Produced by Frontline and the BBC. Exec producer, David Fanning; senior producer, Michael Sullivan; producer-writer, Eammon Matthews; producer, Ben Loeterman (U.S. version); editors, Jenny Roberts, Phil McDonald. TX:Narrator: Will Lyman. The 1990-’91 war in the Persian Gulf over Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, over oil and over the threat to both the Middle East and to the entire world, remains a fuzzy living room memory for many unassociated people with impressions of rolling tanks, zooming jets, flaming oil wells and President Bush, Gen.Norman Schwartzkopf and Saddam Hussein. Remedying this, “Frontline” hands down a brisk, insightful and absorbing account of the whys and wherefores of a conflict whose true outcome still remains a question. TX:Different points of view between Gen. Colin Powell, a major figure in the political action, and allied commander Schwartzkopf over the importance of Scud missiles and other strategy resurface. Margaret Thatcher vehemently defends Bush’s stand on Iraq, and Robert MacNamara and Powell are heard backing the sanctions that caused so much dissension.
The first two-hour chapter dwells in the clouds as Bush’sbrilliant assemblage of a coalition of American, British, French and Arab forces, backed by the U.N., went to work pounding the Iraqis even as allies sought out the elusive Hussein. Thanks to Iraqi footage, he’s spotted in various hiding places as the war escalates.
Program eyeballs overall attitudes about air warfare vs. ground work, and uses individuals to dramatize a remote war. The foot soldier’s role is overlooked as sophisticated tanks and planes chew up the land. A young pilot, home from a Baghdad raid, says, “I want to thank God I’m an American.” Members of an RAF crew tell of ejecting from their plane, and of the tortures they endured as Iraqi POWs. A young Iraqi woman testifies in the U.S. about the horrors she’d seen back home — with no hint that she’s actually the Iraqi ambassador’s daughter.
Disagreements among the top U.S. military brass — the Schwartzkopf-Lt. Gen. Fred Franks altercation over tactics, for instance — include a prudent Powell working with Schwartzkopf, who, according to U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, was considered by subordinates as “a tyrant and a bully.”
Schwartzkopf himself expresses regret that he has a temper, but points out that when human lives are on the line, he cannot be “cavalier.”
After 41 days of uninterruptedbombing (U.S. bombers hit a civilian air raid shelter in Baghdad, killing more than 200 people, while there are claims some low-level intelligence members were in and out of the place), the allies capture half of the enemy’s front-line army.
The second two-hour episode hits the ground rolling. The documentary follows the campaign and its politics clearly. The killings along the way are staggering. Gen. Frank’s VII Corps, locating Hussein’s much-vaunted Republican Guard, totally destroys it in seconds. Iraqi convoys fleeing Kuwait City are demolished along the Highway of Death, which Powell feared would appear on American TV. Furthermore, Powell views prolonging the war as a massacre, and continuing the slaughter would be “unchivalrous.”
Presumably the war’s purpose was accomplished: The Iraqis were out of oil-soaked Kuwait, the Emir was back in power, Kuwait oil was protected. Prying Hussein loose had never been an objective, and the White House was wistfullyhoping Hussein’s generals would finish him off. That, of course, isn’t how it works: Instead, Hussein wipes out his generals.
Thatcher now says, “There is the aggressor, Saddam Hussein, still in power. There is the president of the United States, no longer in power. There is the prime minister of Great Britain … no longer in power. I wonder who won?”
The aftermath of the ceasefire stings as Hussein continues his reign. The docu is fast-moving and clearly told, with author Rick Atkinson punctuating events with tales of his own. The principals speak frankly, and it’s appalling to witness such blunders and egos causing torture, death and destruction.
Oil’s available, and Kuwait’s Emir is back in power. But then, so is Saddam Hussein.