Saturday, November 29, 2008

Man from Midland

Last night I finally saw W., the Oliver Stone biopic of our decider-in-chief. I mostly admired it, especially the painfully studied performance of Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice and the grim determination of Josh Brolin as W. himself. Brolin's portrayal struck me as sympathetic, even though the film serves up plenty of Bush buffoonery.

Mostly W. brought me back to the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Back then I was, amid all the administration's interweaving justifications for war, baffled as to why the president was intent upon invading Iraq. It just didn't make sense to me, and I still am baffled. The movie floats a couple of explanations that at least are plausible -- that W.'s war was an Oedipal blow at his father, who spared Saddam; that the invasion was part of Dick Cheney's plan for total global domination.

But neither explanation seems sufficient. What I am mostly left with from the film is the scenes of Bush underlings bickering in the run-up to war, and these suggest another explanation, one that actually makes more sense to me than any other: That the war simply resulted from bureaucratic ineptitude. I'm thinking of the sort of blunder that can happen in any workplace: A bad idea is allowed to come to fruition only because no one stops it. In Stone's telling the members of Bush's war-making team are, many of them, limp yes-men, too weak to stand up to their boss, terrified of losing their sinecures. I include Secretary of State Colin Powell in that group -- he argues against the war up to a point, then accedes.

In this light the war is like the Edsel, or New Coke -- a poorly conceived product doomed to fail, the result of bureaucratic deliberations in an airless conference room, an embarrassing flop. Plus dead people.

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