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The War Behind Closed Doors - PBS Documentary

Frontline Press Release

The War Behind Closed Doors
Thursday, February 20, at 9pm, 60 minutes

As America teeters on the brink of war with Iraq, FRONTLINE takes viewers inside the key White House policy battles and discussions that have led the Bush administration to pursue the end of Saddam Hussein's regime.

In "The War Behind Closed Doors," airing Thursday, February 20, at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE reveals the internal political machinations and maneuvering that have led the White House to abandon a long-standing policy of "containment" of Iraq in favor of the more aggressive stance of launching preemptive strikes against Iraq--or any nation or group--believed to pose a threat to American security.

Through interviews with key administration officials, policy analysts, and observers, the one-hour documentary also exposes a long-running policy battle between two powerful Washington insiders: Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

At the moment, observers say, Wolfowitz appears to be winning, as George W. Bush calls for military action to preemptively disarm Iraq--a move that many believe has become his administration's signature foreign policy stance.

"Bush is redefining not just his presidency, but kind of the foreign policy for the United States for the foreseeable future," says Washington Post staff writer Daniel Balz.

But the policy of preemption--which is now being referred to more and more frequently as the Bush Doctrine--hasn't always enjoyed such a favorable White House reception. In "The War Behind Closed Doors," FRONTLINE traces the policy's roots to a report prepared by Wolfowitz following the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Unhappy that the war had ended with Saddam Hussein still in power--a victory for the containment policy championed by Colin Powell, then serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--Wolfowitz drafted a new policy, one that spelled out in no uncertain terms that the United States would "preempt" the use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons by any other nation, even in parts of the world "where our interests are otherwise not engaged."

When Wolfowitz's draft was leaked to the media, the first Bush White House was decidedly unhappy, insiders say.

"I remember the day that appeared on the front page," says William Kristol, former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle and now editor of The Weekly Standard. "It was clear there was unhappiness at the highest levels of the White House about this document."

The White House ordered the document rewritten to emphasize the administration's stated support for containment of Iraq. Some observers, however, say this support was based on a flawed analysis of the situation.

"The problem for the [first] Bush administration at this point in time is that their whole policy toward Iraq was predicated on a false assumption [that] Saddam wouldn't be in power," says former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

"The War Behind Closed Doors" recounts how Wolfowitz's policy document gathered dust for most of the 1990s, as the Clinton administration struggled to deal with Saddam Hussein's defiance of U.S. and U.N. containment policies. The documentary also recounts how the election of George W. Bush renewed the containment vs. preemption battle, as Colin Powell ascended to secretary of state and Paul Wolfowitz assumed the number two position in the Defense Department.

The political stalemate, observers say, ended on September 11.

"It does seem very clear that this [preemption] group seized upon the events of September eleventh to resurrect their policy of going after Saddam Hussein and a regime change in Iraq," Pollack says.

Through detailed interviews with key insiders, "The War Behind Closed Doors" recreates the policy battles and key decisions made in the days and weeks after September 11 up through the current push for military action against Iraq. The documentary also reveals how the containment and preemption factions continue to do battle, outlining the victories and defeats each side has tallied in the long march to war with Iraq.

Following the broadcast, visit FRONTLINE's Web site at for extended coverage of this story, including:

Transcripts of the interviews conducted for this report;
A complete chronology on the evolution of the Bush Doctrine;
Additional background on this report, and much more.

FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS.

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers.

FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.

The executive producer for FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

Press contacts:
Erin Martin Kane []
Chris Kelly []
(617) 300-3500
FRONTLINE XXI/February 2003

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