IRAQ: On The Record

Arthur Kent covered the 1991 Gulf War for NBC News and The Observer. In 1992, he reported from Baghdad and Basra, and returned to the south of the country in 1998 to produce the PBS documentary A Wedding In Basra. He returned in the opening weeks of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to produce Back to Basra: After Saddam for The History Channel.

Kent was one of the few broadcast news figures in the United States to report and commentate vigorously against the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq – as the record shows:

 

basra

FIVE YEARS BEFORE THE WAR:

Every day, ordinary Iraqis struggle to keep dignity, health and hope alive in their families. Civilians are crucial to any lasting solution in Iraq and the Gulf. Yet we’ve found that world powers have largely overlooked the pivotal role the Iraqi people could play. And we’ve uncovered evidence that while most Iraqis cannot escape the effects of UN-supervised sanctions, Saddam Hussein and his ruling elite are systematically breaching the embargo, and getting away with it.
A Wedding In Basra, PBS
Dec. 1998

 

FIVE MONTHS BEFORE THE WAR:

Have we explained sufficiently that since Desert Storm, the U.S. military and successive administrations, including this one, have developed no new tactics, no refined overall strategy, to use against Saddam? It's still more and bigger bomb craters, lots and lots of people pushed into the inferno of war. The point is this: if the administration is failing in Afghanistan, why should anyone accept that there's a clear, winning strategy in place for war in the Gulf ?
Nov, 2002 Convention
Military Reporters and Editors of America, Inc.
Washington D.C.

 

TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE WAR:

We, as citizens, should be putting some tough, direct questions about the Bush administration’s proposed war in Iraq.  Will making more and bigger bomb craters, and killing more people in Iraq, calm passions in the region, the passions Osama and others use to stoke the fires of terrorism?  Or will it aggravate anti-American and anti-Western sentiment, and push even more disaffected young people into Osama’s embrace?
Calgary Teachers Convention
February, 2003

 

basra

ONE MONTH BEFORE THE WAR:

Just imagine for a moment a post-Saddam Iraq -- British and American forces marooned in a hostile region. Saddam Hussein and his regime are legitimate targets, but not now, not with this war plan, and not with this particular posse in the saddle. President Bush is talking about a coalition of the willing. Well how about a coalition of the thinking?

"The object of the exercise, particularly after September 11th, is for the developed, the so-called civilized world to respond, to track down the terrorists, to corner them, to take action to suppress and if possible remove tyrants. But what we don't want to do is to further aggravate anti-western and particularly anti-American sentiment in that region, which is precisely what this blunderbuss, loudmouth, aggressive and arrogant approach is achieving."

"If we strike a match to that region, pour more gasoline on the fires of anti-western sentiment, we're doing Osama's and Saddam's work for them."
Feb. 18, 2003
"Town Hall" on Iraq
CBC Radio Calgary

 

ELEVEN DAYS BEFORE THE WAR:

For the Iraqi people, for the American people, for the world community: wrong war, wrong time. The Bush administration has to ask, whose agenda is served by a quick war in Iraq:  Osama bin Laden's. The consistent attempts to link Iraq to the campaign against terror, and the way that's backfiring, is muddying everything, and it's throwing the focus off our international alliances.
March 9, 2003
The History Channel
History Center: War Room

 

basra

March 17, 2003
Maclean’s
Foreign diplomats are not alone in expressing anxiety over the Bush administration’s bullish disregard for other nations’ reluctance to go to war. Prominent U.S. statesmen also worry that Bush is storming recklessly into a maze of blind alleys. “This is a different style of leadership, and if it continues we’re going to see reactions that won’t be good for the U.S.,” says Lee Hamilton, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “This president’s policies are blunt, his rhetoric is quite divisive. There’s a lack of patience in the Bush administration – they’ve made up their inds to give it another couple of weeks, but they really don’t want to give diplomacy a second chance.”

March 24, 2003
Maclean’s
It was the 70th anniversary of the first of F.D.R.’s Fireside Chats – those reassuring radio homilies that rallied the nation against the ravages of the Depression and World War II. While Roosevelt made international affairs comprehensible to ordinary Americans, George W. Bush seems only to confuse them. While F.D.R. convinced the nation to join a great world alliance against Hitler … Bush has been turning some of America’s traditional allies into opponents faster than Iraqi wrecking crews turn their al-Samouds into trash.

Invading Iraq against the explicit warnings of the UN secretary general and some members of the Security Council amounts to something a long way from George W. Bush’s vision of an Omaha Beach in the Middle East. It’s an immense gamble, one that history may eventually regard as America’s own diplomatic day of infamy.

 

basra

Saturday, April 5 2003
CNN Larry King Live
Tommy Franks is in an impossible position. He can win the battle of Baghdad and lose the propaganda and geopolitical war because the Bush administration just has not put in place enough allies to back up the U.S. and British position…

I think the reporting of this issue in the United States has to take into consideration that there is deep animosity among the Iraqi people for the fact that the United States and Britain maintain these killing sanctions under U.N. auspices. Funny how the U.N. was fine to be used for 12 years to impose and maintain these crushing sanctions and cover four bombing campaigns against the Iraqi people, but now when it comes time to re-establish a supposedly free and democratic post-Saddam government, the U.N. is not going to be involved. Where's the logic in that? The Iraqi people are not buying it. Neither is the Arab world.

 

March 31, 2003
Maclean’s
The hawks of the Bush administration, armed with their doctrine of unilateral supremacy, have left behind them a debris field of diplomatic disruption, complete with their own figurative ground zero, this one in mid-town Manhattan just a few miles north of its tragic forerunner downtown.  For although the United Nations headquarters still stands, behind its stark, monolithic facade the building’s inhabitants must now pick up the pieces of the alliance.

 

basra

TEN DAYS INTO THE WAR:

(The war) has had a terrible impact on public opinion here in Britain, where people have got the impression that British troops have been led into a campaign by U.S. war planners who have based too much of their plan on wishful thinking, and on not appreciating fully the threats that lie ahead."

The major difficulty we're having now in the United States is that each broadcast day is dominated by official lines. The spin on the story coming from the Bush administration, the White House, the Pentagon, briefings in the Gulf... European journalists roast their political leaders every day, and of course the parliamentary system in Britain gives opposing parties the chance, every week, to put the Prime Minister under the microscope. But Europeans, I think, are surprised when they watch briefings that are coming from the White House or the Pentagon - why are there not tougher questions?
March 30, 2003
The History Channel
History Center: War Room

 

THREE WEEKS INTO THE WAR:

The Bush administration has left the U.S. military stranded half way around the world with no effective diplomatic and political backup in terms of a meaningful alliance, especially of Muslim and Arab countries. And don't take it from me - America's best friend in the Arab world, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, this week said this campaign will create a hundred new bin Ladens."

"The administration is hoping for a Kuwait City moment, civilians just overjoyed with being liberated, and I think initially once Saddam Hussein is gone, once the Iraqi people see the back of him, they are going to be so overjoyed after 30 years of suffering that they'll be willing, yes, even to celebrate even a U.S. and British military there -- for a few days. And then we're going to have a very long Vietnam moment, where U.S. forces and the U.S. administration face an implacable enemy. There'll be Islamic militants causing regional flare-ups and flare-ups from within the country, and of course a world community that will be condemning the fact that the U.S. administration has refused to allow other countries to try to join together to try to salvage this very, very precarious situation."
April 6, 2003
The History Channel
History Center: War Room

 

basra

April 7, 2003
Maclean’s
It’s cold steel that surrounds Iraqi families in communities like Basra.  They’re in the jaws of the same cruel trap that’s held them since the end of the 1991 Gulf War:  terrorized in town by Saddam’s gunmen, and threatened by foreign armies who lurk nearby, proclaiming good intentions, but producing, up to now, only a new variation on the terrible theme of siege.  To ordinary Iraqis, the great men and women of the western democracies aren’t tyrants like Saddam Hussein, but they are, in their own way, very dangerous - as the Bush administration’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is proving every day.

 

April 14, 2003
Maclean’s
The grim prospect of war causing greater, not less, instability in the Gulf is not without precedent:  this is, after all, Gulf War Two, a direct descendent of the 1991 conflict and its troubled aftermath.  And it’s not as if Washington isn’t capable of making the same mistake twice:  consider the underestimation by U.S. war planners of the Iraqis’ will to resist, or their assumption that invading soldiers would be viewed as “liberators.”

 

April 21, 2003
Maclean’s
For the Bush administration and the British government, a long hot summer lies ahead. It'll be lonely and expensive, too, because until they allow the UN an appropriate role in Iraq, neither the World Bank nor the International Monetary Fund can help fund reconstruction. Still, for Bush and Blair, dealing with that challenge is a holiday compared to the mission confronting their soldiers. To the grunts and the squaddies goes the task of trying to bottle up the rampaging genies of chaos and destruction. They can be forgiven for wondering if their political masters will heed the chorus of advice from around the world:  it's time to start rubbing the lamps of peace and international co-operation, and rubbing them hard.

 

basra

FIVE MONTHS INTO THE WAR:

The warning for U.S. officials is clear.  They must pick up the pace of reconstruction.  Deliver services.  Get the economy working again.  Set a timetable for withdrawal.  And convince Iraqis their forces are here for more than just oil and strategic advantage. Otherwise, as has happened too often in its history, Iraq’s past will overshadow its future.
 August 2003
The History Channel
Back to Basra: After Saddam

 

TWO YEARS INTO THE WAR:

Reporters for the richest news companies on earth sat silently before President Bush’s pre-Iraq War news conference. Not a single challenging question was put to him. What if there are no weapons? What if Iraqis come to resent us almost as much as they did Saddam? No one asked. We’ve had to experience the answers.
Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London
G8 Gleneagles Summit, June 2005

 


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