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‘Climb the Mountain of Conflict’

State of the Union: ‘In the Loop’ is a monument to the unseriousness of the Iraq generation of policymakers.

in the loop
(Nicola Dove/Nicola Dove - © In The Loop Productions 2008)

You may not have noticed, but we’re commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in these parts. It’s a solemn occasion; the prospect of a quarter million dead, give or take, and a region rendered for all intents and purposes permanently dysfunctional is sobering for even the most frivolous commentators.

But the Iraq War was, at its heart, an absurdity—an exercise in hysteria buttressed with bluster, a study in using dodgy intelligence to make dodgier policy decisions, an opportunity for aging young bloods to indulge in grandiose rhetoric and spend big money. This aspect is, perhaps, the most horrifying: how funny it all was.

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For my money, the best depiction of the era is 2009’s In the Loop, Armando Ianucci’s farce about the British side of the lead-up to the invasion. Simon Foster, a hapless New Labour MP, when asked about the prospect of war in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation, tells an insistent radio interviewer that “we must be prepared to climb the mountain of conflict.” He sets off a media firestorm that eventually implicates Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s irascible—no, that isn’t quite right—psychotically angry media fixer in laundering questionable American intelligence to promote the creation of a coalition of the willing.

Ianucci, the writer behind Death of Stalin, Veep, and The Thick of It (featuring Malcolm Tucker’s adventures in domestic politics), has a knack for finding the quirks and neuroses of institutional cultures, and the American foreign policy establishment is no exception: our penchant for unusually young staffers (“your f***ing master race of gifted toddlers”), the thick atmosphere of naivete and naked ambition, the pseudo-philosophy and pomposity. 

Especially the pomposity. “All roads lead to Munich!” proclaims Linton Barwick, a thinly fictionalized Donald Rumsfeld. “What the f*** does that mean? ‘All roads lead to Munich’?” Tucker asks when he’s gone. “Well, it just means—I guess I don’t know what it means,” Foster concedes.

I guess I don’t know what it means. That could be the epigraph for the era. In a week otherwise filled to the brim with Spenglerian gloom, give In the Loop a watch and remember just how stupid it’s all been.