Thursday, July 31, 2014

Frontline: “Losing Iraq” (PBS, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago I watched a quite interesting PBS Frontline special called “Losing Iraq,” which was essentially a wrap-up on the whole sorry saga of Iraq War II, the one the George W. Bush administration started in 2003 on the totally spurious grounds that Saddam Hussein’s regime was developing weapons of mass destruction and had collaborated with Osama bin Laden on stating the 9/11 attacks. The show had quite a wide range of interviewees, including General Jay Garner (who was removed as director of the Coalition Provisional Authority just before the U.S. finished major combat operations but stayed on as an advisor); his civilian replacement, L. Paul Bremer (who issued the two catastrophic orders kicking all Ba’ath Party members out of positions of authority in Iraq and disbanding the Iraqi army, thereby dumping on the streets with no jobs hundreds of thousands of embittered young men with guns and the knowledge of how to use them); Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security advisor; former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Thomas Ricks, author of the book Fiasco about how the U.S. occupation of Iraq was mishandled from the get-go; and many others. If there was a weakness to this program, it’s that it all seemed too familiar; of its 85-minute running time the first hour was taken up by the well-known story of the Bush administration and how it blundered us into this war and blundered even more in the execution of it, including the blithe idea that by refusing to call the Iraqi resistance an “insurgency” they could magically make it go away. Only after about an hour rehashing the Bush administration’s follies and fuck-ups in Iraq does the program, written by Michael Kirk and Mike Wizer and directed by Kirk (and narrated in the familiar, soothing tones of Frontline’s go-to narrator, Will Lyman), finally get to the Obama administration, and the interpretation of Kirk and Wizer is that Obama just wanted Iraq to go away and therefore ignored it, including the increasing evidence that the U.S.’s chosen puppet ruler, Nouri al-Maliki, was starting a sectarian war of Shi’a against Sunni and systematically oppressing the Sunnis who, though a minority of Iraq’s population, had pretty much had things their own way under Saddam Hussein. The show made the usual division of Iraq’s population into “Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds” — ignoring that the Kurds are mostly Sunnis (my late roommate/client once asked me how you could be both Kurd and Sunni, and I said, “The same way you can be a Black Presbyterian” — Kurd is an ethnicity and Sunni is a religious sect within Islam) — and offered all too little insight into what’s going on in Iraq today, where the expensively trained Iraqi army that was supposed to maintain order after the U.S. withdrew is folding in the face of attacks from the Islamic State guerrilla/terror organization mainly because the Sunnis in the ranks no longer want to fight for a Shi’ite-dominated government that is just going to oppress them. America’s involvement in Iraq has been a disaster from the get-go — among other things, it created just what it was supposed to prevent: an al-Qaeda presence in the country that has now metastasized into a full-fledged Islamist revolution in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East where the Islamic State (who are so crazy even people in al-Qaeda don’t want to deal with them — they compare to al-Qaeda pretty much the way Fred Phelps’ band of crazies compared to the Christian Coalition) can grab a foothold.