truth, war & consequences
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join the discussion: Was the U.S. justified in going to war to topple Saddam Hussein?  And what price should Americans be willing to pay for a successful  transition to democracy in Iraq?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'd like to commend you on another excellent program, this one of course was "Truth, War and Consequences." I recommend that all viewers watch the previous Frontline episode, "The War Behind Closed Doors," which devotes plenty of time to the policy makers that set this conflict in action. I believe watching both programs can give viewers an excellent look at all aspects of the second Iraq conflict, past, present and future.

In your program, I was particularly disturbed when your reporter interviewed Kanan Makiya and he spoke of increasing propaganda from al Qaeda within Iraq. Your reporter pointed out how ironic it was that one of the primary reasons the U.S. went to war may actually occur as a result of the war. That's troubling to hear and the lack of consideration for these inevitable problems is what bothers me the most regarding the Bush Administration's forethought.

I think it's ludicrous to suggest that the war was only put into place to earn oil contracts. And at the same time, I don't believe the U.S. had great humanitarian ambitions but certainly didn't look at the chance to help an oppressed people as a negative. Based on interviews in previous Frontline programs it seems that this was mainly just an attempt to thwart terrorism and rogue states - the move from containment to preemptive policies.

But the thinking behind all of it is so black and white, I truly believe that the U.S. may have made a critical error and failed to realize how liberating Iraq may have opened, as one of your previous viewer comments called it, Pandora's Box. Hussein certainly didn't deserve to remain in existence on this planet based on humanitarian reasons alone but at least the U.S. knew who the enemy was and how other nations and terrorist organizations viewed him.

Just as democracy brings a chance for great good, it also opens the door for many things the U.S. wouldn't have to deal with if Iraq was still a dictatorship. It gives al Qaeda a vast new area to recruit from which I'm sure they'll have no problems doing judging by the videos on shootings by U.S. soldiers. I'm sure we've made plenty of new enemies in the last few months. Who says the Iraqi people want a democracy? We might have opened the door for another theocracy similar to Iran a few decades ago. The factions in Iraq may not even be capable of existing in relative peace and we may have a much larger scale Lebanon on our hands.

I feel sorry for the American troops that have to deal with this mess. They're not in a typical war situation but have to deal with the exact same issues (snipers, bombs, ambushes, etc.) while still trying to act as civilian police figures. I can't say I was pleased with the video segment with the troops shouting, "Hooyah!" as they ran over a taxi driver's cab but that's pretty much what they're trained to do. They're just grunts doing their job and none of them even know the language, history or customs of the country they are required to be temporary police for. I wonder if some of the troops in Iraq are becoming as jaded as troops in Vietnam were.

I guess if the rumors were true that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others had looked at this as a precursor for more government overthrows, they've probably changed their minds now that they realize it's not as simple as sitting at your desk writing a nice memo on the situation.

I wish the program would have given closer attention on Iraqi reaction to expatriates. It appeared that Ahmad Chalabi wasn't received well initially but it seems that he may be building some support? I'd be interested in learning what Iraqis that have remained in the country all these years and suffered or battled through Hussein's regime think of these "foreigners" that consider themselves natural successors in the power structure. My first impressions of Chalabi are that he is a master manipulator and is deadset on becoming the first leader of the country following Hussein. He's a very skilled politician indeed if he was able to ride the coattails of the most powerful country in the world to his objective.

Chris Nelson
Orlando, Florida

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Several viewers have also written in about the incident shown in FRONTLINE's report in which U.S. troops used a tank to crush the car of a looter. In late October, at a Georgetown University forum, a student asked Deputy Sec'y of Defense Paul Wolfowitz about this incident. Here is Mr. Wolfowitz's response:

"We are looking into it. And mistakes, pretty ugly mistakes can get made in wartime. And that is again one of the reasons why if you can find a peaceful way to resolve things it is so much better. I would remind everybody here...it wasn't so long before that incident when people were saying 'Why don't you shoot a few looters in Baghdad because looting is causing terrible disruption...'

Looting has been a serious problem. I don't know why those mistakes were made in the particular incident that you described. I do know that the best way to change the situation is...to get more Iraqis on the front lines. They are much less likely to make those mistakes. So it's a legitimate question and we're looking into it."

With regard to this letter writer's mention of FRONTLINE's report "The War Behind Closed Doors" you can view the whole program online off our homepage www.pbs.org/frontline Just click on our View Online collection of reports.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Regardless of ones feelings about the justification for the war, I believe the many credible reports coming lately from returning troops who say that steady progress is being seen.

Local governments are forming, businesses are open and schools are in better shape than before. Iraqi citizens aren't being beheaded or kidnapped by their own government. Things are looking up for the people of Iraq.

The reason that US soldiers continue to be picked off by random (and probably non-Iraqi) attackers is partially due to the extreme care we are taking not to endanger innocents. If we wanted to end the violence quickly and just purely win, we could certainly do that, at the cost of many civilian lives.

Dave Marshall
Atlanta, GA

Dear FRONTLINE,

This was such a great show I've been discussing it at work and Im going to show it to someone I know before he gets activated. But then again ignorance is bliss, especially if you have to get a job done.

The best parts of your episode were when Chalabi never produced the document. Also when Laith Kubba said that by outlawing the Baathists, the U.S. created the future gansters and snipers we'd be fighting.

My main question was the portrayal of Army actions with the cars that ran the road block and the shot into the crowd in the wrong direction where the guy was killed who had no gun. Of course I was very upset and it is tragic.

But when I reconsidered, I thought of three points. First, if a car rams thru a blocade, you HAVE to shoot, right? What if it's a car bomb? Look at what just happened last week when the car aws shot at and exploded as it was slamming towards the U.S. civilian hotel and it WAS a suicide bomber.
Second, in terms of the crowd, when you have shots fired, maybe its hard to be 100%accurate or to know what direction to shoot. IMAGINE a situation where the Frontline cameraman and the reporter were in the line of fire or in danger?

Third, in Iraq, it must be extremely stressful given that as I read in US News & World Report on Monday, nine army people have commited suicide and two marines since we invaded. THAT IS ELEVEN SUICIDE DEATHS! Imagine how hard it is to sleep at night in Iraq. My heart goes out to anyone deployed there and to the families of the innocent civilians who lost their lives.

Thank you again for your excellent show and also thank you to all the people who agreed to be interviewed and did the best they could to be accountable, humble and honest.

paolina weber
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

An outstanding program, one of the reasons we give to PBS. I thought Cheney and his pals had made many such assertions before the war but couldn't go back and retrieve them all. You nicely found several and packaged them together nicely. If only all the people across the country who (according to polls) seem so amazingly ignorant of historical reality could view this program we might be able to steer the country away from the dangerous Bush doctrine of preemptive war against whoever the President personally wants to bash - regardless of any reality of threat to this country. Isn't that what Stalin (and many others) used to do, to our condemnation? Keep up the good programs!

Tom Holt
Rockville, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your recent production "Truth, War, and Consequences" only confirms what I have known for quite some time. The administration flat out lied to the American people in order to drum up support for the Iraq War. Anyone who doesn't agree is either ignoring the facts or a facist. I especially loved the information about the small office created after 9/11 to find connections between Al Queda and Saddam. What a farce. It was obvioulsy their job to stretch the truth and do whatever else was necessary to give the administration the fuel they needed to convince the world that War was the answer.

I also loved to see that Dick Chenney was still siting evidence that Muhammad Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague A YEAR after the CIA had already proved he was in Florida at the time. God I would have loved to have been Tim Russert and confronted the V.P. on that. Lies are the business of this administration (and arguably any administration) and business is good. I applaud anyone smart enough and brave enough to see through these lies.

D. B.
Dallas, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am astounded by the number of viewers that supported the administration's military operations in Iraq as a preemptive measure to negate any threat to this country. So many of these viewers believe Iraq posed a genuine threat to the United States, either militarily or based on their belief that Saddam Hussein and his regime was sponsoring terrorist activities against us. Whether or not these viewers' beliefs are correct is not really the point. The real issue is whether the United States will engage in preemptive military action against any other sovereign nation whenever it perceives that country poses a threat to the interests of the United States. This is not a hypothetical question anymore. What shall the United States do about North Korea and its development of nuclear weapons? If my memory is correct, before the Iraq war the United States had stopped a North Korean ship because it was carrying missiles to Yemen. We know the North Koreans are selling arms in a volatile region. At the very least, this type of activity has the potential for regional destabilization. At its worst, these arms sales could lead to terrorist activity against the United States.

I fear this administration has set a very dangerous precedent by engaging in a preemptive war against Iraq. Worse, other governments, such as North Korea's, can have no doubt the United States would engage in a preemptive strike. Ask yourself what you would do in their place to protect yourself. The thought is especially frightening in light of the Central Intelligence Agency's assessment that the North Korean government does possess at least one nuclear weapon. At least the United States does not have to guess whether North Korea has a weapon of mass destruction. We know they do.

Ron Chen
Helena, Montana

Dear FRONTLINE,

To all those implying that Frontline showed some type of liberal bias, if they were truly pushing some political agenda why would they have bothered interviewing pro-war policy advocates like Chalabi, Bremer, Makiya, and ultra-hawk Perle. If the so-called liberal media bias were true, they would have replaced those four interviews with Chomsky, Kucinich, Gore, and Vidal. And to the one post that stated "the Frontline reporter...repeatedly attempted to put words into the mouths of those being interviewed," I would suggest that you are seriously underestimating the intelligence of all people they interviewed, on the right and left.

Fig bean

Dear FRONTLINE,

After reading the majority of the postings here, I am struck by how clearly bifurcated they are. To those of you who criticize FRONTLINE, claiming bias, consider this: If they are so intent on presenting just one veiwpoint, what would be their motivation in posting so many stinging diatribes? I applaud FRONTLINE for having the balls to post a cross-section of all viewer comments, good and bad.

Nathan Clark
Menomonee Falls, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

Harsh as it may sound, the only word that I can think to describe this production is hypocrisy. You are guilty of the very thing that you accuse the current administration of doing--selectively presenting information to influence people to your point of view.

After reading the interviews, how you can honestly feel you have enough evidence to prove your assertion that Bush suckered the American people into the Iraq war is beyond me. You suckered the PBS audience into thinking you were doing unbiased reporting.

Peter Clegg
Orem, UT

Dear FRONTLINE,

This Frontline is completely out of kilter, with all of your previous programs related to Saddam and Iraq.

Yes the scene where the soldiers were destroying the car was disturbing, but one isolated incident, does not a failure make. One anti-war argument that I see all the time is, "Look! Things are not perfect in Iraq!" Gee. Guess what? Things are never perfect anywhere in this world, and yes they are certainly not perfect in Iraq! Yet, there is progress being made:

1. Today teachers in Iraq earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.

2. Today Iraq has increased public health spending to over 26 times what it was under Saddam.

3. Today in Iraq all 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.

4. Today doctorsí salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.

5. Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.

6. Since liberation over 22 million vaccination doses to Iraqís many children.

7. etc., etc., etc.

And why did Martin Smith mention multiple times that the US went to war against Iraq, because President Bush said that Iraq presented an "imminent threat" to the US? I challenge you to find anywhere that this was said by President Bush, or any other administration official. What President Bush said, in his critical SOTU address was the following:

"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option."

Do you see that quote. President Bush is saying that the threat is not imminent, but that rather it is a "gathering storm." What do you want the US to do? Wait until one of our cities is vaporized by a nuclear blast, rendered unihabitable for centuries by a dirty bomb, or have tens of thousands of its citizenry killed or sickened by biological weapons? If you wait until it is an imminent threat in today's world, then it's game over! You lost!

I'm very disappointed in Frontline. I used to have great respect for your programs and their balance. I'm just sorry my tax dollars helped pay for this.

Blowback Walk the cat back
Fort Worth, TX

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Producer Martin Smith addresses criticism that he used the term "imminent threat" a few times in this report. You will find his response in his Washington Post "Live Chat " conducted the day following broadcast. You will find this chat by clicking on PRODUCER CHAT off the homepage of this "Truth, War and Consequences" web site.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program on Iraq was appallingly biased and intent on trying to paint the Bush administration as a war-mongering machine with no regard for human life. Additionally, you tried to portray our soldiers as reckless and violent.

The fact is, the vast majority of our soldiers are very decent people, and have tried to do their best in a situation that can be likened to hell.

Your interviewer cast a hostile tone throughout his interviews. He obviously had an agenda. And the interview footage was carefully edited to reflect that agenda. As far as U.S. policy is concerned, your show totally omitted the fact that Saddam's regime tried to fool the world into thinking he had and was developing WMD's. No mention of the huge quantities of unaccounted for weapons, the expulsion of the U.N. inspectors, and his resistance to the resumed inspections in 2002. If there were no weapons, why didn't he prove it?

I feel that at the very least this administration has its priorities correct. Especially after 9/11, the security of U.S. citizens in my mind comes above protecting the privacy and first amendment rights of terrorists. Those rights are what Al Qaeda terrorists exploited and openly scoffed at when we were attacked on 9/11.

J. Sigel
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

The way the Frontline reporter asked questions and repeatedly attempted to put words into the mouths of those being interviewed (let alone the way the whole narrative of this show was "crafted") was disgraceful and an affront to journalism. One of the leading Iraqi intellectuals being interviewed, after such journalistic abuse by your reporter, responded: "That's your way of spinning it" (or something to this effect).

I have to commend Frontline, though, for not cutting this truthful condemnation of their reporter's tactics out of the narrative. Also, the image quality and the technical aspects were superb. That's about where I must end my praise though.

I found this particular show to be blatantly driven by a political agenda, to be one-sided, and in no way an "objective", let alone balanced, portrayal of what has been going on with Iraq. It's as if the producers of this show had either been on another planet all this time, or that they had a deliberate agenda to distort the news and misinform. Out of optimism, I must conclude that it was the former.

Atilla Vekony
Tucson, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

Opening the Pandora's Box is what the Bush administration did when it invaded Iraq.

I fear that the decision to invade Iraq has cost the United States dearly in terms of treasure, blood and international crediblity. all of which is crucial in combating the rise of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the world.

Doug Characky
Saugus, Ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

I appreciated seeing your in depth presentation on Iraq: Truth, War and Consequences. I was absoutely appalled by the scene of an American soldier coordinating the destruction of an Iraqi's car by a tank because the owner allegedly was involved in looting some wood. "Teach him a lesson" indeed! Destroying the car took away the means of livelihood for the Iraqi, and of course greatly added to the anger toward and hatred for the American occupiers. I would like to know whether the soldier(s) were disciplined in any way, such as making restritution to the car's owner. This incident showed terribly forcefully what a mistake it is to have men trained to attack and wage war serve in policing roles.
It is high time that we let the United Nations play a leadership role in the reconstruction of the country. I hope (but alas am not optimistic) that Kofi Anan prevails.

Elske Smith
Lenox, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

What does Ms. Watkins say to the thousands of Iraqis the US troops buried alive in 1991? The Basra Massacre? Bet she doesn't have a clue about these events.

She's very concerned with the atrocities Saddam committed 20 years ago. Where was she back then, when America was a good ally of Saddam's?

Where was she in 1991 when America helped Saddam's regime put down the Kurd & Shi'ite rebels trying to overthrow the regime? And before anyone on the right screams over that, I suggest they read Colin Powell's autobiography.

For the past 13 years the Iraqis suffered under terrorism yes...from America and Britain. Daily bombing, draconian sanctions. We were NOT INVITED by the Iraqis to "liberate" them. We INVADED. ILLEGALLY. It's past time America wakes up to the facts of reality.

Thank you Frontline for trying to show some of that reality. Those with their minds wide shut won't of course be able to face the facts, but as they're again back in the minority, and as long as they remain in the minority, we have hope for America.

Garth Lippen
Temple, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

When President Bush was elected, my son, who was in the Navy years ago and spent a lot of his time in the Persian Gulf, stated that within one year of his presidency (this was before September 11th) that Bush would find a reason to go to war with Iraq.

My son also said, "it's all about oil - oil - oil, and revenge on the attempt to kill the first President Bush. He also stated that we as a people are so naive in understanding the Arab nations that we will buy into whatever hype President Bush tells us and be meek as sheep as we go towards the slaughter house of another Vietnam. Too bad my son was right.

D. Donohue
Sun City West, AZ

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posted october 9, 2003

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