Anyone demanding an intelligent and factual analysis of the march to war on Iraq need only look to Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire (HC hereafter). Released by the Media Education Foundation and written by Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally, this documentary immediately focuses on the right question: why did the United States government attack Iraq, a nation that posed no threat to U.S. national security? The film covers the crucial element of all the motivations that led to the war: ideology. While also discussing oil, domination and military strategy, the film rightly concentrates on the existence of a small but influential cabal of Bush administration neoconservatives forever bent on spreading American power and influence. This simple answer to a complicated question represents HC‘s greatest strength.
The film relies heavily on the use of interviews with experts and pundits from among others, Noam Chomsky, Karen Kwiatkowski, Daniel Ellsberg and Scott Ritter. Although some interviewees are given too much leeway to speak beyond their respective expertise (e.g. a sociologist speaks as a political scientist and historian), the bulk of the commentary and analysis comes not from narrator Julian Bond, but rather a group of concerned experts. This trait contrasts starkly to the film’s competitor Fahrenheit 9/11, which relies on Michael Moore’s conjecture and curious interview style. The welcome inclusion of Noam Chomsky’s comment that neoconservatives are not conservatives is but one example of the expansive use of interviews.
The film describes the now well-known chronology of the neoconservatives. Former Cold War hawks demanding a proactive response to the growth of Soviet power, neoconservatives were left with nothing to fight when the U.S.S.R collapsed. However, their prescriptions for American empire didn’t fade away. Paul Wolfowitz’s "Defense Planning Guidance (DPG)," written during the first Bush administration, described a policy of aggressive use of American military and political power to secure resources, weaken enemy states and ensure stability for the American economy. This position was poorly received by both the administration and American public, tired of constant conflict and large military budgets. Without the support of a Republican administration, neoconservatives like Rumsfeld, Feith and Kristol joined think-tanks such as Project for a New American Century. Here, they penned more policy prescriptions similar to the Wolfowitz DPG, beginning to highlight the urgent need for regime change in Iraq. Again, the reports fell on deaf ears. The Wolfowitz Doctrine, as it was named, was eventually implemented after the events of 9/11 and officially endorsed by the administration at Bush’s 2002 West Point speech. HC’s portrayal of these events reflects the importance of public fear to the selling of the war on Iraq and the Wolfowitz Doctrine.
Before 9/11, neoconservatives in the administration were without tools to increase public and political support for the war on Iraq, hence the failure to implement the Wolfowitz Doctrine. HC contends that it was the manipulation of the public’s fear of further terrorist attacks that sold the invasion of Iraq and consequently a realized American empire. The administration increased Americans’ fear by constant, vague terror warnings while labeling the War on Terror as an epic battle between good and evil. Normon Solomon trenchantly points out that instead of proclaiming that the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself," the administration and neoconservatives stressed the doctrine that "the only thing we have to fear is not enough fear."
In order to firmly convince Americans of the urgent need to invade Iraq, the neocons claimed that America needed "access to valuable resources" or "a military footprint in the Middle East that will increase American influence in that volatile region." Instead, the administration sold the war as a defensive measure to thwart imminent attacks by WMDs and al-Qaeda/Saddam alliances. The film highlights the inconsistencies in this rhetoric and juxtaposes it with current administration statements claiming ignorance of such rationalizations. Any viewer who thought that the Iraq war was a last resort and an integral part of the war on terror will leave this film feeling duped.
The film temporarily strays from its focus when it addresses the question: "Why Iraq?" Some of those interviewed give blanket statements such as "It was all about oil" and "It was all about Empire." In the end, however, I was impressed by the variety of opinions expressed. The film’s approach correctly assumes that the war on Iraq cannot be explained away with one simple statement. Rather, internal ideological disputes between neoconservatives, political maneuvering and expediency led to a compromised march to war, one that initially appealed to the UN and spent months on a PR campaign with the American public. While one interviewee made the aforementioned blanket statements, another countered, "Oil is not a sufficient explanation." Such an approach is respectable and convincing. In the end, the viewer understands what the war in Iraq was not about: liberation, democracy, freedom or the War on Terror. The major motivations include the perceived need for a friendly regime in Iraq, a military footprint in the Middle East, easier access to resources, intimidation of America’s (more specifically, the government’s) enemies and an expanded American empire.
The skeptical viewer may ask near the end of the film: What about Kosovo? Somalia? What about every other military intervention in the name of "humanity" or "democracy"? Is this intervention, though grander in scale, any different? Antiwar.com has consistently maintained that each war is always sold as something it isn’t by similarly exploiting fear, morality or patriotism. It is interesting to think where these documentaries were during those similarly damaging wars. Hijacking Catastrophe also has one glaring omission: Israel. Perhaps for fear of condemnation, HC disregards the myriad connections between the neocons and American support of Israel.
Overall, Hijacking Catastrophe is a must-see film for anyone searching for an objective and convincing analysis of the ideological and political underpinnings of the war on Iraq devoid of the emotion and partisan baggage that saturates the debate.