No End in Sight
2007Director: Charles Ferguson
Cast: George W. Bush
o End in Sight features the deepest analysis in any of the Iraq documentaries to date. While Iraq in Fragments, the most artfully made of this generation of war films, depicted minutiae of individual experiences, Charles Ferguson's debut contemplates a bigger picture: the management of the occupation, focusing particularly on the first few months following the fall of Baghdad.
Ferguson assembles an impressive array of talking heads—from high-powered figures like Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's number two in the State Department, and General Jay Garner—to respected wonks like George Packer and Samantha Power. No doubt these figures have said earlier what they say here, but the movie aggregates the sources, accompanying them with location footage that'll appear fresh to those of us who've found the news too depressing to watch in recent years. Apart from a squirming cameo from Paul Bremer's underlying Walt Slocombe, all the gathered experts identify American mistake after mistake made during the occupation. The most damning testimony comes from Colonel Paul Hughes, the director of strategic planning in Iraq until August 2003. He tells of being undermined time and time again by the axis of Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Bremer—in particular, springing the dissolution of the Iraqi military on him while he was planning to integrate them into the new Iraq.
Ferguson explores the setting that led to this and other catastrophic decisions. Plans for what would happen after the Iraqi army's inevitable defeat were afterthoughts, meaning lawlessness and looting reigned in Baghdad. It was apparent to those with experience in the Middle East that there wasn't enough of their kind there. Those who were trying to work with Iraqis were ignored by policymakers bellowing edicts from above.
The movie's major limitation is that it blames the failure of the occupation purely on bad management. Certainly, the doc isn't required to talk about the evilness or otherwise of invading in the first place; this has been widely discussed after the fact. But it gives a strong impression that there was a right way to wage this war. If we had more officials who spoke Arabic, and if we had locked down Baghdad at once, and if we had involved the Iraqi people in the reconstruction, Iraq would be a utopia by now, right?
Keep this in mind while considering this description of Ferguson by Richard Roeper: “He's not some card-carrying hippie liberal, nor he is a performance artist like [Michael] Moore, using comedic filmmaking techniques and wry commentary to make the president look like a clown. Ferguson is a scholar and a historian. He's a filthy rich capitalist who made $133 million when he sold Vermeer Technologies to Microsoft. Like most Americans, he supported the war in its early stages.” (One has to wonder how originally supporting the war can be trotted out as a credential at this point.) Or this, from a San Francisco Chronicle profile: “The strength of the film—aside from its methodical analysis—is that Ferguson didn't rely on a cadre of Bush-bashing pundits and journalists to make his point.”
What the, ahem, liberal media ignores is that those so-called hippies were the only ones to tell everybody the invasion was a terrible idea before it happened. The problem with many (not all) of the interviewees in the movie is that they're convinced that it would've all been okay if the occupation had been done the right way; that is, with themselves in charge. This leads to skewed viewpoints that Ferguson doesn't challenge. For instance, there's a claim that the looting that occurred in the wake of Saddam's exit caused a major loss of Iraqi trust in the U.S. Look, while I'm sure many people were miffed over the gutting of the National Museum, it's not the sort of thing that drives people to arms. Perhaps it was, instead, the thousands of civilians killed during the initial bombing and invasion? If this isn't brought up because it would contradict the general line that an invasion could've taken place without the present suffering coming to pass? If neoliberals fail to admit their preconceptions about the war were wrong, albeit not as wrong as the neocons' fantasies, then all their analysis amounts to Bush-bashing.
What No End in Sight most lacks, then, is a strong statement from the original, still-marginalized antiwar camp. A number of the contributors would've undoubtedly been happy to espouse such a viewpoint, but they aren't given the space. As it stands, by making the dangerous implication that the problem with war was organizational, it suggests the far more dangerous corollary that the war is still winnable.
No End in Sight is currently playing in limited release and will be released on DVD at the end of October.
By: Brad Luen
Published on: 2007-09-14