I just caught part two of the PBS Frontline documentary "Bush's War," produced by Michael Kirk. It's very well done. When I heard Kirk speak at Columbia's journalism school this fall, he emphasized that detailed chronologies were the basis for his films. A solid time line, he said, was his script. This method seemed to me to pay dividends in "Bush's War." So, of course, who remembers exactly which day (or even month) Jay Garner was appointed "viceroy" of Iraq, or when L. Paul Bremmer replaced him? But what I found startling was how compressed certain events were in time. For example, Jay Garner received notice of Bremmer's appointment the first day he actually arrived in Baghdad. Just as he was looking for a functioning toilet in one of Saddam's palaces! Or that within days of arriving in Iraq, Bremmer had disbanded the Iraqi army, not after so much as a photo-op tour of the country.
In his talk at Columbia, Kirk cast himself as a kind of know-nothing interviewer. The guy isn't trying to outsmart his subjects. In fact, he comes off as somewhat amateurish. But he does stick to a policy of not allowing interviewees to set ground rules. That was evident in his handling of Bremmer (and Ahmed Chalabi for that matter). So it turns out Bremmer doesn't remember a meeting that Jay Garner describes in which Garner, and someone from the CIA called "Charlie" confronted Bremmer over then Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith's draconian debathification order. Charlie tells Bremmer that 30,000-50,000 people, closer to 50,000 actually, are about to lose their jobs, their place in the new society. In the documentary, Bremmer seems to panic, he can't remember the meeting, but says the number he heard was 20,000.
Much in the film is eerie in light of current events. New York Times reporter John Burns, who was in Iraq from before the invasion until last summer, in the interview, seemingly reclining on a pillow, notes dryly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the kind of man, if he sat on your local school board, you would be worried about him being appointed principal of a high school. Now he's running a country of 30 million. Like Putin, Bush looked him in the eye to see what he's all about. Now Maliki's in Basra, confronting the Sadrists with what seems to be the full force of the Iraqi Army. The Bush people are calling it "courageous," while the British are standing pat at the airport. From the documentary, it seems such an operation was very nearly set in motion many times in the war's early stages. I just hope Maliki knows what he's doing; that John Burns has him wrong.