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Syriana (Potential Plot Spoiler)


You might not want to read any further if you plan on seeing it because I’ll reveal key elements of the plot…

…at least if I understand them. It’s the hardest-to-understand movie I’ve seen since Mulholland Drive. It is based very loosely on Bob Baer’s See No Evil. It’s been a while since I looked at his book, but if recall correctly it was about how the CIA had seen its operational capabilities degraded in recent decades and how he was sold out for being too aggressive in Iraq by a pusillanimous administration back in Washington (Clinton’s). This has been translated into a movie about a CIA conducting assassinations abroad at the behest–or so it seems to be suggested–of big oil companies.

What annoyed me most about the movie was the way it reflected the Left’s incoherent grappling with Bush’s foreign policy. On the one hand, a group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iran (CPI)–think PNAC–was portrayed negatively. So the idealists are evil. On the other hand, the CIA and the Bush-like administration behind it are portrayed as plotting against a reformer in a Saudi-like country. So the cynics are evil. Both promoting reform and opposing it are wrong. Perhaps this is supposed to be moral complexity, but it is really just attacking anything associated with the Bush administration.

Now, there are plausible criticisms to be made of the Bush administration: for being unrealistic, for being incompetent, for being naïve, all the rest of it. But none of these criticisms would allow a Hollywood lefty making them to feel morally superior, so instead a Bush-like administration is created that is a cynical operation coolly trying to kill off liberal democratic reformers. Don’t they realize that the administration would kill for Middle Eastern reformers? That it is desperate to find them and promote them wherever it can?

The Hollywood left, at least as reflected in Syriana, doesn’t have the courage of its cynicism. It has to pretend that it is on the side of liberal reform, when it dropped that cause about three years ago…


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