Tragic Flaws Exposed in “Bush’s War”March 26th, 2008

“Bush’s War,” which aired on “Frontline” this week, was positively Shakespearean in its portrayal of the internecine struggles that gave rise to the nation’s current military adventures.

The cast of tragic characters–Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet–are the subject of fond but disapproving reflection on the part of a chorus of war-buffs. These sage observers didn’t tell us at the time, but today the likes of Woodward, Armitage, Kristol, Kagan, Perle, Gordon, Chalaby, and Bumiller, to name a few of the featured players, will admit candidly that the top people in our government really messed up.

No discussion in this two-night epic of the war boosters in the media who helped shape the nation’s aggressive policy. How did so many Americans come to believe that it would be acceptable to bomb people in foreign lands in “retaliation” for crimes they didn’t commit? If Bush sold them that idea, how did he do it? Did Dan Rather and Peter Jennings and Jim Lehrer help at all? How about “Frontline?”

There was no public discussion five years ago and there was none in this film of whether bombing people and rousting them from their homes at the point of a rifle might be morally wrong or legally wrong or strategically wrong. There was no consideration of how long an occupying force might sustain support for such atrocities among decent people. We presume that this is done by keeping the truth from the people, but if the media are performing that function, writer-producer Michael Kirk doesn’t tell us in this opus.

Another fact obscured by Kirk was the volume of dissent from the conventional view in the media and its systematic suppression by those same media. PBS doesn’t want us to know that there were reporters and analysts who accurately rendered the events of the time and who cautioned against an unfavorable outcome–like the journalists of the Knight-Ridder news syndicate and then-candidate for senate Barack Obama–and that these voices were mocked and shouted down by the mass media. And so we didn’t hear in this film from Kucinich or Feingold or Molly Ivins or my congressman John Larson, whose reasons for opposing the Iraq invasion all turned out to be sound.

Also absent were stories of soldiers. There were pictures of them on duty, and this gave a superficial impression of danger, but there was nothing about what they did. Veterans have stories that elucidate events in Iraq, but Kirk didn’t talk to any veterans.

Another subject Kirk avoided was law. We have laws prohibiting “Bush’s War,” and legal experts like Ralph Nader raised the issue of illegality at the time. The media refused, in advance of the invasion, to direct the people to look at their laws and their morals for guidance, and Kirk’s not about to go there now. The so-called war is no less illegal today, but “Frontline” didn’t want to confound us with sticky issues like law and ethics.

Most of the drama in this pathetic amusement was simulated. There were the usual psycho CIA types bragging about killing people with their bare hands, and that was mildly shocking. And there were lurid, bloody scenes of dead Arabs (no dead GI’s that I could see) and burned-out buildings, but it was the constant drumbeat behind it all that provided the drama. Good documentaries don’t need musical accompaniment.

I’m guessing fewer than one in ten stuck this dog out till the end. Four hours of unflattering stills of Bush and Rice under relentless percussion accompaniment and Ted-Baxter-style narration, all establishing that we now occupy diverse distant lands because Cheney and Rumsfeld are in love, but Rice and Rumsfeld don’t like each other: more boring than C-SPAN, and, like so much of what passes for news at PBS and NPR, empty and uninformative. Instead of truth, we got PBS’s rendition of a set of acceptable beliefs about Iraq.