Monday, March 24, 2008

PBS Frontline: Bush's War (in Iraq)


PBS Frontline: “Bush’s War” is the most detailed documentary of how we went from 9/11 to the War in Iraq yet. Part I (150 minutes) aired tonight (March 24). The link is here.

The film starts with a brief re-enactment of 9/11, especially the attack on the Pentagon, followed by the rush, especially by Dick Cheney, to implicate Saddam Hussein. Much is made of the fact that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, we had apparently missed nuclear weapons facilities in Iraq. The credibility of our intelligence services was already suspect, inasmuch as 9/11 had been allowed to happen.

The administration began to invent rationalizations for its policies of rendition and “packaging.” The film shows prisoners being brought to Gitmo (“Camp XRay”) tied to stretchers, and laboriously escorted to plywood interrogation rooms while shackled. The president gradually determined that the Geneva Convention need not apply to prisoners in these circumstances. Now, I recall the Geneva Convention from my own Army Basic in 1968 at Fort Jackson, and it was one of the items on our Basic Training G-3 “final exam.” That (and military justice) constituted about 1/3 of the exam, the part you could get with “brains alone.” That all seems ironic now. (The other part was the UCMJ and military justice. How about that and “don’t ask don’t tell”? How ironic.)

The film gradually shifts to the determination to pursue Saddam Hussein. All along, there were dubious reports about Saddam’s attempts to procure uranium, as from Niger. There were disputed reports that Mohammed Atta had been to Iraq. There have been claims that anthrax might have come from Iraq. The 2001 post 9/11 anthrax events have never been solved, and it is apparent that the attacker ran out of the supply he had (and there were other arrests in New Jersey that the media have never followed up on), and that supply could have come from overseas, or possibly been illegally diverted in the US (Ames, perhaps). It’s inconclusive (even the “person of interest” matter), from what has been made public.

What follows, all the way through Colin Powell’s UN speech (and the evidence from “Curveball” with no western witnesses) was the classic case of what psychologists call “rationalization.” They taught us that in Health class in 9th Grade. Finally, “The Sixteen Words” (remember “The 123 Words” from Randy Shilts ‘s “Conduct Unbecoming”?) got into a Bush speech, and the images of mushroom clouds got circulated. I wondered what it would feel like to be a CIA employee involved in this and to be pressured (as by the unprecedented sequence of visits to Langley from Dick Cheney himself) to stretch the truth or falsify the record for the administration's pre-determined international political agenda. Well, um, it's good money, and provides for a family -- follow the leader and keep your mouth shut, and keep a low profile, maybe.

The film, before the 2-1/2-hour break, gives a detailed account of events at the White House the night of March 19, 2003, when the Shock and Awe started with a single attack on a building where Saddam supposedly hid out.

One wonders, if Saddam had no WMD’s, why did he play possum? Was it because he thought it was hopeless? Was this like the case of the boss putting an employee on “discipline” and then giving him intermediate goals he knows the employee can’t achieve in order to terminate him with cause?

The second half (120 minutes) carries the history to the present day. The Bush administration, besides finding no WMD's, had no clear idea what "freedom" would mean in Iraq once Saddam was gone. Various insurgent factions saw the opportunity to wage civil war to impose their religious agendas. Bush finally settled on a hold and containment strategy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008, The Washington Times featured a major editorial "Saddam tied to terrorists," link here. A couple of points: on Sept. 17, 2001, Saddam Hussein apparently gave orders to recruit operatives for suicide missions within the United States. There is also some discussion of the controversial IDA report discussed in the PBS film. Although the events subsequent to Saddam's overthrow have failed to detect ongoing operational contact between Saddam and Al Qaeda, there seem to have been ties between Ayman al-Zawahiri and Saddam, and the Iraqi dictator has certainly helped finance suicide operations by Hamas, etc. inside Israel.

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