Monday, April 8, 2013

Is Anyone's Life Really "Fair Game"?

Roger Ebert from
RIP, Roger Ebert.  I hope you and Siskel are having fun!  In homage to you, here's a link to your review of the movie I watched last night, Fair Game.  We do not disagree, and I really admire your objectivity.  That was your way -- to step back and ask, how does it work as a movie?  No matter how explosive or emotional the story, if it didn't work as a movie, that's what was important.  Thank you, Ebert.

A line in Fair Game made me gasp.  It comes over halfway through, and is spoken to Joe Wilson, not his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, whose career at the CIA and life were ruined by the George W. Bush administration trying to cover their butts in 2003-04 regarding going to war against Iraq.  If I remember the line correctly, it was, "The Administration has informed me that Valerie Plame is fair game."  Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) reacts with a stunned silence.  How can anyone be "fair game"? 

But that is exactly the line that separates the Wilsons from the Bush Administration, and especially the Office of the Vice President.  At the movie's beginning, we see Valerie (Naomi Watts) doing her job: she is a covert CIA operative working to keep nuclear arms from proliferating.  We see her at home with husband Joe and their children, socializing with friends, leading their lives.  Neither of these people, as seen by the way they live their lives, would consider anyone's life "fair game" under any circumstances.

In the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, the CIA worked hard to find WMD in Iraq and Plame was a part of that.  A question arose about a possible shipment of yellow cake uranium from Niger to Iraq.  She recommends her husband to her CIA bosses to go check it out -- he'd been ambassador to Niger, knew how the country and government worked.  He went, he searched, he investigated, and found that such a shipment would have been impossible.  He reported his findings to the CIA who passed on the information, post-analysis, to the White House.

Meanwhile, Plame is traveling in the Middle East, following leads and making connections.  She's superb at her job and doesn't see herself as a heroine.  She's a working mother who happens to have a dangerous job.  When George W. Bush includes false information in his State of the Union Address -- the Niger yellow cake theory without naming the country, and another bogus story about aluminum rods -- it becomes clear that he plans to go to war against Iraq.  Except in this movie, Bush isn't the one who is pushing for war, it's Cheney. 

Plame needs to protect her resources in Iraq.  She's made promises especially to Iraqi nuclear scientists who had confirmed that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear program, no WMD, that she'd help them get out of the country.  She has other on-going operations, other networks in other countries, all serving as resources in her work to stop nuclear proliferation.  What happens next is a matter of public record now because Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, has served prison time for it.  In response to Joe Wilson's op-ed in The New York Times refuting the yellow cake uranium story by describing the work he'd done for the CIA, Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative is leaked to the Chicago Sun-Times which then publishes it. 

Since 1982, it's been against the law to reveal the identity of a covert CIA operative to the public in any way, much less directly to the media.  The reason that law exists is to protect those covert operatives who ferret out the information the government needs in order to protect us, and it protects the operatives' networks of contacts anywhere.  By revealing Valerie Plame Wilson's job, those involved in the Bush administration caused her to lose her job, ended all of her on-going operations, exposed her networks of contacts which led to deaths, and most heart-wrenchingly for this movie, stopped the operation to rescue the Iraqi nuclear scientists who had helped the CIA.  They disappeared, their families disappeared, they were never seen again and presumed killed. 

This movie lays out the events with a measured, calm, almost distant view.  It clearly has sympathy for the Wilsons, and lays the blame for the leak squarely at VP Cheney's office door.  It shows how the Wilsons responded to the stress, to the attempts to discredit them, and their marriage slowly disintegrating under the strain; but it also shows them as flawed human beings who believe in telling the truth, in respecting human life, and in doing the right thing.

Does it work as a movie?  Yes, and I'd say a good one, one that I can recommend.
Is anyone's life "fair game?"  I have to admit, the part about this story that disgusts me now and outraged me in 2003 is the blatant disregard for the law by those in power, especially the VP's office, and willingness to ruin a person's career, just to cover their butts.  Ten years later, we all know what Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson tried to tell us in 2003: there was no WMD in Iraq and Saddam Hussein did not have a running nuclear program.  Absolute power still corrupts absolutely......

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