Review: No End in Sight

Who decided how to wage war in Iraq, and what are the consequences today? Troubling documentary that draws disturbing conclusions.

Author and political scientist Charles Ferguson directs his first film like a case study, trying to show how decisions were reached about conducting the war in Iraq. By sidestepping loaded questions about whether the war is justified, Ferguson can concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the war plans. His conclusions seem as accurate as they are dispiriting.

Ferguson shows how the Bush administration ignored warnings about terrorist threats in 2001. After 9/11, National Intelligence Council Chairman Robert Hutchings says, “We got tasked” to connect the attacks to Iraq. By the time the invasion of Iraq began in March, 2003, the government made several decisions that compromised the success of the mission. Backing Ahmed Chalabi, for example, or fighting with severely reduced troop levels.

But as journalists like George Packer point out, an even greater mistake was not preparing for the aftermath of the invasion. The administration didn’t bother to form the Organization of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq (ORHA) until two months before the invasion. General Jay Garner, Director of the ORHA, describes a situation in which he received no support or guidance from Washington. (A career soldier and Vietnam veteran, Garner was replaced within a month by L. Paul Bremer, who had no military experience.) Barbara Bodine, a diplomat assigned to coordinate recovery efforts Baghdad, found no motor pool or even telephone service when she reached the city. “It was completely unstructured–there were no plans,” she complains.

In the first days of fighting, the United States was in a position to secure peace in Iraq. And yet the country soon disintegrated into chaos. Troops made no effort to protect libraries, archives, museums, power plants, etc. As journalist James Fallows notes, “The looting of Baghdad was the greatest mystery surrounding the war.” Packer puts the amount lost at $12 billion, equal to the entire annual revenue for Iraq. Col. Paul Hughes, the director of strategic policy for ORHA, pleaded for administration officials to declare martial law. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused, famously saying, “Stuff happens.”

Ferguson includes news footage of that quote and other incendiary remarks by administration officials, but for the most part relies on talking heads to deliver facts and statistics. Not surprisingly, the men directly responsible for the disastrous decisions in Iraq–Rumsfeld, Bremer, Dick Cheney–declined to participate in the film. So there is no official rebuttal to claims that the CPA (the Coalition Provisional Authority, which replaced the ORHA) was staffed with inexperienced college graduates. Or that Bremer’s orders to banish 50,000 Ba’athist officials and disband an army of 500,000, leaving no one to run or guard the country, is the immediate cause of the insurgency movement today.

The barrage of bad news can overwhelm viewers. There’s the morgue in Baghdad, which went from handling one death a month to twenty-five a day. Or Harvard economist Linda Bilmes’s estimate that the total cost of the war now approaches $2 trillion. But while it can’t be described as light entertainment, No End in Sight should be required viewing for anyone who thinks the Iraqi war is progressing according to plan. Marine Lt. Seth Moulton speaks for all ground troops when he asks, “Is this the best that America can do?”

Featuring: Faisal Al-Istrabadi, Chris Allbritton, Richard Armitage, James Bamford, Jamal Benomar, Linda Bilmes, Barbara Bodine, Gerald Burke, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Ali Fadhil, James Fallows, Omar Fekeiki, Marc Garlasco, Gen. Jay Garner, Ann Gildroy, Hugo Gonzalez, Col. Paul Hughes, Robert Hutchings, Seth Moulton, George Packer, Robert Perito, Paul Pillar, Barry Posen, Samantha Power, Nir Rosen, Matt Sherman, Walter Slocombe, Yaroslav Trofimov. Aida Ussayran. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, David Yancey. Narrated by Campbell Scott.

Credits: Written, produced, and directed by Charles Ferguson. Produced by Charles Ferguson, Jennie Armias, Jessie Vogelson. Executive producer: Alex Gibney. Director of photography: Antonio Rossi. Edited by Chad Beck, Cindy Lee. Music: Peter Nashel. Music supervisor: Tracy McKnight. Sound: David Hocs. Supervising sound editor: James Redding III. Associate producers: Audrey Marrs, E. Mary Walsh. A Representation Pictures presentation.

Magnolia Pictures/Color/1.85/102 Mins./Not rated

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