Click here to read reviewer Mark Martin's take on Stuff Happens: A Play.
A group of insiders huddled around a conference table, the meetings commence, discussions of pre-war strategy. David Hare’s play “Stuff Happens” exposes the behind-the-scenes machinations of core members of an administration on the road to unseating Saddam Hussein in the guise of protecting America from further terrorist attacks.
In this decidedly anti-war play, the cast of characters are familiar faces: the Neo-cons (Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice); the Brits (Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Manning); the French (Jacques Chirac, Dominique de Villepin, Jean-David Levitte); the temporary voice of reason (Colin Powell); and the bit players (Hans Blix, Kofi Annan, Mohammed ElBaradei).
Assembling behind closed doors, paper warriors set in motion a doctrine that will shock the world: Bush’s Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strike. That all of the pre-war assumptions are wrong remains a footnote to history, the cause assuming a life of its own, sparkling with “the lethal rhetoric of global wealth and privilege.” Post-war, asked about the looting of Baghdad, a glib Donald Rumsfeld - this Secretary of Defense known for his facility of phrase - remarks, “Stuff happens.”
This is a shadow dance, kabuki theater, the silence impregnable, military action the (wink, wink) method of last resort. In a series of clandestine meetings, the dialog continues, endless ruminations on world opinion and political fallout; eventually, the President weighs in, “A war on terror. That’s good. That’s vague… That way we can do anything.” Secretary of State Powell is discomfited; though nothing specific is articulated, he senses that select individuals are moving in concert toward an unspoken goal from which there will be no turning back.
The great distortion grinds into high gear and Powell capitulates, making this a campaign of worldly men without military experience. As salve for a bleeding and humiliated psyche, a desperate public signs on for a war that promises quick, deadly efficiency, never questioning government assertions that this situation can only be alleviated by the invasion of Baghdad, a battle joined on foreign soil to forestall another terrorist attack.
David Hare brilliantly structures this great debacle: assumptions in pursuit of an idea, the opportunity to change the face of the Arab world, or “to throw a match into the tinderbox and see what happens.” That the media is virtually silent plays into the rightness of this doctrine, all obscured by sturm und drang, the smug counselors of a war president waxing confident of their success.
With a handful of key players and a supporting cast, much of the language is quoted verbatim, Rumsfeld and Cheney avidly supported by a caustic Wolfowitz. The fawning Rice speaks for the President, who remains taciturn, if vigilant. Bush’s inactivity carries a weight of its own, as troubling in his lack of words as the apologists for war. There are neither checks nor balances, Powell, the single voice of dissent, acquiescing at last, assuming the cloak of expediency. Mission accomplished.