Last night I was able to view "Iraq for Sale," the new film by Robert Greenwald (of "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" and "Outfoxed" fame), and I was blown away. It is a riveting, powerful production that should be at the top of everyone’s list to see, and then buy for everyone you know, when it comes out next month. It is already getting richly-deserved buzz, both in corporate media and blogs, and you can view a trailer, order the DVD, and check out screenings at IraqForSale.org.
The film is a searing indictment of how massive defense contractors are exploiting the war in Iraq for billions of dollars of profit at the expense of U.S. troops, Iraqi civilians, and American taxpayers. The damage these defense contracting companies do to the Iraq mission – and, more broadly, to American security – is stunning, and Iraq for Sale explains difficult and emotional issues in a measured way that will resonate with people regardless of their background knowledge or political beliefs.
Something news and political junkies occasionally forget is that not everybody reads five newspapers and a dozen blogs every day. People who closely follow the news know that there are huge problems with defense contractors, both with money and with their actions, but millions of Americans see the issue as just another partisan argument that doesn't really have that much impact. Iraq for Sale explodes this myth, revealing the extensive harm and exploitation these companies wreak. As such, it provides new and insightful information for experts, and even more importantly, a comprehensive but accessible outline of the deceit and exploitation that all Americans should be aware of.
When I was in Iraq, contractors were nearly universally reviled. Their intel people often had no idea what they were doing, and there was no discernable chain of command, so even when somebody was terrible, their nominal military overseers didn’t know how to correct the problem. The security people were cowboys, acting without consequence in service of murky ends. There is no oversight for contractors, no controlling legal authority, and no incentive for them to follow any rules. Alan Grayson, who the Wall Street Journal says "is waging a one-man war against contractor fraud in Iraq," explains in the film,
If you are a U.S. soldier and you hurt an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be court-martialed. But if you are a U.S. contractor and you kill an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be sent home. And then, you can come back the following week, and you can work for a different contractor.There is certainly room for contractors in defense, and some of my friends and colleagues at the Pentagon were smart, hard-working contract employees, working within the structure and oversight of a normal office. Without that structure, bad things happen. Further, the companies themselves are predatory. Although some contractors act badly in Iraq, many go over honestly believing that they’ll be helping reconstruct the country, or protecting virtuous officials, and the movie shows how their companies betray that trust and hope. Some of the most compelling statements come from contractors themselves . . . or family members who now mourn their deaths.
Considering the material, I thought the film was remarkably understated. I give the production team a ton of credit for letting the content speak for itself, having the focus on people telling their stories, augmented and reinforced by an incisive collection of data and reporting. It is mercifully free of the kind of Michael Moore-esque political sledgehammer approach that can overwhelm the facts, and here the facts are devastating. In fact, some of the best commentary comes from conservatives, such as Ralph Peters (an uber-conservative writer for the New York Post) who says,
Conservatives, especially, who favor a free market system, should be outraged about the degenerate state – the lack of competition in defense industry. The American way is competition. And I cannot sufficiently stress that in defense industry, when it comes to the big programs, there's not competition. It's monopoly and cartel behavior. It is corrupt, it is corrupting, it is corrosive to national defense.Iraq for Sale starts by providing background information, patiently unraveling strands that make up an incestuous and tangled system, and gains momentum as it goes. The narrative moves effortlessly between informative and accessible experts and the personal stories of troops, contractors, and their families, hitting emotional and intellectual points with equal power. Like an expert boxer, the film starts with seemingly small, unrelated blows, gathering strength in the middle rounds as the strikes start to accumulate. By the time you realize that the hits are converging, all part of a greater narrative, an overwhelming combination of punches is inevitable, and the final part of the movie is a knockout. I can't recommend Iraq for Sale highly enough, and I’m grateful to the patriots who made it.