The War Behind Closed Doors, written by Michael Kirk, and coproduced by Michael Kirk and Jim Gilmore.
The introduction to The War Behind Closed Doors is quite promising, with Frontline’s narrator stating: “Over two decades, they had served three presidents, and argued for one big idea, that the United States must project its power and influence throughout the world. This is the story of how they set out to change American foreign policy in the days immediately after the tragedy of September 11th.” Then, to be more specific about what that means, the intro includes a clip of former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack saying: “And it does seem very clear that this group seized upon the events of September 11th to resurrect their policy of trying to go after Saddam Hussein and a regime-change in Iraq.” This was a documentary that would clarify who was responsible for the drive for war against Iraq: Neoconservatives — which meant that that the war was not fundamentally about oil.
The documentary describes the path to invasion of Iraq (which seemed imminent but had not yet occurred when the program aired on 20 February 2003) as a struggle between Neoconservatives (also calling themselves “Neo-Reaganites” or “hawks”) led by Paul Wolfowitz, and “pragmatists” or “realists” ostensibly led by Colin Powell. The Neoconservative position was that Saddam Hussein’s government must be destroyed, while the pragmatists, without disputing the Neoconservatives’ provocative claims about Saddam Hussein, advocated containment as the appropriate response.
Brent Scowcroft (a pragmatist who had been an advisor to George H.W. Bush) is shown explaining to an interviewer that George H.W. Bush had deliberately left Saddam Hussein in power in 1991, contrary to what the Neoconservatives had wanted, because it was desirable to preserve a balance of power between Iraq and Iran, and because overthrowing Saddam Hussein might lead to various negative consequences — reasons that in hindsight make excellent sense.
The interviewer, and some other Jewish commentators in the documentary — Kenneth Pollack and Richard Perle — speak as if the goal of the 1991 war had been to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but Scowcroft is adamant that it was not.
LOWELL BERGMAN: I thought we had two interests. One was to evict the Iraqi army from Kuwait, but the other really was to get Saddam out—
BRENT SCOWCROFT: No.
LOWELL BERGMAN: —of power.
BRENT SCOWCROFT: No, it wasn’t.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, either covertly or overtly.
BRENT SCOWCROFT: No. No, it wasn’t. That was never — you can’t find that anywhere as an objective, either in the U.N. mandate for what we did or in our declarations, that our goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein. [PBS Frontline transcript]
The widespread belief that the goal of the 1991 war had been to eliminate Saddam Hussein was supported by the hyperbolic propaganda that had been used. The comparisons of Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler started in the mass-media. In late 1990 President Bush joined the trend by comparing Saddam Hussein (unfavorably) to Hitler, because of the supposed brutality of the Iraqi troops in Kuwait (AP, 2 November 1990). There was a tendency to see everything in terms of this Hitler comparison, from “He gassed his own people!” to supposedly unprovoked invasions of neighboring states. Given that President George H.W. Bush had engaged in and never repudiated that kind of crazed propaganda, the first Bush Administration would necessarily be seen as having failed to fulfill a moral imperative when, ultimately, they did the practical thing by leaving Saddam Hussein in power.
In fact, George H. W. Bush did call for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and then refrained from supporting such an effort, as the Neocons have charged. This can be seen either as disingenuous war-rhetoric or as vacillation between the influences of the pragmatists (Scowcroft) and the Neoconservatives (Wolfowitz), or as a combination of the two.
Immediately after the 1991 war, Paul Wolfowitz (as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy) authored a set of military guidelines that would justify preventive war — in other words, war against a state that had not attacked and was not threatening to attack, but might attack someday if not attacked first. Recall that in 1981 the State of Israel had been condemned by the UN Security Council for “preventive war” in its attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor, with the Reagan Administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, also voting to condemn. The President of the Security Council, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, explained:
The reasons on which the Government of Israel bases its contention are as unacceptable as the act of aggression it committed. It is inadmissible to invoke the right to self-defense when no armed attack has taken place. The concept of preventive war, which for many years served as justification for the abuses of powerful States, since it left it to their discretion to define what constituted a threat to them, was definitively abolished by the Charter of the United Nations. [Security Council Official Records, S/PV.2288 19 June 1981]Wolfowitz was now advocating that the government of the United States adopt the uninhibited belligerence of the State of Israel, using military strikes to maintain hegemony against merely suspected (or perhaps imagined) threats.
Information about the Wolfowitz Doctrine was leaked to the news media by people within the administration who opposed it, and it became a source of embarrassment. Dick Cheney was ordered to rewrite Wolfowitz’s guidelines in a way that eliminated the option of unilateral preventive war.
Neoconservative William Kristol however commends the Wolfowitz Doctrine, declaring that Wolfowitz was “ahead of his time.” The narrator explains: “One day there would be a more receptive president, and another opportunity.”
That more receptive president was not Bill Clinton.
The narrator implies that George W. Bush was chosen as the likely successor to Bill Clinton as early as 1998, and that a group of “foreign-policy wisemen” including Wolfowitz on one hand and Colin Powell on the other, attempted to groom him for that position.
This period, when the struggle for the mind of George W. Bush occurred, shows most clearly that invading Iraq was not the idea of George W. Bush. William Kristol states that Bush was not immediately supportive of the Neoconservatives’ aggressive foreign policy: “I wouldn’t say that if you read Wolfowitz’s defense policy guidelines from 1992 and read most of Bush’s campaign speeches and his statements in the debates, you would say, ‘Hey, Bush has really adopted Wolfowitz’s worldview.’” Thus the pragmatists initially prevailed over the Neoconservatives, so that George W. Bush, in the period before the election, was advocating a reduced role for American military forces in the world.
The narrator says that Bush’s foreign policy during the first few months of his administration was “stalled between the two competing forces” — stalled between the Neocons and the pragmatists. Kristol indicates that this continued until the 9-11 attacks: “I think you could make a case that on September 10th, 2001, that it’s not clear that George W. Bush was in any fundamental way going in our direction on foreign policy.”
A pivotal moment, following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, came when Bush delivered a speech that evening that included the line: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
The War Behind Closed Doors treats this as a highly important utterance. Obviously it is important, since rumors that some government harbors or supports terrorists are easy to generate, and were in fact generated. The narrator says: “The hawks welcomed the president’s phrase, ‘those who harbor’ terrorism.” Richard Perle is quoted praising the speech.
David Frum, Bush’s Canadian-born Jewish speechwriter, also praises the speech:
Within 48 hours, he had made the two key decisions that have defined the war on terror. First, this is a war, not a crime. And second, this war is not going to be limited to just the authors of the 9/11 attack but to anyone who assisted them and helped them and made their work possible, including states. And that is a dramatic, dramatic event. And that defines everything.What Frontline fails to mention is that it was Frum who insisted on that crucial line in Bush’s speech. One week before PBS Frontline aired its documentary, The Nation magazine had already revealed that detail:
It was not, alas, “a war speech.” It did, though, contain the line about making “no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” And Frum cannot resist informing us he had been the one to insert that thought into every draft of the speech. [David Corn, “Who’s in Charge?” The Nation, 13 February 2003; emphasis added]This casts a very interesting light on another comment from Frum about the speech: “When he laid down those principles, I don’t know whether he foresaw all of their implications, how far they would take him. I don’t know if he understood fully and foresaw fully the true radicalism of what he had just said.”
Who was really making the big decisions for which Frum liked to give Bush so much credit? Frum had put words into Bush’s mouth and then said that he was not sure that Bush had understood the implications. The picture that we get, by adding just a bit of information that Frontline had omitted, is that George W. Bush was pushed into belligerent posturing by his Jewish advisors.
The pragmatists continued to push the idea of going after terrorists rather than governments; Powell for example spoke of “persuading” governments that might be harboring terrorists. But the fact that the President had already talked about going after governments had created an expectation that was difficult to oppose.
Meanwhile the false notion that Iraq was unfinished business was revived. (Obviously such an evil man must be doing evil things.) The notion that Iraq was somehow a “state sponsor of terrorism” (having been taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism by the Reagan Administration in 1982, but reinstated amid the war-propaganda of 1990) was bandied about.
Dick Cheney is a favorite target for leftist critics of the War on Terror, and for the John Birch Society, who want a scapegoat that allows them to avoid saying anything critical of Jews. Very often, Cheney is represented as a key “Neocon.” In fact Cheney had worked with the Neoconservatives at various times since the days of “Team B” during the Ford Administration. But William Kristol described Cheney’s position at the beginning of George W. Bush’s presidency thus: “Cheney is a complicated figure and, obviously, a very cautious and reticent figure, so hard to know what he thinks in his heart of hearts. I think he had feet in both camps, so to speak.” In other words, Cheney was not initially committed to the Neoconservative position on Iraq.
George W. Bush adopted the doctrine of preventive war that had been advocated by “the brains” of the Neoconservative outfit, Paul Wolfowitz (see here, p. 41ff, for a portrait of Wolfowitz’s Jewish identity and connections). From this, given 15 years of demonization-propaganda against Saddam Hussein and a little nudging from Jews like David Frum who were positioned to influence George W. Bush, the invasion of Iraq followed.
At the time when The War Behind Closed Doors aired, the Neoconservatives were getting their way and enjoying practically unanimous support for their project, and perhaps it was overconfidence that motivated William Kristol to claim for his Neoconservative movement such unequivocal responsibility for the imminent war. There was always obfuscation about who had agitated for war, with many habitually blaming the oil industry or other economic interests, because such explanations fit their leftist theory about how the world works. It was extremely useful that PBS Frontline documented that it was in fact Neoconservatives who spent more than a decade agitating for that war, and also, if it did not explain exactly who these Neoconservatives were, at least gave some indications about who they were not.
There are however some negative aspects to The War Behind Closed Doors, the worst of them being the propaganda spouted by Jewish television-host Ted Koppel’s Jewish son-in-law, Kenneth Pollack, who also happened to be a former CIA analyst, a sometime member of the National Security Council and various think-tanks, and author of a pro-war book, The Threatening Storm, that was especially influential with liberals. (Pollack had excellent liberal credentials, having served in the Clinton administration; he was also indicted for spying on behalf of Israel, but the indictment was dropped under less than convincing circumstances.) Although supposedly giving an expert outsider’s perspective on the Neoconservatives’ agitation for war, and seeming to criticize the Neoconservatives in some ways, the most important part of what Pollack said really supported the Neoconservatives’ project. I suspected that Pollack was Jewish when I first saw the program in 2003 because of the general thrust of what he was saying, but now it is confirmed.
In the section of PBS Frontline’s The War Behind Closed Doors about Bill Clinton, Pollack promotes the idea that Saddam Hussein really was developing WMDs behind the backs of the UN’s weapons-inspectors, and tries to portray the clashes in the 1990s between Iraqi officials and the UN’s inspectors as the expression of some kind of psychological strategy on Saddam Hussein’s part for undermining “containment.” Frontline should have pointed out that there was no direct evidence for any ongoing WMD-program. It was all speculation, based, as Pollack says, on the fact that the Iraqis gave the inspectors trouble. But the friction between inspectors and Iraqi authorities was easily explained with the fact that the inspection-team, infiltrated by agents of the CIA, appeared to have been used to try to orchestrate a coup:
But one of the problems is, is that you have a situation, in June of 1996, where the United States is fomenting a coup against Saddam Hussein, a coup based upon Special Republican Guard units. At the same time, you have an UNSCOM inspection, UNSCOM 150, which is in Iraq, creating a confrontation by inspecting Special Republican Guard sites. [Scott Ritter, PBS Frontline: Spying on Saddam, 27 April 1999].These known facts should have been brought to bear on Pollack’s statements.
The Newsweek of 24 February 2003, four days after this documentary aired, quoted Saddam Hussein’s son, General Hussein Kamel, as telling an interrogator in 1995: “All weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear — were destroyed.” Pollack, with his positions in government as a supposed expert on Iraq, should have known about this.
It is the major fault of The War Behind Closed Doors that it allows Pollack’s claims in support of the WMD accusation to go undisputed. Pollack admitted after the invasion that he had been wrong (“I made a mistake based on faulty intelligence.” New York Times Magazine, 24 October 2004), but it is worse than being wrong: he was either a liar or incompetent. The failure to challenge Pollack’s statements is a crucial omission in PBS Frontline’s presentation, because the proposition that Saddam Hussein had been 100% successful in circumventing weapons-inspections was essential to the argument for war. Add the claim that weapons-inspections were not working (and probably could not work) to the premise that Saddam Hussein is “another Hitler,” and it becomes self-evident that one must go to war.