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PBS’s “Great Decisions”: A Neo-Con’s Dream

When you stack an “educational” program on U.S. foreign policy with the likes of two neoconservative Republican senators, the George W. Bush-appointed first National Intelligence Director, a West Point academic, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, what do you think you’re going to end up with?

On patrol in Mosul, Iraq with MG David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT)

Gen. David Petraeus in Mosul.

Well, the first episode of the Foreign Policy Association‘s 2016’s “Great Decisions”, which aired Monday night on PBS, appeared to be a neo-conservative’s dream — siding with Saudi Arabia, treating Iran as an enemy, and erroneously stating that ISIS arose from the civil war in Syria instead of where most analysts locate it: the U.S. invasion of Iraq, overthrowing Saddam Hussein and turning the country into chaos.

The half-hour program was titled “Shifting Alliances in the Middle East”. It concentrated on the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, citing Iran as a major supporter of terrorism in the Middle East. It neglected to point out that rich Saudis are major financial contributors to the radical ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

The program relied heavily on viewpoints from neocon senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Bob Corker of Tennessee. In the Republican-controlled Congress, Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a continuing defender of America’s Iraqi invasion under George Bush. Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Special Committee on Intelligence, led the Republican senators who last year wrote a controversial letter to Iran’s leadership. The letter strongly opposed the pending Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama and nations including China and Russia.

A third major voice in the program was John Negroponte who served under President George W. Bush as Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador to Iraq, and the first Director of National Intelligence.

Drone-Graph-YemenThe lone voice that served under Obama’s administration was Gen. Petraeus, who held positions as commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) from July 4, 2010, to July 18, 2011, and as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from September 2011 to November 2012. As CIA director, Petraeus oversaw Obama’s secret drone-killing program which included murdering hundreds of Pakistani and Yemeni civilians. That wasn’t mentioned in the TV progam. Nor was Petraeus’s being investigated by the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors recommending felony charges against him for allegedly providing classified information to his biographer, Paula Broadwell while serving as CIA director. He finally pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information.

These voices kept stressing that the Saudi-Iran conflict is a religious one of Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and Shi’a in Iran. But the Sauds are actually Wahhabis, as are ISIS members, who believe in strict interpretation of the Koran, and that any who don’t practice their strict form are heathens and enemies. PBS’s excellent news program “Frontline” examined this in its airing of “Saudi Time Bomb?

The “Great Decisions” program DID NOT include anyone in Congress opposed to the U.S. invasions in the Middle East, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading Democratic contender for the presidency. Nor the likes of Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn who resigned abruptly as Defense Intelligence Agency director due to clashes with Obama. Lately Flynn has blasted the G.W. Bush administration for actions leading to the creation of ISIS.

Which leads to the startling message from the “Great Decisions” program that ISIS arose from the civil war in Syria. In fact, ISIS was created by a Jordanian Salafi jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi following the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq. Stating that ISIS arose from Syria’s civil war, of course, would take all blame away from Bush, which would be fine with neocons.

But perhaps “Great Decisions” will correct this idea with its second program, “The Rise of ISIS.” It does say in its printed intro to that program ISIS was “born out of an umbrella organization of al-Qaeda in Iraq”. But let’s see what the half-hour program explains when it’s broadcast next Monday night.

Roger Armbrust

Roger Armbrust's articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He formerly served as national news editor of Back Stage in New York City, where he also taught a professional writing course at New York University. His recent book of sonnets -- oh, touch me there: Love Sonnets -- is available from Amazon and other book sites. He is an associate curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. He is also co-founder and co-curator of reality: a world of views.

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