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'Bush’s War' Is Thorough, and Thoroughly Depressing

The team behind Bush’s War, the new PBS Frontline two-part special keyed to the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, has done so many reports about and from that region over the years that Frontline enjoys not only access to most key figures, but something even more important and impressive: their trust.

What this means is that, while the uppermost current and former architects of the Iraq War – George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld most specifically – speak their peace only at press conferences and in news sound bites, enough of their former subordinates speak so candidly about them that writer-producer-director Michael Kirk and producer-reporter Jim Gilmore lay out a clear and impressively honest scenario.

New interviews and footage, added to ones familiar from past stellar documentaries for Frontline, combine to form an almost numbingly depressing deconstruction of stupid moves, petty rivalries, intentional deceptions and misguided policies, all emanating from the highest levels of the George W. Bush administration.

The program – a total of 4.5 hours, shown Monday and Tuesday nights – included interviews with reporters and historians, as well as direct participants. From the tragic events of 9/11 to the recent military surge and beyond, Bush’s War presents it all with clarity. Disturbing, maddening clarity. It shows, step by step, how we got here, and implies that getting out, by whomever attempts it, will be no less complicated.

When all is said and done – and, here, compiled and replayed – the title Bush’s War becomes not only a fair summation, but a damning declaration of responsibility. — David Bianculli,

 Here’s what other critics thought…

“While broadcast news continues mostly avoiding anything that resembles genuine news in primetime, Frontline devotes a delicious 4½ hours to deconstructing the steaming mess in Iraq, with enough internal bickering ("Friendships were dashed") and turf battles to make for great historical drama.”

(Brian Lowry, Variety)

"Bush’s War" gives us heightened understanding of a situation whose anniversary we will almost certainly be marking again and again.(Frazier Moore, Associated Press

“Bush’s War” is a little late to the party; the fifth anniversary of the start of the ground war was last week, and the news media took plenty of note. But those who care less about the actual fighting and dying of warfare and more about its palace intrigues will find that this is the retrospective for them. (Neil Genzlinger, New York Times)

“Last month, an essay in The New York Times asked the question: Is PBS still necessary?

…[N]othing shows the necessity and continuing cultural importance of PBS like the two-part Frontline documentary titled Bush’s War that starts tonight. No one in television has covered the war in Iraq with as much diligence and passion as Frontline in dozens of reports. And that goes back to the time of the run-up to the conflict when The Times was printing stories on its front page about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”(David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun)

There’s little new in "Frontline’s" two-part retrospective on the Iraq war. What makes it well worth its length of a little over four hours is the perspective it provides on just how that war came to be entering its sixth year.

(Joanne Weintraub, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

The result tracks like a novel. While we all know what has happened over there, this show ripples with tension and suspense. "Bush’s War" is far greater than the sum of its parts, and it is told in clear, linear fashion accessible to viewers. The case to watch it all again for the first time is overwhelming. (Sam Allis, Boston Globe)