May 26: “Obama at War” | Press Release + Trailer

May 19, 2015

FRONTLINE Goes Inside the Administration’s Struggle
to Deal with ISIS and Syria’s Civil War

When President Barack Obama took office in 2008, he had campaigned on ending the war in Iraq and keeping the U.S. out of new military conflicts.

But Obama now finds himself exactly where he didn’t want to be: trying to defeat a brutal terrorist group in Iraq and Syria without dragging America into a prolonged regional conflict.

How did we get here?

Obama at War airs Tuesday, May 26 at 10/9c on PBS (check local listings) and will stream in full, for free, online at

In Obama at War, premiering Tuesday, May 26, veteran FRONTLINE journalist Martin Smith examines the Obama administration’s complicated struggle to deal with the deadly civil war in Syria, now in its fifth year — and explores how the accompanying rise of ISIS has raised the stakes.

“There’s a sad irony in the fact that now, the U.S. and brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad share a common goal: defeating ISIS,” says Smith, who has covered the Middle East for FRONTLINE for more than a decade, most recently in The Rise of ISIS.

Drawing on interviews with key military and diplomatic leaders, Obama at War is an intense look at the heated debates within the administration about when and how to get involved in Syria.

“We were driven in part by our impulse learned in the Balkans, about the necessity of US intervention … to help deal with brutal dictators,” former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet tells FRONTLINE. “But also very mindful of the lesson we took from Iraq, where the overextension of American power in Iraq brought tremendous hardship onto the people.”

Obama at War traces Obama’s Syria policy from the Arab Spring in 2011 onward, revealing an administration struggling to identify reliable partners on the ground, mindful of the American public’s war-weariness, and divided over whether to provide military aid to “moderate” rebels.

The documentary also explores how the spiraling humanitarian catastrophe under Assad allowed ISIS to flourish.

“Is it really a surprise that ­Syrian opposition and the people that support them would seek the help of anybody to get rid of the regime that is inflicting this pain?” former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford tells FRONTLINE. “I think it’s human nature to seek the help of those who will defend you.”

With more than half the people in Syria displaced from their homes, ISIS continuing to seize and hold territory in Iraq and Syria, and the administration mulling its next move, Obama at War is an inside look at the administration’s biggest foreign policy challenge.



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Obama at War is a FRONTLINE production with Rain Media. The writer, producer and correspondent is Martin Smith. The co-producer is Linda Hirsch. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 69 Emmy Awards and 17 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

Press Contact
Patrice Taddonio,, @ptaddonio, 617.300.5375

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