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We Three Kings in Iraq Are…

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In today’s NY Times, David Edelstein acclaims Three Kings a great movie, and unambiguously anti-war: I agree with the former point. Obviously, the director David O. Russell meant it to be anti-war, but I came away from the film sickened not by the Gulf War – though I am disgusted by the individual acts of brutality – but by the fact that we didn’t finish it, that we left Saddam in power, that we abandoned the rebels who rose against him at our behest.

People always point to Bush 1’s incredible poll numbers during the Gulf War and then marvel that he lost the election a year and a half later, blaming the economy for the loss. The economy doubtless played a part, but I believe he also lost because people were dissatisfied by the war’s irresolution, and especially the fact that we let people down simply to appease our allies.

Edelstein:

    THE Iraqi flourishing a white rag and a gun at the United States Army sergeant is far away, a speck on top of a mound in the middle of a flat, sun-bleached desert. Is he about to lay down his weapon or to fire it? The sergeant calls to his buddies: “Are we shooting people, or what?” In the absence of a firm answer – one soldier is busy removing a grain of sand from another’s eye, one dumbly repeats the question – the sergeant takes no chances. He shoots the distant Iraqi in the neck.

    This is not a moment from a recent, potentially spurious Iraqi surrender, but the overture to David O. Russell’s 1999 movie “Three Kings,” which begins in March 1991, just after the first gulf war has officially ended.[NY Times]

One of the grimmest lessons of war is shoot first, ask questions later: war is brutalizing, dehumanizing, grim, and often arbitrary in its individual, granular acts. There is no doubt about this, and it is important that we be reminded of these grim facts, BUT that still doesn’t change the necessity of war upon some occasions, including the current one. It is a crime and a disgrace that we didn’t finish the first Gulf War, and a permanent stain upon our karmic record that we abandoned the freedom fighters – all the more reason to complete this war and live up to our responsibilities in the aftermath.

    “Three Kings” is about a new way of seeing war. A $50 million studio film with major stars, it’s a combination heist comedy, conversion melodrama and combat thriller; but the genre conventions are merely a springboard for Mr. Russell’s true subject.

    Again and again, he uses color, sound and surreal interpolations to break through the viewer’s movie-fed, CNN-filtered, rock-‘n’-roll-fueled dissociation. With its jarring mixture of tones, “Three Kings” was not a box-office blockbuster. But it looks more and more like a classic.

Agreed, but art is not life: art informs life, art deepens life and hopefully our understanding of the human condition, but you still gotta do what you gotta do. No matter how tragic war is on a micro level – and every death and injury is a tragedy of its own – this still does not change the reality and imperatives on the macro level, and governments must think and act on the macro level – it’s their job.

This exemplifies Russell’s aims and approach:

    There are no glorified gunshots in “Three Kings”: Mr. Russell has said that he wanted every bullet to matter. In the film’s most notorious scene, Gates explains to his trigger-happy men what happens when a person is shot; and Mr. Russell demonstrates with a surreal close-up of a bullet plowing through soft tissue, the cavity filling with lime-green bile.

    ….”Three Kings” is not the first anti-war movie in which opposing soldiers have recognized themselves in one another before pulling the trigger, but it’s the most brilliantly original in its eye for the warriors’ common consumerism. The Iraqis in “Three Kings” are not disciples of Al Qaeda, with its fundamentalist hatred of liberal Western materialism. One of Mr. Russell’s chief satiric points is that American and Iraqi soldiers browse through the same catalogs. An Iraqi officer trying to escape from the smoke-filled bunker with a huge pile of blue jeans isn’t so different from the Americans lugging bullion in Louis Vuitton bags, except in the scale of his ambition.

But the regime they are defending invaded a neighboring country, used WMD on its own people and others, defied the international community, and had to be crushed – unfortunately, it was only disabled and allowed to limp on to no one’s satisfaction or benefit, save for the wretched regime itself.

This does not speak to me against war when necessary, but against the immorality of half-measures and the moral, ethical and practical requirement that we finish what we have begun. This time we must do it right.

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About Eric Olsen

  • InMarin

    The Gulf War’s primary goal was to ‘free Kuwait’ from the invading Iraqi army. This goal was accomplished therefore the war WAS ‘finished’. George senior has been quoted as saying “Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have…incurred incalculable human and political costs”. He goes on to say, “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. . . . Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different and perhaps barren outcome.”

    At no time during the selling of Gulf War 1 did GHW Bush say the goal was to take out Saddam.

    Typical: moving the goal posts. First it’s WMD, then it’s connections to Al Qaida, then it’s regime change, then it’s liberating the Iraqi people…on and on and on.

    But the regime they are defending invaded a neighboring country (they were expelled), used WMD on its own people and others (with weapons we sold them), defied the international community (as we are doing now), and had to be crushed (but at what cost?)…

    No doubt you’ve seen this article in the NY Times:

    Viewing the War as a Lesson to the World

    Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria last week, declaring that any “hostile acts” they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President Bush’s closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable defense secretary had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation.

    Mr. Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Mr. Rumsfeld’s brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word — “Good” — and went back to work.

    “Iraq is not just about Iraq,” a senior administration official who played a crucial role in putting the strategy together said in an interview last week. It was “a unique case,” the official said. But in Mr. Bush’s mind, the official added, “It is of a type.”

    Why the interest in Syria (and not, say, Pakistan)?

    Paritzky requests assessment of old oil line from Iraq to Haifa

    Hanan Bar-On, then the deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, confirmed Sunday that Israel was involved in talks during the mid-1980s on a plan for an Iraq-Jordanian pipeline to the Red Sea port of Aqaba. Among the participants in these talks was Donald Rumsfeld, then an adviser to U.S. president Ronald Reagan and currently secretary of defense. The American corporation Bechtel was slated to build the pipeline. According to the deal, which eventually fell through, Israel was to receive about $100 million a year via former Israeli businessman Bruce Rappaport in return for a commitment not to oppose the construction or operation of the new pipeline.

    Then there’s this:

    In the pipeline: More regime change

    As acknowledged by the Israeli minister, a prerequisite for the project is, therefore, a new regime in Baghdad with friendly ties with Israel. However, such a regime, if ever it comes to power, will still require Syria’s consent to operationalize the pipeline. Given the overall political environment in the Middle East and Israel’s continued occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, the existing Syrian regime will never grant its consent as long as the status quo prevails. As stated by the Iranian government, during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) when Iraq enjoyed cordial and close relations with Israel’s mentor, the United States, Israel tried, but failed, to resume the oil flow through the pipeline. Syria, a friend of Iran and an enemy of Iraq, blocked the flow of Iraqi oil.

    Hence, unless the pipeline were redirected through Jordan, another country bordering Israel and Iraq with normalized relations with Israel, the pipeline project will require a different regime in Syria. In other words, regime change in both Iraq and Syria is the prerequisite for the project. As Paritzky did not mention a redirecting option, it is safe to suggest that the Israelis are also optimistic about a regime change in Syria in the near future.

    Stop watching Fox News exclusively, please!

    A morally hollow victory

    No amount of PR will disguise the fact that this war is an outrage against humanity

    And that’s our greatest ally talking!

  • http://www.sanfordmay.com san

    As InMarin states, the job WAS finished in the Gulf War: Kuwait was liberated; GHW Bush stood by the rules of international law and the UN mandate. The American public was pleased with GHW Bush’s management of the Gulf War. Concerns over the economy DID drive him from office; the Gulf War was a done deal. I think that had GHW Bush marched on Baghdad, a great portion of the American public, unindoctrinated in the philosophy of fear of the present administration, would have looked at him askance.

  • http://stevesilver.blogspot.com Stephen Silver

    I disagree with both the latter and the former: I’ve always considered “Three Kings” supremely overrated. My chief objection is that it tries to make a political argument based on events that never happened: there were never US soldiers who stole Kuwaiti gold from Iraq, those shootouts never really happened, and I doubt the football-as-weapon thing has any historical veracity either.

    Besides, it was a total copout that Wahlberg lived at the end.

  • InMarin

    Gosh Mr. Silver…you mean, it was fiction? How dare those Hollywood types make shit up! Why, just the other day I was watching Courage Under Fire…oh wait, that’s also fiction. Well, there’s always Apocolyspe Now…wait, that’s a novel by Joseph Conrad. How about Patton?

  • http://links.garbage-house.com Reid

    Have to agree whole-heartedly with InMarin. Duh – of course it’s fiction. It NEVER implied that it was anything but.

    Anyone who was watching Three Kings thinking it was a genuine retelling of true events needs a steady thorazine drip.

    Oh, and I think it’s a great film.