Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405


digbysez at gmail
isnospoon at gmail
satniteflix at gmail


Mother Jones
Raw Story
Huffington Post
Crooks and Liars
American Prospect
New Republic
Common Dreams
Smirking Chimp
CJR Daily
consortium news


Daily Kos
Political Animal
Taylor Marsh
Spocko's Brain
Talk Left
Suburban Guerrilla
Scoobie Davis
Tom Tomorrow
Left Coaster
Angry Bear
Seeing the Forest
Cathie From Canada
Frontier River Guides
Brad DeLong
The Sideshow
Liberal Oasis
Juan Cole
Rising Hegemon
Unqualified Offerings
Alas, A Blog
Lean Left
Oliver Willis
skippy the bush kangaroo
Crooked Timber
the talking dog
David E's Fablog
The Agonist

Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008 01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008 02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008 03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008 04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008 05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008 06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008 07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008 08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008 09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008 10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008 11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008 12/01/2008 - 01/01/2009 01/01/2009 - 02/01/2009 02/01/2009 - 03/01/2009 03/01/2009 - 04/01/2009 04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009 05/01/2009 - 06/01/2009 06/01/2009 - 07/01/2009 07/01/2009 - 08/01/2009 08/01/2009 - 09/01/2009 09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009 10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009 11/01/2009 - 12/01/2009 12/01/2009 - 01/01/2010 01/01/2010 - 02/01/2010 02/01/2010 - 03/01/2010 03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010 04/01/2010 - 05/01/2010 05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010 06/01/2010 - 07/01/2010 07/01/2010 - 08/01/2010 08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010 09/01/2010 - 10/01/2010 10/01/2010 - 11/01/2010 11/01/2010 - 12/01/2010 12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011 01/01/2011 - 02/01/2011 02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011 03/01/2011 - 04/01/2011 04/01/2011 - 05/01/2011 05/01/2011 - 06/01/2011 06/01/2011 - 07/01/2011 07/01/2011 - 08/01/2011 08/01/2011 - 09/01/2011 09/01/2011 - 10/01/2011 10/01/2011 - 11/01/2011 11/01/2011 - 12/01/2011 12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012 01/01/2012 - 02/01/2012 02/01/2012 - 03/01/2012 03/01/2012 - 04/01/2012 04/01/2012 - 05/01/2012 05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012 06/01/2012 - 07/01/2012 07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012 08/01/2012 - 09/01/2012 09/01/2012 - 10/01/2012 10/01/2012 - 11/01/2012 11/01/2012 - 12/01/2012 12/01/2012 - 01/01/2013 01/01/2013 - 02/01/2013 02/01/2013 - 03/01/2013 03/01/2013 - 04/01/2013 04/01/2013 - 05/01/2013 05/01/2013 - 06/01/2013 06/01/2013 - 07/01/2013 07/01/2013 - 08/01/2013 08/01/2013 - 09/01/2013 09/01/2013 - 10/01/2013 10/01/2013 - 11/01/2013 11/01/2013 - 12/01/2013 12/01/2013 - 01/01/2014 01/01/2014 - 02/01/2014 02/01/2014 - 03/01/2014 03/01/2014 - 04/01/2014 04/01/2014 - 05/01/2014 05/01/2014 - 06/01/2014 06/01/2014 - 07/01/2014 07/01/2014 - 08/01/2014 08/01/2014 - 09/01/2014 09/01/2014 - 10/01/2014 10/01/2014 - 11/01/2014


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Great Game

by digby

I had meant to review "Syriana" when I saw it over the Thanksgiving week-end, but with one thing and another, I let it slide. Now I see that the reviews are coming in fast and furious and I'm left in the dirt. Typical.

I'm not going to bore anyone with a synopsis, because anyone who is reading this can go to the web-site and see the trailer and read all about it right now. (God I love these internets.)

I happened to have loved "Traffic" (written by the same screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, who also directed "Syriana") so this frenetic, multi-tentacled, highly textured plot line was right up my alley. I like thrillers that I can't figure out until the end and which require me to go back and review the entire movie in my mind, seeing certain scenes through the prism of the climax and understanding them entirely differently than I did the first time. And I especially like it when a film's confusing plot is almost a character of the story, as this one is.

On a cinematic level it is not as polished or interesting as "Traffic" which had the brilliant Steven Soderberg at the helm. He used light and color to differentiate the varying threads of the plot to keep things straight in the audience's mind. This film is less dazzlingly directed, so the complicated plot becomes more challenging. Nonetheless, I found it gripping from start to finish mainly because it is about something that we here in the blogosphere have been talking about since the war began and it asks a question that everyone's asking (why are we in Iraq?) without ever bringing Iraq up at all.

The film observes various American and middle east actors running about with idealistic, nihilistic, greedy and personal agendas, bumping into each other sometimes at random and at others by design. But the single most important player is oil (which in real life, for reasons that are mystifying, is widely considered to be a tin-foil hat, loony-left explanation, even among liberals.) I don't normally consider myself a cynic, but on this topic, it's very hard not to be. In the final analysis, this really is a modern version of the Great Game. When we ask ourselves "why are we in Iraq?" it makes more sense to refine the question and ask whether we would be in Iraq if it weren't for oil. I think it's fairly obvious that we would not be. Terrorism, in the grand scheme of things, is not an existential threat no matter how hard the warbloggers wank. Invading Iraq was actually counter-productive to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and may end up creating another Islamic state. Even the Bush administration knew that this was not an adequate rationale for invading Iraq so they pimped the WMD threat.

Atrios has posted an interview with ex-CIA agent Robert Baer, on whom the George Clooney character was based, that is quite interesting. Here's another interview from Baer on Chris Matthews that I think speaks to my point:

MATTHEWS: What‘s the future look like?

BAER: I‘ll tell you what the Saudis are doing. They are building a fence to keep the chaos in Iraq from moving south, and so are the Jordanians. They‘ve put out contracts.

MATTHEWS: If you had to choose now between Americans forces staying in that country for two more years or getting out now, what is better?

BAER: Chris, the problem is oil. Muslims sit on 70 percent of oil. We cannot afford to see Saudi Arabia destabilized. We‘re going to have to keep troops in the area. I don‘t know where you are going to keep them, on the border, in the rear bases, but we cannot let the chaos in Iraq spread.

MATTHEWS: It would?

BAER: Absolutely. Look at the bombings in Jordan. That came directly from Iraq.

MATTHEWS: You say we have to stay, but when can we come home, ever?

The vice president today sounded like we‘re never really coming home.

That we have to fight for American influence in that part of the world.

BAER: We have to come home one day, it‘s $5 billion a day. We‘re going to run out of money. And we‘re going to run out of soldiers and run out of tolerance from the American people.

We have to find a way to remain the policemen of the Gulf and however you do that, leave that up to the military. But we cannot keep our troops as they are deployed now in Iraq forever.

I would suggest that what Baer says is worth considering as we contemplate what the meaning of "withdrawal" or "victory" or "bringing home the troops" really means. I think that we are going to be in the middle east for a long, long time, the only question is on what terms.

The powers that be in the US (and the United Kingdom of British Petroleum) believe they must control this region's valuable resource. Indeed, some of the big thinkers like Zbigniew Brzezinski (in "The Grand Chessboard") and the PNAC nuts believe that the US must control "Eurasia" or risk being shut out of the future. There is nothing new under the sun and the pursuit of precious necessary resources that belong to others has been going on forever.

Oil is certainly not the only reason we are in this mess. It is, perhaps, the fundamental reason we are in this mess. And it's the reason that this mess isn't going to be solved by either bringing the boys home or creating a "democracy" in the middle east. We may leave Iraq as an occupying force due to a lack of domestic support, or we might be chased from the region by violent events. But if we have any illusions that the United States is not going to be deeply involved in the middle east for the forseeable future, we need to wake up. Sadly, whether we know it or not, by our blind and profligate actions the American people lend credence to the insane ramblings of that miniskirted harpy, Ann Coulter:

"Why not go to war just for oil? We need oil."

Why not, indeed? I wonder what would happen if the question was posed just that starkly? At this point, the Great Game players, the oil companies and the politicians who dance to their tune are unwilling to put it that way. They work to keep citizens in the dark about what is at stake, encouraging them to guzzle cheap gasoline at a fantastic pace while droning out messianic statements about good and evil and spreading freedom.

Syriana's "confusing" plot speaks to that. It's conveys the sense of drugged vagueness we all feel when we try to unravel the motivations behind these actions. There are a thousand different reasons why we could be doing what we are doing, but nobody knows for sure what is the real one.

There is only one character in the film who holds all the disparate threads in his hands --- the James Baker (Christopher Plummer) character who walks freely among the politicians, the oil companies, the ruling sheiks, the spooks and the regional puppets. He is the Grand Master of the Great Game. He ensures that none of the players know what the others are doing, each kept in the dark, flailing about with everything from torture to idealism to pragmatic everyday power politics without ever knowing that they are being manipulated by greater forces.

I suppose that we could prosaically assume that he represents a worldly reality like The Carlyle Group (or in an earlier time, The Trilateral Commission.) But I think he simply symbolises Power and Arrogance. He is fundamentally anti-democratic, amoral and relentless in his quest for more of what he is made of. He is America's id, perfectly represented as an elderly Texan with his steely talons dug deeply into every consequential player in the New Great Game.

The only character who sees through the subterfuge is the ex-CIA agent, abandoned by his country, whose life of dirty deeds on behalf of The Company prepares him alone to understand his role and dig his way out. That is the most out-of-sync Hollywood moment in an otherwise completely cynical film. (But then, it's George Clooney who can't help but be seen as a hero.) In reality, there can be no such neat denouement. The claws would turn deadly if he were to do what he does.

I've read a number of reviews in which the writer finds this movie a simple-minded portrayal of evil corporate masters holding the puppet strings of great nations and vast empires. It's the same complaint about the slogan "No blood for oil", as if those who see our presence in the mideast in such terms are silly dupes and fools. But I would submit that it is the jaded sophisticates who are missing the point. "Syriana", for all its "confusion" really does get to the heart of the matter and forces you to deal with the one simple fact that nobody wants to accept. This planet really is running out of oil --- and we are entering an era in which our nation is going to be asserting our power to get it.

Rather than finding "Syriana's" plot confounding, by the end I thought its multiple plotlines led to a bracing clarity: Oil. I don't know that it's all that important to understand anything else and if America sees this movie and comes away with that understanding then I think it succeeds as both a film and a political statement.


Search Digby!