‘The Corridors of Power’ Review: The Human Cost of Foreign Policy

This documentary illuminates America’s ever-shifting approach to conflicts abroad and how politics at home can even lead to inaction.

Colin Powell, seated, speaks to Madeleine Albright, standing.
Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright are among the interview subjects in the documentary “The Corridors of Power.”Credit...National Archives/Showtime

The Corridors of Power
Directed by Dror Moreh
Documentary
2h 15m

Dror Moreh’s exhaustive documentary “The Corridors of Power” assembles several political heavyweights to survey the bedeviling issue of recent American military intervention abroad. Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, Syria — the litany of deadly conflicts still triggers anguish as the film retraces the rationales to send troops or, more often, to steer clear of entanglement.

Any one of these war-zone case studies could be the subject of a single movie, but by covering several, Moreh illuminates the patterns of behavior that lead to stalemate and inaction, even in the face of genocide. The fears of political blowback at home are familiar, and at times while watching, you feel trapped in an interminable, slow-motion tango of hand-wringing. But you also glean how each conflict can affect the responses to the next: In 1990s, after the United States did little to stop the massacre in Rwanda and acted belatedly in Bosnia, the film argues, NATO intervened more rapidly and forcefully in Kosovo.

As edited, Moreh’s interviews prize policy analysis and haunting candor over gotcha moments or grandstanding. The interviewees span multiple presidential administrations, including several secretaries of state: James Baker (on Iraq: “Money’s worth fighting over, in my view”), Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as lesser-known insiders. Samantha Power, the genocide scholar and special adviser to former President Obama, emerges as the film’s lodestar. She repeatedly and skillfully frames human rights as a determining consideration in decisions to intervene (as she often did for the president).

To a nearly horrifying extent, the director presents the civilian cost of unchecked wars and dictators: Images of corpses punctuate the words of the many talking heads. The film treats the United States as the sole moral standard-bearer of the globe, and in the face of such horrors, it’s a burden that begins to seem impossible to handle alone.

The Corridors of Power
Not rated. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. In theaters.