The Cinderella of the anti-Bush documentary brigade, Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight arrives late to the administration-critiquing ball but makes up for its tardiness with a cogent (if nonetheless overreaching) exposé about the links between American foreign policy and corporate interests. As its jumping-off point, the film (named after Frank Capra’s WWII propagandistic newsreels) begins with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address in which the president—having witnessed firsthand the build-up of the war machine as a profit-driven business—warned the country of the dawning threat posed by “the military-industrial complex” (a term his speechwriter coined). According to Jarecki’s doc, such fears have almost completely come to pass, as the United States now necessitates a constant state of war to satisfy the defense contractors who hold sway over Congressmen and their constituents (to whom they provide money and jobs, respectively). Attempting a broad historical canvas, Jarecki argues that nearly every American military campaign post-WWII has been driven by financial impetuses more than by acute ideological differences (which he largely discounts), and the director offers up a range of bipartisan talking heads—from administration insider Richard Perle and The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol on the right, to Center for Public Integrity’s Charles Lewis and author Gore Vidal on the left—for their thoughts on the titular question.
His ultimate contention that, as McCain says, the relationship between politicos and the armament industry “borders on corruption” is bolstered by his archive footage-heavy, gimmick-free portrait of the war business’s revenue-driven motivations for wanting conflict. Yet if Jarecki the director is no Michael Moore, he nevertheless sporadically succumbs to a disappointing loss of focus, straying from his larger theme about the military-industrial complex’s supposed stranglehold on American policymakers to concentrate specifically on the various ways (some pertinent, others not) in which the American public was misled into “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Facts that aren’t redundant—providing another glance at Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam being merely one of many repetitive sights—often border on being off-topic, such as the ineffectiveness of our satellite-guided missiles, or undercut by the preponderance of comments from a particular few partisan talking heads (namely former C.I.A. consultant Chalmers Johnson and Pentagon alum Karen Kwiatkowski). Whereas many of their remarks are persuasive, Jarecki’s eventual absorption with a handful of administration critics—as well as the story of police officer Wilton Sekzer, who asked to have his son’s name placed on an Iraqi-destined bomb after he was killed in the World Trade Center attacks—diminishes the persuasiveness of his decade-spanning analysis, disappointingly leading Why We Fight into Fahrenheit 9/11 territory.