Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick

Hey! You out there! Yeah you, Captain Reads-A-Lot! Time to get serious. Here's a review of ...

"Frontline -- Bush's War" (PBS Two-Part Mini-Series)

It's enough to make you feel sorry for one George W. Bush.

As portrayed in Michael Kirk's harrowing account of the Bush Presidency, "Bush's War," which aired on PBS's "Frontline" this week, the inner circle of senior advisors surrounding the President up to and during the Iraq War behave like a pack of petty, backbiting, vindictive little schoolchildren. Who would have thought our Frat Boy in Chief would end up being the most mature person in the room?

Of course, he's the one who assembled this team, so sympathy is tempered a touch.

On one side, there's Dick Cheney, who has no faith whatsoever in the CIA's ability to gather intelligence. He remembers all too well how the CIA woefully underestimated Iraq's nuclear capacity in the First Gulf War and listens to everything CIA Director George Tenet says with eyes rolled heavenward.

In his corner is longtime friend and political ally Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense. Cheney and Rumsfeld put together their own intelligence gathering team to work behind Tenet's back and gleefully undermine him at every turn.

On the other side is Secretary of State Colin Powell, the former Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gulf War commander who thinks he might have something to say about how the Iraq situation should be handled. He backs Tenet and that makes him a target for Cheney and Rumsfeld. He also has crazy ideas about diplomacy and international relations and they win him no friends among the neo-cons.

Allied with Powell is Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor. Cheney considers her a "Russian Studies graduate student" and nothing more, so she is kept out of the loop. The National Security Advisor gets no information about National Security.

Placing the politics of all this to one side -- which is, admittedly, next to impossible -- watching this cast of characters butt heads throughout "Bush's War" is riveting. And more than a little terrifying. Our nation's most important, difficult, complex policy decisions appear to be in the hands of a few frivolous individuals more concerned with shoring up their inter-office fiefdom's than with affecting the best possible strategies for America's well-being.

From the very beginning, within hours of the attacks on 9/11, members of the administration start floating the idea that Iraq may have had something to do with them, even though intelligence repeatedly indicated it did not. The CIA identified the attackers as Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida. Army Intelligence identified the attackers as Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida. One General, Michael DeLong, when asked how clear it was that Al-Qaida committed the atrocities, put it in no uncertain terms: "That's it," he said, "It's them. It's Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick. Period."

But Cheney didn't trust the CIA and he kept whispering "Iraq" in the President's ear. And soon, the hard work of molding the facts to suit the theory began. Iraq was involved and the evidence be damned.

The President ages dramatically over the course of "Bush's War." All Presidents are transformed by the weight of the office, but few have borne this much. Say what you will about what percentage he brought on himself, you'd have to be made of stone not to feel for the guy.

The blunders continue to pile up. Suspect intelligence is given too much credit and ends up embarrassing the White House. Rosy predictions fail to bloom. Violence escalates. Mission Accomplished. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo Bay. Bin Laden still at large. You'd have to be living in Bin Laden's cave not to know the litany.

And all the while, the maneuvering and posturing in the cabinet continues.

It would be the stuff of farce if it weren't for .... Well. You know. The dying and all.

4 stars (same number General Powell has).

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