Frontline's 'Losing Iraq' a winning look at a U.S. disaster that lives on

Stunning look at mistake after mistake in American policy

  • U.S. Marine Corp Assaultman Kirk Dalrymple watches as a statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein falls in central Baghdad's Firdaus Square in this April 9, 2003 file photo.
U.S. Marine Corp Assaultman Kirk Dalrymple watches as a statue… (GORAN TOMASEVIC / REUTERS )
July 28, 2014|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

If you want to understand the chaos that is now Iraq with ISIS on the rise and almost everything America thought it had built crashing down, don't miss Frontline's "Losing Iraq" at  10 tomorrow night on PBS.

No one on TV has done better investigative and long-form journalism on Iraq than Frontline. Period.

And Tuesday's "Losing Iraq" is a stunning catalog of American ignorance, arrogance, lies and senseless death and destruction.

If you thought you were over George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, this will make you seethe all over again at them and publications like the New York Times, which let Team Bush sell its lies and lead thousands of young Americans to their deaths.

The documentary gets to Barack Obama's politically-calculated desire to see Iraq only in his rearview mirror, but it goes light on him compared to the Bush administration. But then, whose sins could compare to those of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld?

The report starts with the Iraqis' inability to topple Saddam Hussein's statue without help from U.S. Marines. It's a metaphor, viewers are told, for how everything that looked easy in Iraq turned out to be exponentially harder -- in part, because no one planned or thought ahead.

As I watched, I could not help thinking sadly about how little the men and women running American is 2003 had learned from Vietnam.

The film is one jaw-dropping bad call after another.

It starts with how incredibly unqualified Paul Bremer was for the job of running Iraq after the invasion.

When the looting started, for example, viewers are told that Bremer wanted the U.S. soldiers and Marines to shoot anyone they saw looting.

The military refused.

"Well, of course, it's against our code of honor," Army Col. H. R. McMaster says in the film. "There is not sufficient justification to shoot somebody just because they are carrying a computer out of the old ministry of education building."

But Bremer was only warming up for his act-like-you-know charade of governance.

Bremer is in the film trying to spin his sorry tenure. He fails.

Sixty-one minutes into the film I had to stop the DVD and replay a scene to make sure I saw what I thought I did.

It was video tape of Army personnel handing over stacks of money to Sunni paramilitary teams. It's astonishing -- bags and stacks of money being handed over to those warlords, some of whom had the blood of American soldiers on their hands.

"In one clandestine meeting after another," the narration says, "Millions were handed over to Sunni warlords."

That was the great idea that Gen. David Petraeus had for creating order in Iraq: Putting Sunni warlords on the American payroll -- and letting them do some killing.

Petraeus called his cash-bought Iraqi cowboys "The Sons of Iraq."

My blood is boiling all over again in writing this. I am going to stop, before I start saying how stupid Bush is and how vile I think Cheney and Rumsfeld are.

The reporting here suggests that the trouble in Iraq is not going away. It's only going to get worse as Obama continues to try to look the other way as hard as he can.

But if you want to see how things got so bad, spend 90 minutes tomorrow night with Frontline.

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