It's been almost three years since the last convoy of U.S. soldiers left Iraq, culminating in mass casualties on both sides, violent civil strife amid Iraq's many sectarian factions and a political future for the nation that is anything but certain.
Most recently, President Obama vowed in June that U.S. troops would not be deployed for combat in the latest extremist Sunni group ISIS crisis, but America was not always so restrained. The story of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq over the past decade is a tale of almost comical mismanagement and then later dangerous neglect, said documentary filmmaker Michael Kirk.
Kirk, the director of FRONTLINE's new documentary Losing Iraq, appeared on BPR's Tuesday show.
"I think there were so many missteps, so many miscalculations, so much hubris," Kirk said. "It's almost impossible to point to any single moment or any single person."
Kirk and his filmmaking team had plenty of moments and persons to choose from, having filmed the documentary over the past 11 years. Where they decided to begin the 90-minute report is at a moment that Kirk says would become "metaphorical" for the escalating situation: the slow destruction that proved more difficult than expected of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad's Firdos square on April 9, 2003.
An equally peculiar appointment was Nouri al-Maliki to the post of prime minister. Like Bremer, his abject lack of qualifications — his experiences were mostly in activist politics as a member of the ousted Islamic Dawa party — seemed to be what made him best suited for the job in the eyes of American officials, Kirk said.
Trade and tax policies that favored American financial interests at the cost of Iraq's made the nation an economic disaster while poor leadership from Bremer and Maliki along with civil warfare between the Kurds, Shiite and Sunni populations led to political turmoil. With the support of the American people behind him, President Obama was only too eager to pull American troops out in October 2011.
But Obama's decision to minimize the U.S. military presence and US State Department staff stationed there proved to be nearly as destabilizing for the nation as his predecessor's initial takeover, the documentary suggests, drawing from more than 40 reports on the War On Terror and dozens of interviews with journalists, analysts and policymakers.
Three years later, circumstances have hardly improved.
"In this film, you'll see the mismanagement and worse, the mendacity," Kirk said. "You'll see the lack of learning. I have many friends who were reporters during the Vietnam [War] years, and they say Vietnam lives in the Oval Office. This will haunt presidents for a long, long time."
FRONTLINE's Losing Iraq premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.
To hear the full interview with Michael Kirk, listen below: