Say Goodnight To The Bad Guys

Prop man: Colin Powell in 'Uncovered: The War on Iraq'
Cinema Libre

Have we already forgotten what the run-up to the Iraq invasion really felt like? Robert Greenwald's documentary Uncovered: The War on Iraq hits one point and hits it hard, maybe three, four hundred times: We said there were going to be WMD, and there were none. He pulls out of the woodwork every disgruntled Republican suit who ever drew a pension: Here's a Defense Department lifer insisting the sinister "aluminum tubes" that Colin Powell warned us about were really spare parts for outdated conventional weapons; there's a high-ranking anthraxist underlining that Secretary Powell's theatrical prop--that minuscule phial of deadliness waved before a disbelieving U.N.--represented a Saddam-made toxin that had gone out of circulation by 1991. Every detail in Uncovered has the flatfooted ker-clunk of Mark Fuhrman feigning surprise at the bloody glove.

And yet Uncovered is admirable nonetheless--especially in its DNC-like insistence on foregrounding the image of aggrieved Republicans over sound bites of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. What Greenwald's remorseless factuality can't admit, alas, is our real set of reasons for making war. I mean, no one in America in 2003--not even those legitimately frightened by Saddam Hussein--sincerely expected the exhumation of a Dr. Evil death factory beneath Saddam's wine cellar. The most specific pro-war view expressed in regard to Saddam was "Better safe than sorry"--meaning, We may not find a thumbtack, but who knows what he'll do a year from now?

More often than not, Americans knew who Saddam really was--that he wasn't the grandiloquent author of a doomsday machine. Most Americans under the age of 30 have seen De Palma's Scarface at least a half-dozen times, right? Saddam was a fifth-act Tony Montana, eyes glued to the video monitors, poison-tasters ready to try the pancakes, terminally high on his own supply. Hardly an "imminent" danger by any sane definition of imminence, Saddam could barely stave off his own assassins, much less orchestrate the fall of the West.

So what launched this multi-billion-dollar production? Next time you stride through the mini-mall at an airport, pick up a middle-management self-help book. What, the book will ask, does an ailing business do when it wants to project an image of virility, of appetite? Well, it buys something; it takes something over; it eats something. Indeed, there's no way of showing the lead in your pencil quite like a forced merger.

Uncovered is duly diligent about covering the klutzy aftermath of that spirit-lifting smash 'n' grab, though not as diligent as Naomi Klein's recent Harper's essay "Baghdad Year Zero," in which the author puts the postscript to our Viagra binge in proper perspective. Operation Enduring Freedom wasn't just a neocon virtual role-play game, with mom-and-pop democracy fixing to spread through the region like avian flu: It was also a Khmer Rouge-like experiment in 100 percent free-marketism. (Let a thousand Quiznos bloom!) As Klein argues, the rush to turn downtown Baghdad into the ultimate free-trade zone was clearly more important than the danger of turning a work force into a terrorist army overnight. Because what's good for business--even what's good in a creepily hypothetical, Pol Pot-ian sense--is more important than the welfare of the black and Latino enforcers of those corporate whimsies.

Isn't that the lesson we learned a long time ago? Do the Likudite fantasists who picture Syria and Iran as Starbucks-dotted refueling stops view our armed forces as anything other than unskilled, expendable labor? And how do their arcane fantasies, with the U.S. and Israel buddy-copping down the Arab street like Owen Wilson high-fiving Ben Stiller, dovetail perfectly with the manhood-restoration fantasies of Joe Sixpack in Dubuque?

That, I hope, is a subject for further discussion; it is, in any event, a subject too gossamer, too elusive, too soft-science for the pack of lies-under-oath that is Uncovered. Where Greenwald really lets his hair down is in his other new leftist doc: Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. (Note: John Nichols of The Nation and Jeff Blodgett of Wellstone Action are slated to speak after the Riverview's single Outfoxed screening, sponsored by the University of Minnesota Press and others.) A bouncy romp through goofball graphics, pun-laden chapter titles, and high-speed montages that evoke sports-channel blooper reels, Outfoxed makes an even simpler point than Uncovered: Fox News is the official propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Anyone with a cable-TV remote could come to that conclusion within about 60 seconds of contact with the network, but Greenwald ably distills Fox's ability to make one's blood boil like some fast-acting nitro pill.

There's Bill O'Reilly, channeling every alcoholic Irish paterfamilias you've ever cringed from as he harangues the newbie barmaid for a stiffer pour; there's chubby-hunky Sean Hannity, putting political cuckold horns on inky-dinky Alan Colmes. At one point in Outfoxed, a straight-faced commentator remarks on the "squirrelly" quality of the flyweight Colmes, who seems to have been personally selected by Murdoch for his resemblance to the dweeb husbands in porno movies who tearfully beat off while wifey gets it on with the plumber. Outfoxed rehearses the network's daily lineup of Orwellian atrocities, with special focus on the brain-rinsing subtlety of Fox's "Some people say..." (Some people say that John Edwards likes the scent of 12-year-old girls...)

Outfoxed's would-be upbeat finale, in which we're all exhorted to poke our pitchforks at Michael Powell's FCC, feels unconvincing even to the filmmakers; the effectiveness of the movie lies in its comic rendering of our collective cranial microchip insertion. Outfoxed ends up as a portrait of Manchurian candidates willfully self-benumbed in between Price Club commercials.

It's a marvelous thing that Greenwald's (partly self-financed) documentaries are getting big play first via internet sales and then theatrical distribution--a confounding water-into-wine trick. But rather than watch three hours that'll raise your blood pressure in familiar ways, go to, sign up to dial some undecided voters, and do your part to create an era in which we'll watch deeply outraged movies about Kerry's super-sneaky drift to the right in revising the tax code--movies, in other words, about problems we should only be so lucky to have.

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