this war from its inception has been shameful and unacceptable — in short, a national embarrassment.
As breaking everywhere this morning, it seems Scooter Libby, for one, has clearly perjured himself in the Plamegate investigation. Whatsmore, his boss, “Big Time” Dick Cheney, may well have initiated the smear campaign against Valerie Plame, in order to promote the administration’s push for war in Iraq. What else has Fitzgerald uncovered? We should know within 72 hours.
“‘The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney,’ Mr. Scowcroft told Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker. ‘I consider Cheney a good friend – I’ve known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.’” As Cheney consigliere Scooter Libby preps for a likely Plamegate perp walk, the NYT refocuses on the broader question of our entry into the Iraq war. And, as the Scowcroft quote attests (and as Medley also notes), prominent Republicans are starting to pile on. “‘Iraq was at core a war of choice, and extraordinarily expensive by every measure – human life, impact on our military, dollars, diplomatically,’ said Mr. [Richard] Haass, a former senior State Department official under President Bush.“
Or, as former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson puts it, “[T]he case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my study of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy didn’t know were being made.“
Update: Jeffrey Goldberg discusses his Scowcroft piece, and Slate‘s Fred Kaplan evaluates it, noting that George H.W. Bush is also something of a Dubya critic in the article. Speaking of Scowcroft, Dubya Sr. says: “He has a great propensity for friendship. By that, I mean someone I can depend on to tell me what I need to know and not just what I want to hear….[He] was very good about making sure that we did not solely consider the ‘best case,’ but instead considered what it would mean if things went our way, and also if they did not.” Listen up, sonny…Papa just learned you.
“Greg Mitchell, who edits Editor & Publisher, writes, ‘Miller did far more damage to her newspaper than did Jayson Blair, and that’s not even counting her WMD reporting, which hurt and embarrassed the paper in other ways.’ Jay Rosen concurs. ‘There’s no question,’ he says, ‘this is bigger than Jayson Blair.’” Salon‘s Farhad Manjoo deconstructs the NY Times coverage of Judy Miller’s involvement in Plamegate (available here), and explains why Cheney chief Lewis Libby, in particular, may now be facing an obstruction of justice charge. If it’s any consolation, Scooter, Rove’s in hot water, too.
“Tillman had very unembedded feelings about the Iraq War. His close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer remembered, ‘I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town…. We were talking. And Pat said, “You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.” And we all said, “Yeah.” That’s who he was. He totally was against Bush.’” By way of a friend of mine from high school, The Nation‘s Dave Zirin explains how the Dubya administration’s use of slain NFL safety (and Chomsky fan) Pat Tillman as poster boy for the Iraq war was, like so much else in the lead-up to this conflict, built on lies.
Chalk up another X against Dubya’s UN nominee: It now turns out John Bolton lied to Congress about his part in the investigation of the Iraq-Niger claim. (He claimed he hadn’t been interviewed…He had.) Regardless, Dubya still has plans to appoint Bolton by fiat after Congress skips town. After all, what’s one more liar in this truth-starved administration? He should fit right in.
“‘A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise.’ The authors add, ‘As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point.’” Using the Dubya administration’s blatant lack of postwar prep as their news-peg, the Washington Post finally headlines the Downing Street Memo on their front page, over a month after the story broke overseas. Well, better late than never, I suppose.
“‘I really don’t like being lied to, repeatedly, flagrantly,’ Mr. Dayton said.” In a display of dissent that bodes well for the Dems’ outlook in the coming term, several Senate Dems — most notably Ted Kennedy, Mark Dayton, Carl Levin, Evan Bayh, Robert Byrd, and Barbara Boxer — use the Condi hearings to call out the administration on Iraq. (Newcomer Ken Salazar and Joe Lieberman, on the other hand, rolled over immediately.) Update: She’s through, but not before racking up the most No votes (13) in 180 years (since the “Corrupt Bargain” backlash against Henry Clay in 1825.)
Monica who? On the eve of Dubya II, Salon‘s Peter Dizikes offers a short but comprehensive list of this administration’s scandals thus far. Thirty-four and counting…not that you’d know it from watching the evening news.