21st Century Films

George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Yellowcake: Fair Game (2010)

fair-game-2010-poster-artwork-naomi-watts-sean-pennDoug Liman’s Fair Game (2010) tells the story of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), a C.I.A. agent, whose identity was made public after her husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), published an editorial in the New York Times. In an interview with the Washington Post, Plame said, “It’s accurate.”1 The film, which is “Inspired by True Events,”2 suggests that George W. Bush lied in his 2003 State of the Union address. This claim is easily proven false.

Wilson’s editorial was written in response to 16 words in George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”3 In February 2002, Wilson was sent by the C.I.A. to Niger to investigate the possible sale of yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Following his trip, he gave a briefing to the C.I.A., stating, “It is my opinion that this sale could not have happened.”4 After hearing Bush’s State of the Union Address, Wilson then asserts, “I’m the source… It’s wrong. It’s not true.”5 In reality, Wilson was not the source of Bush’s statement, but rather a British intelligence report, which “said that Saddam had ‘sought’ uranium, not that he had acquired it.”6 Angered by Bush’s 16 words, Wilson published an editorial in the New York Times, saying that “it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.”7 President Bush, however, never claimed that Saddam purchased yellowcake, but rather that he attempted to. In his editorial, Wilson shifts the focus from what Bush actually said to make an entirely different claim.

There is significant evidence that Saddam did try to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger: On Feb. 8, 1999, Wissam al-Zahawie, an Iraqi envoy for nuclear-related matters, headed a delegation that visited Niger.8 This was a cause for alarm because “on Oct. 31, 1998, Iraq announced the end of its cooperation with the U.N. inspectors, who were effectively barred from the country.”9 If Saddam was trying to buy yellowcake from Niger, it signals his intention to start a nuclear weapons program.

Ironically, Wilson bolstered the case that Saddam did attempt to buy yellowcake from Niger. In an interview with MSNBC, he said that Zahawie “made a trip in 1999 to several West and Central African countries for the express purpose of inviting chiefs of state to violate the ban on travel to Iraq.”10 As Christopher Hitchens points out, “In order to take the Joseph Wilson view … you have to be able to believe that Saddam Hussein’s long-term main man on nuclear issues was in Niger to talk about something other than the obvious.”11 Furthermore, as stated in a bi-partisan U.S. Senate report, Wilson reported to the C.I.A. that “the Nigerien officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium.”12 The later discovery of a 2000 forged document of sale between Iraq and Niger neither proves nor disproves anything.13

Fair Game is a propaganda film that promotes “a distorted or one-sided perspective to achieve certain goals.”14 Although Wilson was probably correct that Saddam did not purchase yellowcake from Niger in 1999, it is likely that the Iraqi dictator did attempt to. Wilson ignored this possibility and suggested that George W. Bush lied in his State of the Union address. In reality, the President stated what he believed was the truth.


  1. Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby, “‘Fair Game’ gets some things about the Valerie Plame case right, some wrong,” Washington Post, November 7, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/04/AR2010110407989.html
  2. Fair Game, Blu Ray, directed by Doug Liman (2010; USA: Summit Inc/Lionsgate, 2011).
  3. George W. Bush, ” President Delivers “State of the Union,” The White House, January 28, 2003, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030128-19.html
  4. Fair Game.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Christopher Hitchens, “Case Closed: The truth about the Iraqi-Niger ‘yellowcake’ nexus,” Slate, July 25, 2006, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2006/07/case_closed.html
  7. Joseph C. Wilson, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” New York Times, July 6, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html
  8. Hitchens, “Case Closed,” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2006/07/case_closed.html
  9. Ibid.
  10. Christopher Hitchens, “Clueless Joe Wilson: How did the CIA’s special envoy miss Zahawie’s trip to Niger?,” Slate, April 17, 2006, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2006/04/clueless_joe_wilson.html
  11. Christopher Hitchens, “Wowie Zahawie: Sorry everyone, but Iraq did go uranium shopping in Niger,” Slate, April 10, 2006, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2006/04/wowie_zahawie.html
  12. “Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Assessments on Iraq,” accessed December 14, 2015, http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/congress/2004_rpt/iraq-wmd-intell_chapter2-b.htm
  13. Hitchens, “Wowie Zahawie,” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2006/04/wowie_zahawie.html
  14. Rick Beach, “CI5472 Teaching Film, Television, and Media,” accessed October 15, 2014, http://www.tc.umn.edu/~rbeach/teachingmedia/module11/2a.htm

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