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Frontline: Too Timid, Too Little, Too Late

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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Frontline’s “Bush’s War” on PBS Monday and Tuesday evening was a nicely put-together rehash of the top players’ trickery that led to the attack on Iraq, together with the power-grabbing, back-stabbing, and limitless incompetence of the occupation.

Except for an inside-the-beltway tidbit here and there—for example, about how the pitiable secretary of state Colin Powell had to suffer so many indignities at the hands of other type-A hard chargers, Frontline added little to the discussion.  Notably missing was any allusion to the unconscionable role the Fourth Estate adopted as indiscriminate cheerleader for the home team; nor was there any mention that the invasion was a serious violation of international law.  But those omissions, I suppose, should have come as no surprise.

Nor was it a surprise that any viewer hoping for insight into why Cheney and Bush were so eager to attack Iraq was left with very thin gruel.  It was more infotainment, bereft of substantive discussion of the whys and wherefores of what in my view is the most disastrous foreign policy move in our nation’s history.

Despite recent acknowledgements from the likes of Alan Greenspan, Gen. John Abizaid, and others that oil and permanent (or, if you prefer, “enduring”) military bases were among the main objectives, Frontline avoided any real discussion of such delicate factors.  Someone not already aware of how our media has become a tool of the Bush administration might have been shocked at how Frontline could have missed one of President George W. Bush’s most telling “signing statements.”  Underneath the recent Defense Authorization Act, he wrote that he did not feel bound by the law’s explicit prohibition against using the funding:

“(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq,” or

“(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”

So the Frontline show was largely pap.

At one point, however, the garrulous former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage did allude to one of the largest elephants in the living room—Israel’s far-right Likudniks—and their close alliance with the so-called neo-conservatives running our policy toward the Middle East.  But Armitage did so only tangentially, referring to the welcome (if totally unrealistic) promise by Ahmed Chalabi that, upon being put in power in Baghdad, he would recognize Israel.  Not surprisingly, the interviewer did not pick up on that comment; indeed, I’m surprised the remark avoided the cutting room floor.

Courage No Longer a Frontline Hallmark

Frontline has done no timely reportage that might be looked upon as disparaging the George W. Bush administration—I mean, for example, the real aims behind the war, not simply the gross incompetence characterizing its conduct.  Like so many others, Frontline has been, let’s just say it, cowardly in real time—no doubt intimidated partly by attacks on its funding that were inspired by the White House.

And now?  Well the retrospective criticism of incompetence comes as polling shows two-thirds of the country against the Iraq occupation (and the number is surely higher among PBS viewers).  So, Frontline is repositioning itself as a mild ex-post-facto critic of the war, but still unwilling to go very far out on a limb.  Explaining the aims behind war crimes can, of course, be risky.  It is as though an invisible Joseph Goebbels holds sway.

Too Late

On Monday evening I found myself initially applauding Frontline’s matter- of-fact, who-shot-John chronology of how our country got lied into attacking and occupying Iraq.  Then I got to thinking—have I not seen this picture before?  Many times?

It took a Hollywood producer to recognize and act promptly on the con games that sober observers could not miss as the war progressed. Where were the celebrated “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD)?  Robert Greenwald simply could not abide the president’s switch to “weapons of mass destruction programs,” which presumably might be easier to find than the much-ballyhooed WMD so heavily advertised before the attack on Iraq.  You remember—those remarkable WMD about which UN chief inspector Hans Blix quipped that the U.S. had one hundred percent certainty of their existence in Iraq, but zero percent certainty as to where they were.

Robert Greenwald called me in May 2003.  He had read a few of the memoranda published by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) exposing the various charades being acted out by the administration and wanted to know what we thought of the president’s new circumlocution on WMD.

I complimented him on smelling a rat and gave him names of my VIPS colleagues and other experienced folks who could fill him in on the details.  Wasting no time, he arrived here in Washington in June, armed simply with copious notes and a cameraman.  Greenwald conducted the interviews, flew back to his eager young crew in Hollywood and, poof, the DVD “Uncovered: The War on Iraq” was released at the beginning of November 2003.”

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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