Screen: PBS

Should You Lose Frontline's 'Losing Iraq' From Your DVR?

Sarah's answer might surprise you.

Worthwhile Show Attempted: Frontline's "Losing Iraq" episode.

Topic: "Policymakers and military leaders discuss the chaos in Iraq and U.S. involvement in the conflict." In other words, the Platonic Frontline, basically: informative, but also dire and maddening.

How Far I Expected To Get: Not far; maybe 10 or 15 minutes? "Losing Iraq" is the kind of Frontline I keep on the DVR for ages because I don't know as much about the subject as I should, and while the show sometimes makes me want to go live in a hillside cave somewhere, it's consistently well put together for viewers who, just to pick a completely random example, may get their news from Twitter trending topics and/or their husbands reading the Yahoo! homepage aloud to them. For...instance. Anyway, so I will keep an ep like "Losing Iraq" around for a while and then feel such a sense of obligation to watch it, shame about not looking forward to it/wanting to watch a Felicity I've seen 154 times instead, and concern that I don't have 90 minutes to devote to it -- and that last thing means I do something else at the same time, get distracted, can't follow which talking heads belong to what issue, and instead of going back to see what I missed, I just ugly-American the thing off the DVR and accept my culturally stunted fate.

On the other hand, the more distance we have from whatever shitty Bush-era foreign-policy call is in the Frontline spotlight this week, the more fun it is to watch, because many of the key players no longer have to hold their tongues -- and don't.

When It Won Me Over

10:37 (in a 90-minute program)

What Did It: "Losing Iraq" got off to a strong start with an acerbic account of the unseating of the Saddam Hussein statue, and how much American aid THAT required. A Col. McCoy sighs, "It would be a pretty anticlimactic moment if we didn't help" drag the thing down with a tank. I also enjoyed Ambassador James Dobbins's gold-foil tie. (Hey, they can't all be deep thoughts.)

But really, it was this talking-head volley between provisional governor Paul Bremer and his then-advisor:

Bremer: I did one thing that wasn't very smart, which was suggest to the staff meeting that I thought we should shoot the looters, that our military should have authority to shoot the looters, which they did not have at that time.

Dan Senor: His point was you only needed to shoot a few of them to make that point and the looting would stop.

Bremer: It wasn't very smart to do because somebody on the staff immediately told the press that I had suggested shooting the looters, and we had a problem.

It's not that he's incorrect on the merits; it's that 1) his primary concern, in retrospect, is the optics of the statement when he's talking about shooting civilians, and 2) he feels like he's in a safe space to discuss it in that way. It's horrifying, but it's also fascinating -- what ELSE are various retired military and former contractors going to say now that they don't have skin in the game?

Because General Petraeus is talking some shit. Not a lot, but some.

Worth Taking A Run At It? Look, it's not a pick-me-up. If you think the U.S. didn't have any business in Iraq, and once we'd gone in, we kind of didn't have any business leaving, this won't put a spring in your step. But "Losing Iraq" is a professionally paced, informative overview of what started out wrong and went wronger with top-notch access to the players. Give it your full attention.

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