Lions for Lambs
starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Peňa, Andrew Garfield, Peter Berg, Kevin Dunn and Derek Luke
written by Matthew Michael Carnahan
directed by Robert Redford
I’m not sure what Robert Redford wanted to achieve with Lions for Lambs. There are three story lines: 1) Redfordplays a university political science professor counseling an under-achieving student in the responsibilities of being a human being in society; 2) Michael Peňa and Andrew Garfield play two of Redford’s students who leave college to volunteer for military service in Afghanistan. Yes, they were foolish and maybe naively foolish. But they did not lack a plan or a political/social strategy. 3) Tom Cruise plays a young, photogenic, pro-war Senator interviewed by a suspicious, Vietnam War-era veteran journalist, Meryl Streep. Each story could have been a film by itself, and I think that combining them into one movie is overly ambitious and detracts from each tale individually. I mean, the whole is less than its parts in this case.
I suppose that I might have accepted the Bush administration’s assertion if it had admitted that its case was based on its possession of receipts for all the weapons of mass destruction that it sold to Saddam in the first place.
Robert Redford is not convincing as a university professor, and I found his character more than a little silly and annoying. The performance of Michael Peňa and Andrew Garfield as two ethnic men (Mexican and African American) abandoning, or suspending/postponing college in order to serve in the military in an active war zone was better. It was an interesting idea, but it didn’t fly. Tom Cruise’s performance, supported by Meryl Streep, was excellent and gripping, despite his character being utterly despicable. Writer Matthew Michael Carnahan puts all the pro-war, global war against terrorism arguments and rhetoric in his mouth with the smarmy, unctuous eloquence that neoconservatives use to court the media and public opinion, and to scare its detractors into submissive silence. It’s sickening, but it’s done so well that I have to praise it. The film is not a pro-war-on-terror vehicle. It is an attempt to explore the issues and decisions of conscientious citizens in their midst by reasoned introspection and debate.
Tom’s Cruise’s character gives us the most to think about because he does most of the talking - and the best talking, too. And, also because he does most of the direct exposition of his (wrong) positions in the whole film. Meryl Streep is the seasoned, wary journalist interviewing him, but her scope to critically question him and challenge his arguments is limited by the corporate nature of the media company she works for. She knows that the story she wants to write has no chance of seeing the light of day in the corporate/commercial world of her job. So the audience has to do that in her place. It’s easy enough, since the U.S.government’s arguments for the War on Terror are so wrong and fraught with holes.
Democracy not only does not include me, it actively excludes me.
For the record, America is the greatest producer, exporter and user of weapons of mass destruction in the world. No contest there. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq attacked America on September 11, 2001. Al Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden were blamed for the attacks - and the Nairobi U.S. embassy bombing before that, during the Clinton administration - and Afghanistan was attacked because it gave refuge to bin Laden and Al Qaida , stubbornly resisting extradition demands. But we know for a fact that bin Laden was in Pakistan - a U.S.ally in this global campaign against terror - both on September 11th 2001 and on the day the Afghanistan campaign was launched. Almost all of the September 11 terror suspects were Saudi Arabian, not Iraqi or Afghan. The campaign against Iraq was based on the argument that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed an imminent risk to the U.S. and others. Not true. Additionally, he was framed as an ally if not a co-conspirator of Al Qaida. Not true. Then, Iraqwas framed as a safe haven for terrorists. Not true. In fact, there were no Al Qaida terrorists in Iraquntil Americabrought them. Go figure.
I suppose that I might have accepted the Bush administration’s assertion if it had admitted that its case was based on its possession of receipts for all the weapons of mass destruction that it sold to Saddam in the first place. But in reality we know for a fact from U.N. inspectors on the ground there - remember Hans Blix? - that no such weapons were found, and so President Bush’s assertion was not just groundless, but false. In retrospect, using the Freedom of Information Act, we know how more legitimate information was subordinate to less credible information in order to build the Bush administration’s weapons of mass destruction argument. The manipulation of information amounted to deliberate falsification, which too few Americans seemed to notice or to mind at the time, and too many remain oblivious to. (I find it interesting to remember that deliberate falsification by the President is grounds for impeachment.) After the invasion, when U.S. personnel could roam the country, they also found no such weapons, although tales of “smoking guns” were plentiful. Since the original reason of the campaign was a lie and quickly exposed as a lie, the Bush administration’s rationale quickly shifted to “spreading democracy.” (It was at that time that I sent a letter to President Bush asking him to invade either Japan or Canada in order to spread democracy to those countries. I am a law-abiding, tax-paying, property-owning adult who cannot vote anywhere on planet Earth. Democracy not only does not include me, it actively excludes me. Canada and Japan are the two countries I am affiliated with, so I figured it was a fair request considering the standards of truth, accuracy, morality and propriety demonstrated by Washington. I got no response.)
In addition, and just for the record, the Hussein regime never kicked UN weapons inspecting teams out of Iraq. Those teams left of their own accord out of frustration that Saddam’s government was being so uncooperative that their job was impeded. The weapons inspection teams retuned to Iraqprior to March 2003, but their reports of no discovery of banned weapons were ignored. I always wondered, why should Saddam’s government have cooperated with UN weapons inspecting teams anyway? Because that was part of the agreement that ended the first Gulf War in 1991, when the Iraqis were driven out of Kuwait? Not reason enough for me because I respect the principle of national sovereignty more than I respect the United Nations. And that is one reason why the Bush Doctrine - the great policy legacy of George W. Bush’s presidency that advocates America launching unprovoked attacks on foreign states with impunity if that action is based on evidence that foreign states represent a threat to the U.S. [the“shoot them before they shoot you, it’s either him or me” thing] - is so abominable. The Bush Doctrine abandons the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the treaty that ended the Thirty Year’s War in Europe and established the principle of the sovereignty of national borders which has been the bedrock of international diplomacy in the modern world.
Part of America’s public relations image in the world rests with how mistaken or over-estimated it imagines itself. Every nation harbors myths about itself that are repugnant because of their transparency. Canada has. Japan is really bad. But America has power that no other nation has, which makes American mistakes and over-estimations particularly harmful in the world, and even odious. It exports them. Fact, Americais belligerent. America was established through force of arms (in combination with sheer apathy) and the manufacture and use of arms has always been a feature of its culture. Fact, America is not and never has been the “leader of the free world,” a grossly pompous and misleading cachet. Fact, Americais not endowed with any righteous mission in history. Fact, the world is not filled with people who can be classified as “potential Americans.” I mean, it is not populated by people vying to be Americans and who harbor free market capitalist and liberal democratic ideals in their hearts that are only being artificially suppressed by evil totalitarian regimes. Not a bit of it! America is not so much a nice place as a rogue nation. I admit it, for me America is the biggest bad guy in the world. I know full well that it is simply impossible for Americans to see themselves as the bad guys.
But I could be wrong.