Picture this: Colin Powell, the most powerful soldier in the world, the only black man popular enough to run for president and have a chance at winning, the only member of G.W. Bush’s cabinet the Democrats actually trust to tell the truth; he holds vials of deadly poison up for examination by the U.N. Security Council and millions of television viewers; he then shows slides and photographs of military surveillance which indicate where barrels of such deadly poison can be found—if America and its allies just move into Iraq. This could have been a crushing blow to naysayers and skeptics; Bush could have shored up a shaky legacy and been a national hero. Instead, after arriving in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction were found. Soldier of Fortune and other magazines printed pictures of a single airplane buried in sand as proof of hidden WMD, but no one really believed that an old plane covered by a sandstorm really was proof of anything. Bush’s problem was playing to a conjecture instead of focusing, like Roger Aronoff does in his documentary Confronting Iraq (2004), on what additional problems Iraq causes, and can potentially cause, the world.
Confronting Iraq begins with stock footage of rubble caused by terrorists. These shots go back to Tehran in 1979 and produce a timeline of carnage through to Washington D.C. and New York City, 2001. The impact of each image in the montage serves as a reminder that the terrorist onslaught is not new. The graininess of the film stock of the older footage serves to visually situate the subject as a digital age problem with its origins much earlier than what many believe.
The choice of interview subjects is one of the film’s strongest characteristics. To assemble Bernard Lewis (author of The Crisis of Islam and Ivy-League scholar), Christopher Hitchens (author and writer for The National Review), Bernard Kerik (former commissioner for the NYPD), and James Woolsey (former head of the CIA) all for the film is an intellectual coup. The well-dressed, comprehensible scholars and experts in front of an austere black background are in direct contrast to interviews conducted by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11. Included in the Michigan-bred documentarian’s film are interviews with a Marine who has all but deserted his sworn duty, a distraught mother of a dead soldier, and Democratic senators (who are all intelligent, but biased). To his credit, Moore did interview respected journalist Craig Unger, author of House of Bush, House of Saud, but failed to use much footage from the interview. Excepting Unger, all the interviews in Fahrenheit 9/11 are valid as testimonials (i.e. expressions of opinion by laypersons), but the ones featured in Aronoff’s film possess a collective ethos that overshadows the portly filmmaker’s subjects.
In addition to the brains featured in the film, Confronting Iraq it attempts to uncover the peace movement. Possibly the quickest cut in the film serves as a segue to the protest segment. A shot of an ostrich, for an almost subliminal split-second, is the last thing seen before concentrating on the marches on Washington. Exhibiting the Kuleshov effect quite nicely, the combination of the bird and the theatre of the street level disruption of the protestors produces a third (hopefully intentional on the filmmaker’s part) image: someone who refuses to see the light of truth, but instead hides his head in the sand, like the ostrich is famous for doing.
Another interesting technique in the protest scene is the long shot focused on speakers delivering their addresses to the mass of people. Instead of tight focus, which would allow for identification with a member of the crowd, the camera work feels more like surveillance video footage. This works on two levels. First, it prevents any sympathetic feeling for either the protestors or the lecturer. Instead it allows for a more objective visual style. Contrast this method with Michael Moore’s use of protestors in Fahrenheit 9/11 where the verite styled jiggly cameras and police brutality serve the subjective purpose of producing sympathy for those opposed to Bush. Secondly, Aronoff’s footage works similarly to the ostrich clip; it connotes something not seen or heard. What is alluded to in this scene is covert surveillance footage, like that shot by various organizations of the U.S. government of criminals and spies. This ultimately works to convey the feeling that the leaders of the protestors pose a danger not readily apparent by their words, but work especially well when the voice-over narrates the background and political ideology of each person.
Had Roger Aronoff presented his film to the United Nations, would it have swayed anyone to believe Iraq is a threat? Who knows; now Powell is now quitting, protests about the war are coming from more directions, and no WMD have been located. Had Aronoff’s documentary shown before the United States entered Iraq, at least a more rounded, logical argument could have been made for the war.
Confronting Iraq. Dir. Roger Aronoff. AIM. 2004.
Fahrenhiet 9/11. Dir. Michael Moore. Columbia Tri-Star. 2004.
Lewis, Bernard. The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. New York: Modern Library, 2003.
Unger, Craig. House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Most Powerful Dynasties. New York: Scribner, 2004.
D. Shane Gilley
Oklahoma State University