March 25th, 2008

PBS Frontline doc: Bush’s War

Anyone who has followed the Iraq war in the press, on the web and in the film documentaries already out there, will find little new to chew on in Frontline’s new Bush’s War.

Most troubling: The show opens with 9/11 — and never looks back. Thus presents the war entirely as a reaction to the attacks. Not a word of events and trends prior thereto.

Yet war with Iraq (as Colin Powell and Paul O’Neill have each told us) was on the agenda at Bush-Cheney’s first NSC meeting in January 2001.

The account of the war’s origins, then, is grossly false by omission.

The one bit of news (to my ears) re origins came in a clip of Richard Armitage, who says that Ahmed Chelabi (the Likud lobby’s disinformative nominee to run Iraq post Mission Accomplished) had explicitly promised his Beltway sponsors that his new Baghdad would recognize Israel.

Yet of the PNAC gang only Wolfowitz seems to bear some responsibility in the film — while Perle and baby Kristol, rather scandalously, are present as commentators, rather than examined as agents of the war.

Thus the prime motive of many of the two dozen Beltway activists who made the war happen — “to secure the realm” of Israel, as Perle & co. put it in the first Clean Break memo — escapes Frontline unnoticed.

Instead: hours of detail, often focused on personality, re disputes among the administration’s celebrities. As if the war were the crapulous fallout of a power-elite swing party gone wrong. Smartest Guys in the Room …


… go in with eyes wide shut…?


It seems a quarter of the air time in Part One (covering the lead-up) is devoted to Secretary of State Powell’s humiliations in battle with the Dark Side, the latter which gets represented chiefly by Rumsfeld and Cheney.

As a result of this eccentric montage, an innocent viewer might come away thinking that the war had no cause beyond Rummy’s hubris and Cheney’s colitis, and was Powell’s fault — that it sprung from Grand Old animus for Saddam acted out as a terrible comedy of errors, rather than from a strategy first publicized in 1992 and a plan first devised in 1996 by American lobbyists working at a Jerusalem think tank.

In short: This wooly 4.5 hour mammoth delivers almost nothing new, and seems in important part a whitewash.

(The distracting concentration on Powell may have followed simply from the fact that his people — Undersecretary Armitage and Chief of Staff Larry Wilkerson — were among the few players willing to talk to the camera — a classic pitfall for film documentary. Wolfowitz was smart enough to refuse to participate.)

Credits indicate that the film’s ideas were entirely the work of two men, Michael Kirk and Jim Gilmore, who between them fill the roles of reporter, writer, producer and director. Perhaps more people should have been involved.

Frontline made its name in the 80s as the tube’s best vehicle of investigative journalism. Funny thing is that to sketch the origins of the war today, little investigation would be needed, the outline of things having long been public, if absent from television.

It seems more and more, then, that PBS, like NPR, somewhere along the line fell asleep, and fell victim to the pod people at the Manufacturers of Consent Associa-

images-copy.jpeg -tion. (Thinking here, too, of Jim Lehrer’s manly neutering of the old MacNeil-Lehrer Report, which on occasion in the 70s and 80s had some bite.)

One supposes money had something to do with it.

My own Little Jimmy Grimaldi thoughts about why the war happened are encapsulated here.

A big question that still puzzles: How and why did Dubya hire the PNAC gang — long-standing enemies of his father beneath the GOP big top — to advise his 2000 campaign, and then to run his foreign policy? The story on its surface seems slick with bathos and Shakespearean blood … Cheney seems to have been the go-between …

But we have no word on this from Kirk and Gilmore, who never draw near the question.

Maybe Mel Brooks is the man to show in moving images the sickening story of how this war was made and sold.

“This is it! This play won’t last a day!”

Springtime for Saddam …

Was it really Bush’s war?

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