We all remember the used-car-salesman pitch we heard from Dubya: There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but for a low, low price we can rid the country of its biological and chemical arsenals … maybe even some nukes. And we have to act now before we let this fabulous deal get away. But in the sobering new film, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, director Robert Greenwald argues effectively that the president was selling us a lemon all along.
Funded in part by MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress, Uncovered uses extensive interviews and TV clips to chronicle the administration's move to abandon diplomatic efforts and invade Iraq. There's no shortage of footage of the president and his cabinet members detailing a "grave and growing" threat from Saddam. It's all here, from the commander in chief's "imminent danger" State of the Union address in 2003 to Colin Powell's speech at the United Nations (complete with PowerPoint-heavy graphics and a flashy little vial of anthrax) to Dick Cheney grumbling about mushroom clouds as smoking guns on Meet the Press.
Greenwald conducts a roll call of CIA spooks, ambassadors, weapons inspectors and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense; among them, they can claim several decades' worth of experience in government service. These experts act as human wrecking balls that systematically break down the administration's reasons for war. It's difficult to discount the likes of David Kay, Hans Blix and Joe Wilson guys who were on the ground in Iraq when they say they warned the top Texan not only that there were no weapons, but that the slim "evidence" pointing to WMDs and Al Qaeda links was based on outdated (or simply false) intelligence.
The members of Team Bush, however, are the real stars of the film. Although the tone is never humorous, you can't help but chuckle beneath your black cloud as Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice act like bumbling henchmen, making their rounds of the TV news shows. At first confident about the existence of WMDs, they then shift focus to weapon "plans," then abandon that ground in favor of the position that Saddam was just a bad guy who needed to be removed.
Greenwald is also the director of Outfoxed, a documentary that skewers the Fox News Channel for being unfair and unbalanced. He falls into some of the same traps here: Greenwald could have aimed for more objectivity, but at least his attacks take place in the poli-doc genre without passing themselves off as "news." The filmmaker thankfully resists becoming a character in the story a la Michael Moore, and instead uses the intelligence community to bring home his point: More than 1,000 casualties later, it's clear that the U.N. weapons inspections were working and we went to war for nothing.
At its most generous moments, Uncovered: The War on Iraq is a scathing attack on the Bush administration for listening to the wrong people and heeding bad intelligence. At its most damning, the film is an outright accusation that they misled Congress and the American people to further a doctrine of imperialism. Every moment in this film is scary as hell and needs to be seen.