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Review: Stuff Happens
How The US Went To War
Stuff Happens is the latest offering from David Hare, whose last play, The Permanent Way, successfully exposed the privatisation of the railways. "Stuff happens" was the famous comment by Donald Rumsfeld following the looting of Baghdad.
Mark Baker, Bristol
The play is largely a historical narrative of the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq, interspersed with commentary and observation from various viewpoints.
It starts by taking us right back to the Vietnam war and, introducing each of the senior figures in the US Republican administration, exposes the various ways in which many of them avoided participation in the conflict.
Quickly moving forward to modern day events set in the Oval Room of the White House we hear how the intelligence following 9/11 suggested that al-Qa'ida were only one of fifty terror organisations in the world and that there was between a 10% and 50% chance of Iraq being linked to the attack. Yet, only three months later, Bush named them in his "axis of evil" speech to the nation. Wolfowitz's dossier to discredit Hans Blix had already been conceived some nine months earlier.
All the main players are here. George Bush, given the familiar languid pondering style of speech; Blair played as a weak, increasingly desperate politician trapped by the moral crusade of the US neo-conservatives. This is demonstrated at one point in the play when they agree to spend the evening praying and Condaleezza Rice leads the singing of Amazing Grace.
In many ways the central character in the unfolding drama is Colin Powell, carefully played by Joe Morton. Initially he sits cautiously on the outside of a group of US senators as they study an aerial photograph which is supposed proof of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, perhaps knowing the answer to the question of its authenticity. He shifts from dove to hawk in increasing exasperation at the failure of his diplomatic excursions, cut from under him by Cheney and Rumsfeld who are played almost as a comic duo, full of bluster and prejudice.
There are brief and amusing cameos from Jack Straw, Ricardo Lagos, the President of Chile, and even Saddam Hussein himself. Events covered include the moment where British troops cornered Osama bin Laden but withdrew only to let their US counterparts allow him to slip into Pakistan. Nicholas Farrell's Blair is exposed as a pathetic passenger in Bush's game.
The relationship between Bush and his security adviser is a curious one. Condaleezza Rice, a woman who "had two mirrors in her office so she could watch her back as well as her front", seeming to hold more personal influence over the President than his own wife.
There are many humorous moments in the production: Blair castigating Hans Blix for "running around Mesopotamia like Hercule Poirot"; Alistair Campbell's outburst at the French; a US spokesperson suggesting Bush's reference to UN "resolutions" rather than "resolution" was down to his cue card breaking down - "we were lucky he said anything at all!"
The play is well worth seeing. It exposes the hypocrisy of the US attitude to international law and the breakdown in the international coalition following 9/11, condemned by Robin Cook in his resignation speech. David Hare shows the religious zeal of the hard-line neo-cons - "we are the Jews of the Jews"- and Bush offering Blair an exit strategy following the massive anti-war demonstrations of 15 February 2003 and the subsequent Parliamentary revolt.
In closing the play, two viewpoints explain that, eighteen months after the invasion of Iraq, 70% of the American population still believe that Saddam Hussein was in some way responsible for the attack on the twin towers. An Iraqi citizen closes the show, saying: "Until this nation is allowed to take charge of itself, it will continue to suffer".
Stuff can happen in a socialist world free of war and terror where national conflicts can be resolved in a peaceful, democratic way.
Stuff Happens, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London (until November).
In The Socialist 18 September 2004:
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