Bush's War, a Frontline documentary, is necessary viewing. Simply put, it is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
Through in-depth interviews with all but the biggest players in the exceptionally dangerous game that we now know as the global war on terror, it clearly and compellingly tells a complicated narrative. In essence, it is the opposite of Oliver Stone's W., which makes fiction out of a reality so compelling it needed no treatment. In effect, this is the film I longed for when I wrote my review of W. Some may think it unfair to compare a fiction film with a documentary one, but Bush's War is as literary as anything Stone has ever made. It's characters are compelling; it's conflicts vivid; it's ironies bitter, cruel and heartbreaking. It is a tragedy, really, with the State Department as the Greek chorus.
In Bush's War, far from learning that the President is just a figure head, we learn just how important the office is--and why this has been one of the worst ever. After 9/11, weak leadership allowed a cabal of ideologues to undermine anyone who disagreed with them. And, although it didn't happen all at once, it wasn't long before the neoconservatives took over the White House from the foreign policy realists, including State and the CIA, with disastrous consequences.
The filmmakers made many brilliant decisions that determined how this documentary would unfold, but perhaps the most daring was a choice not to proffer a thesis on the President himself. It is a detailed portrait of his administration, but not of Bush. We do not see him directly; we infer his character. We do not identify with him; we observe him. What we induce is perhaps closer to Stone's vision of Bush than anyone would like to admit, but because the narrative is not processed through his interior consciousness, it is more useful. Watching W., you learn about a man; watching Bush's War, you learn about the world.
Bush's War is required viewing not only for those who wish to understand how we got here, but for those who never want to let it happen again. It will be a long time before the mechanics of government are diagrammed this clearly again.