A new film chronicles America’s role in the international arms trade. Plus, watch an exclusive clip outlining the post-9/11 plan to attack seven Middle East countries in five years.
In the months after the September 11 attacks, a horrified Wesley Clark recalls in the new documentary Shadow World, long-gestating plans to enact “forceful regime change” overseas that had percolated during George H.W. Bush’s administration resurfaced under the younger Bush’s presidency.
The four-star general and former NATO commander had first heard the plans in 1991 or 1992 from Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, who were pitching a new American strategy to Washington. In November of 2001, he tells director Johan Grimonprez, he recognized it in a classified memo detailing a five-year plan to “go after” problem countries—specifically Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.
Clark’s rearview revulsion makes for one brief but memorable moments in Shadow World, a dense and impassioned documentary detailing how American politicians and their allies have been in bed with the arms industry for decades. (Watch Clark recount the story in an exclusive clip below.) The net effect, the film argues, is one eternal, self-perpetuating war that’s taken us from the Reagan administration through Obama, fueled by greed, corruption, and an endless string of shady Saudi deals.
Grimonprez opens the film on scenes from World War I, recounting the famous tale of a Christmastime peace between enemies in the trenches that ended when generals decided they’d had enough goodwill between men. Based on Andrew Feinstein’s book The Shadow World: Inside The Global Arms Trade, the film weaves a timeline tracing the gradual corporatization of war going back decades to Reagan’s dealings with Margaret Thatcher and the $87 million slush fund used by British arms manufacturer BAE to wine and dine Saudis in deals that left officials like Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, reportedly £1 billion richer.
One arms dealer, Riccardo Privitera, revels in the memory of the lucrative deals he sealed with military officials by greasing the wheels with cash and women. “With sixty grand I signed a contract worth three million,” he boasts, “so it wasn’t a bad deal.” Bribing politicians, he says comparing them to prostitutes, can be pricey. But “at the end of the day, they do what they’re told.”