Doug Lyman’s new film “Fair Game,” based on the book by Valerie Plame, attempts to inform the American public about the intentional lies told the American public (and the world) to support the Bush Administration’s intention to go to war with Iraq. Sometimes dubbed “the 16 words that led us to war,” the subject is Iran’s supposed attempt to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger.
Valerie Plame was a CIA covert agent who was married to journalist and former diplomat Joe Wilson. Wilson says, early in the film, “If not keeping quiet when someone spouts racist crap makes me an asshole, then I’m an asshole and you knew that when you married me.” The racist crap is being spouted by a dinner guest at their home (Fred), played by Ty Burrell (who plays Phil Dunphy on the TV series “Modern Family.”) That coincidental fact made the character Fred’s remarks definitely seem as though he didn’t know what he was talking about (Joe Wilson’s charge), but Wilson’s response is consistent with his actions later in the film, when he tells the truth about the 500 tons of yellow cake uranium that George W. Bush told the world, in his State of the Union message, Iraq was trying to buy from Niger (attributing that fact to British intelligence)for their nuclear program.
Wilson, who was former Ambassador to Gabon in Niger, ends up as the man who goes there to check out the rumors about this huge uranium purchase and finds the rumors to be absolutely false. There is also the revelation that the 60,000 aluminum tubes purchased from China by Iraq, tubes that the Bush administration was touting as nuclear devices, were not at all like the ones that would actually be used for such a purpose, since they were 3 or 4 times longer and 2 times smaller. The man who is pushing the administration position is doing so heatedly, to the point that a CIA analyst says to him, “They’re your tubes and, if we don’t let you win, you’re going to take your tubes and go home.” The administration shill maintaining that the tubes are part of an Iraq nuclear plant plan is later referred to, at a funeral, as ” a real tool.”
When Joe Wilson returns from Niger, he reports, “It is my opinion that this sale could not have happened.” Later, he writes an article published in the New York Times entitled, “What I didn’t find in Africa” to refute the administration’s continuing drumbeat for war. We see numerous clips of “W’ saying things like, “The world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account.” But the woman Valerie Plame talks into traveling to Iraq to visit her brother, a top nuclear physicist, finds out from her brother, Hammad, that the nuclear program was completely destroyed in the 90s. “I have to work at a plant that makes fertilizer,” he tells his doctor sister from the United States.
It soon becomes clear that the White House is cherry-picking facts and then looking to the CIA to confirm them, whether the facts are true or not, and we are (ironically) shown then-President George W. Bush speaking at the United Nations saying, “We seek peace. We strive for peace, but sometimes peace must be defended.” Then,sadly, there is real-life tape of the bombing of Baghdad.
Valerie Plame, in the film, gives her word to an Iraq scientist that, if he will give the U.S. information (via his sister, a U.S. doctor who visits him), the United States will assist him and his family in escaping from Iraq. She explains to her superior, “If we can’t protect them, they’ll run straight to the first country that will protect them.” When things go south, promises Valeria Plame made are, says her superior, “the least of my worries.” And so, as the film depicts it, many trusting individuals are left high-and-dry in their war-torn country, probably left for dead.
This is really a movie about whistle blowing, plain and simple. While movies about whistle-blowing are always inspiring and jingoistic onscreen and depict a brave courageous individual going up against the system, like David against Goliath, in real life, this position seldom has a good result for the Davids of the world. In fact, one of Joe Wilson’s friends said, “You want my advice: do nothing. You think something is wrong here, join the line — Be smart. We’re talking about the President of the United States, the White House. Now go take a long look in the mirror and repeat that.” At the end of the film we learn that Joe Wilson and his wife now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he works as the head of a firm attempting to expand trade with African nations, Jarch Capital,LLC. It didn’t say what former CIA agent Plame, who joined the agency at age 18, was now doing, other than raising her twins with Wilson.
There are some moments when justice seems to prevail, as when Lewis “Scooter” Libby is sent to jail for refusing to cooperate on the investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame’s name. Revealing the identity of a covert agent is a crime punishable by a $50,000 fine or 10 years in jail. Libby eventually did 2 and one half years in jail and paid a $250,000 fine, but George W. Bush commuted his sentence. Certain memos at trial with crossed out references to “this Pres” indicate that President Bush was more directly involved in the Valerie Plame affair than is now understood.
The Wilsons have appealed the dismissal of their civil lawsuit, on jurisdictional grounds,(Wilson v. Cheney), their ongoing civil suit brought against Cheney, Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and other unnamed parties. This case has been dismissed by a federal appeals court.
Script line: “Joe Wilson versus the White House. Well, all I can say is good luck. Joe is out there on his own, Valerie.” That is figuratively and literally true, as Valerie Plame initially does not want to testify and have any more of her life destroyed. She ultimately comes around and we see her Congressional testimony, featuring the real Valerie Plame. The question is asked, “Where does all this bullshit get us? You seriously think you can pick a fight with the White House and win?”
Joe’s answer is, “They lied. That’s the truth.”
Valerie’s response: “By the time they’re finished with us, we won’t know what that is.”
As Wilson says, “They have all the power. What do I have? My word.”
Eventually, Joe sends Valerie back home to visit her parents. (Sam Shepherd plays Valerie Plame’s dad.) Regarding Valerie’s initial reluctance to speak to the press and tell the truth, Joe asks his wife,” Is that what your dad (a career officer) taught you?” She recalls exercises where she was the one agent-in-training who could not be broken. It’s somewhat difficult to understand why it takes Valerie Plame so long to figure out that she is going to have to side with her husband against the White House, but she does because she thinks her marriage is going to fall victim to the scandal. [Then again, Joseph C. Wilson had been married two times previously before his marriage to Valerie Plame in 1998.](www.wikipedia.com).
As the news of Libby’s indictment is shown on TV, Wilson says, “Karl Rove not indicted. They served up Scooter Libby. He’s gonna’ take the fall. I’m sure they’ve already brokered a deal.” In 2006, Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage also was implicated in leaking Plame’s status as a CIA agent.
Sixteen words that led us to war. “Why are we going to war? None of us know the truth.”
Benjamin Franklin is even invoked, as Wilson tells a woman outside the Constitutional Convention that the kind of government Franklin and others were forming is “a Republic, Ma’am —if you can keep it.”
This Franklin quote brings up a discussion about how it is the duty of citizens in a democracy to stand up for the truth.
It’s a good line and a good movie in the tradition of “Norma Rae”/”Three Days of the Condor” and others of the “Let’s tell the people the truth and then justice will prevail” school. Too bad that getting information like this out to the public doesn’t happen before the damage is done, rather than after. Also too bad that justice often does not prevail if the opponent is powerful enough and plays dirty.