Tell me if this sounds familiar.
U.S. officials want to go to war by invading another country.
Only problem? They don’t have a compelling reason.
So – they make one up by manufacturing “intelligence” and passing it off to U.S. “news” outlets, who dutifully report it as fact.
Only in the movies, right?
You’re in luck.
High octane director Paul Greenglass (United 93 and the Bourne trilogy) teams up with Hollywood hot shot Matt Damon in a new “ripped from yesterday’s headlines” thriller that takes aim at the still-unanswered questions surrounding the Iraqi government’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction back in 2002.
Greenglass bases “Green Zone” very loosely on author Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s provocative and under-appreciated book The Green Zone: Imperial Life In The Emerald City, which painted an eye-opening picture of the plush pleasures that marked life for the U.S. imperial “worker bees” working to “build a new and more democratic” Iraq. But, in the interest of providing “getting butts in seats” entertainment, Greenglass takes tremendous liberties, shifting away from a focus on how U.S. Imperial elites transformed a once-sovereign nation into a giant military playground to protect U.S. geostrategic energy interests, complete with a dozen “enduring” (read “permanent”) bases and the gargantuan Bagdhad-based U.S. embassy, the biggest the world has ever seen – and towards the eye-opening journey of one honest U.S. officer (Matt Damon) who discovers that (brace yourself) the U.S. government lied its way into Iraq. “I came to find weapons and save lives,” he exclaims at one point. “I didn’t find shit!”
That’s about the size of it.
Greenglass’ timing of “Green Zone’s” spring 2010 release might be near-perfect, given that this month marks the 8-year-anniversary of the U.S. government’s invasion and occupation of modern Mesopotamia, with its enormous supply of fossil fuel energy reserves and convenient enemy-de-jour, Saddam Hussein (once a U.S. ally fighting Iranian Islamic fundamentalists back in the 1980s.)
Except for one thing.
Iraq, in the words of unembedded Middle Eastern independent journalist Dar Jamail, has become America’s “forgotten war,” all but gone from the coverage of what passes for “news” in U.S. mainstream media outlets. And yet, here is a major director and Hollywood actor (known for his progressive politics) re-visiting Iraq and the occupation’s opening moments. This, for me, was perhaps the most interesting twist in screening Green Zone, almost as if Hollywood has relegated the Iraq war (still very much in play) to the silver screen, history, and cultural memory, even as Greenglass, in interviews, states his hope that his film will revive an interest in Iraq that has flagged in recent months.
And Greenglass’ fictionalized story, told in his trademark compellingly disorienting “shaky-cam” style of quick-cut edits, tight camera work, and whip pans (heck, remove Damon’s G.I. garb, and we might as well be watching Bourne) is old news to any movie watcher who was awake and paying attention, as a citizen of our once-republic, to the fierce debates that raged throughout the years of the Bush/Cheney regime.
When the U.S. government justified its post-911 mission of “Operation Iraq Liberation (OIL)”(I mean, “Freedom”) on the allegation that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” despite U.N. weapons inspectors’ (Hans Blix, Scott Ritter etc.) repeated assertions that the WMD threat had been neutralized? WMD, incidentally, was the most-oft-repeated phrase in U.S. “news” media coverage in the year leading up to the Iraq invasion, and has so completely disappeared from U.S. public discourse since, that hearing Greenglass’ characters utter “weapons of mass destruction” with such scripted seriousness is a painful reminder of the past 8 years of lies and illusion.
Slightly more encouraging, perhaps, in Greenglass’ film – at least in the “should art mirror life” department – is the fictionalized presence of a Wall Street Journal reporter named Lawrie Dayne, who Miller confronts while trying to get to the very murky bottom of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the elusive WMD. “How do you come to write stuff that isn’t true?” Miller asks Dayne, who admits she printed high level intel handed to her without any independently verified research. While a minor subplot in Green Zone, Dayne’s presence in Greenglass’ film reinforces the fact that major U.S. newspapers and high level “news reporters” – notably the New York Times’ Judith Miller – beat the drums for a U.S. invasion of the REAL Iraq, resulting in a Times-sponsored mea culpa after the damage had been done. At least the New York Times came clean.
Fast forward to now. Despite much talk of western-style “democracy” and “freedom” taking root in Iraq, the country is a mess today. A staggeringly high estimated one million Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion, with at least 2 million wounded and displaced. Beyond the human toll, daily life for most Iraqis is abysmal, compared with life under the Hussein regime.
Perhaps Greenglass’ Green Zone will push thoughtful Americans into a reconsideration of U.S. foreign policy, or help stimulate some cautionary thinking as the Obama administration widens the war in Afghanistan and saber-rattles in Iraq. Then again, Americans are so conditioned to use movies as an escape that whatever lessons Greenglass and Damon hope to impart are lost in a staccato symphony of bullets – Firefight 101, Greenglass can do it in his sleep – at film’s end.