MONDAY NIGHT at the International Spy Museum, John Podesta & Co. marked the opening of the new Center for American Progress with the Washington debut of Robert Greenwald's documentary "Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War," which accuses the Bush administration of wholesale deception in its arguments for regime change. Podesta set the tone for the evening with opening remarks describing the Bush administration's foreign policy as being built on an "edifice of ideology" rather than a "foundation of facts." He then explained that his new think-tank would represent "muscular progressivism." The phrase conjured images of Teddy Roosevelt walking softly with his big stick. But it soon became clear this wasn't what these folks have in mind. They just want to muscle George W. Bush out of the White House.
Hailed as "the movie Fox doesn't want you to see," "Uncovered" is without a doubt a movie you don't want to see--unless your idea of a good time is being hectored by the likes of Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector and Saddam sympathizer. It is exceedingly rare that I find myself bored watching a documentary (I channel surf mainly between PBS and the History Channel), but "Uncovered" did the trick. Speaking of tricks, it deployed a full bag of them--the main one being juxtaposed quotes ripped from their context. One clip shows Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld asserting the existence of weapons of mass destruction as he argues the case for war, while the next shows Rumsfeld explaining that it is unlikely we will ever find WMD in post-Saddam Iraq. Interspersed among such clips are interviews with a number of experts such as former CIA director Stansfield Turner, Ambassador Joe Wilson, and the aforementioned Ritter. These folks made a few good jabs at the administration, but the strength of their arguments was undermined by their desire to give Saddam the benefit of the doubt, while simultaneously assuming the worst about our own executive branch.
While the documentary runs the gamut of left-wing anti-war/anti-Bush arguments (sexed-up intelligence, diversion of resources from War on Terror, you know the list), two of the charges are worth pausing over. First is the insistence by the supposed experts that Saddam and al Qaeda couldn't have had links because of the vast ideological divide between the socialist and secular Baath party and the fundamentalist leadership of al Qaeda. Now I may not be a CIA expert, but, as I said, I do watch the History Channel quite a bit and I can easily cite historical examples in which ideological chasms were bridged for the sake of defeating a common enemy. Take the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact for example--who would have imagined, Communists and Nazis working together to screw the Poles? Or if you want to go further back, there's Louis XVI's support for nascent American democracy. At one point, John Brady Kiesling, a foreign service officer who resigned in March over the administration's Iraq policy, asserts that it is ridiculous to think Saddam would jeopardize his power for an "adventure" with al Qaeda. Did he forget Saddam's excellent adventures in Iran and Kuwait--or the game of chicken he enjoyed playing with the oncoming steamroller bearing the license plate U.S. Army. Risky adventures were the common thread of Saddam's long despotism.
Even more disturbing--because it again involved giving Saddam the benefit of the doubt--was the moment when the president was shown in last January's State of the Union mentioning 16 chemical warheads found by Hans Blix's inspection team.
U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them--despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
For some reason, Greenwald's experts--and Podesta's audience--found the president's implication, that Saddam must be hiding the rest of the warheads somewhere, preposterous. The audience burst out laughing. I must say I missed the joke. Why should Saddam have gotten the benefit of the doubt here? Or maybe the mere appearance of the president is what had them laughing. Either way, I suspect "muscular progressivism" will turn out to be the bigger joke.
Michael Goldfarb is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.