Thursday, January 20, 2005

# Posted 1:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DIRTY WARS, DIRTY BOMBS: It isn't everyday that the Big Media muckamucks decide to extend their hand in friendship to the blogosphere. So when HBO, PBS and the Council on Foreign Relations invited me to a film premiere at the French Embassy, I decided that free food and alcohol are justification enough for consorting with the enemy.

The film in question is Dirty War, a BBC production (to be aired in the United States by HBO and PBS) that dramatizes the explosion of a massive, radiation-enhanced "dirty bomb" in central London. On a gut level, the film just works. Once the bomb went off, my heart jumped up into my throat and stayed there for the rest of the movie. What I felt was a combination of adrenaline and nausea.

In other words, this isn't a film you are exactly supposed to enjoy. Although it borrows heavily from Hollywood's crime-thriller and natural disaster genres, it is, above all, a political film. And this film amounts to nothing less than a vicious broadside against the Blair government for leaving Britain tragically vulnerable in the face of an impending terrorist attack.

When I say vicious, I mean vicious. The first half hour of the film devotes itself to the systematic humiliation of the fictional cabinet minister responsible for London's security. In rapid succession, the minister exposes her ignorance, selfishness, incompetence, and unhesitating willingness to deceive the British public.

But what difference does it make if the minister is fictional? Tony Blair has been in charge of the British government for almost eight years. The film's message is unequivocal: Tony Blair has utterly failed to fulfill his obligation to protect Britain from terrorists.

If ABC, NBC or CBS produced a similar film about an attack on New York or Washington, even those critics less than favorably disposed towards the President would have to write it off as hatchet job bought and paid for by the liberal media. But perhaps the BBC can get away with this sort of thing.

Although I lived in the UK for almost three years, I never learned much about its domestic politics. Turned off by the intense biases of The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and BBC News, I went online to get my news. From what I understand, the BBC is an independent institution funded by the government. What that actually means in practice, I'm not sure.

On the one hand, I have to marvel at the democratic ideals that inspire government support for an institution devoted to embarrassing the government. On the other hand, one has to wonder whether the BBC suffers from a constant compulsion to demonstrate its independence by attacking its patrons in the most sensational manner possible.

What it comes down to, I suppose, is the degree to which a film such as Dirty War represents a constructive response to the dangers that Britain (and America) faces. The film certainly has such pretensions; before the film starts, white letters on a black screen inform the audience that the film is based on extensive factual research.

Another good indication of the film's seriousness its American premiere was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Thus, along with dinner, the guests at the premiere were treated to a discussion of terrorism and homeland security led by Stephen Flynn of CFR and Michael Wermuth of the Rand Corporation, both experts in the field.

So, does the film blend drama and realism in a manner worthy of its creators highest hopes? Frankly, I have no idea. If the film taught me one thing, it is how little I know about homeland security. Perhaps because I have spent the last four and a half years studying foreign policy, I never devoted enough attention to the homeland side of the equation.

In order to remedy this situation, I hope to read Dr. Flynn's new book, entitled America the Vulnerable. Although you shouldn't judge a book by its (back )cover, it's hard to ignore Fareed Zakaria when he writes that
If officials in Washington would read just one book, this is it. Stephen Flynn describes how utterly unprepared we are for the next terrorist attack, More important, he explains that our vulnerabilities are not inevitable consequences of being an open society. It is a scary book, and it should scare us into action.
I actually read the first two chapters of the book after I got home last night. As soon as I finish it, you can expect a full review on OxBlog.

In the final analysis, regardless of whether the film gets sidetracked for half an hour by its anti-Blair agenda, I have no choice but to respect a creative enterprise that forced me to confront my apalling lack of knowledge about a subject so integral to our national security.
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