Reviewed byChris KnippVote: 9/10/10
It would be nice to think the terrible debacle of the US invasion andoccupation of Iraq of 2003 somehow just happened. That it was just amistake to go there. That things just went wrong. But as this excellentnew documentary shows, things went wrong for reasonsbecause of how thewar was planned and executed.
Or how it wasn't planned. How ultimately completely unqualified peoplewere left in charge. Here are some of the mistakes that No End in Sightelucidates for us:
1. Nobody knew anything. Out of a basic US cadre of roughly 130 peoplefirst sent in to run things, only 5 knew Arabic. Nobody knew fromfactions. What a Shiite and a Sunni and a Kurd were they found outlater. Instead of realizing what leaders would emerge (such as the mostpopular man in Iraq now, Muqtada Sadr), the neo-cons sent in AhmedChalabi, a corrupt exile without credibility or authority, believing hewould be the new leader. They didn't know how many troops were requiredto maintain order, and Rumsfeld, trying to prove a cockeyed theory hehad no knowledge to support, chose too few. (Then Army Chief of StafGeneral Eric Shinseki had pointed this out to the Senate before the wareven began.)
2. Nobody, neither Americans nor Iraqis, was designated to maintainorder. Chaos reigned. "Stuff happens," said Rumsfeld. No: "stuff"doesn't just happen: it's allowed to happen. As Seth Moulton, a youngMarine officer who is one of Ferguson's voices says, "We were Marines.We could have stopped looting." But they were not directed to do so.The troops, already too few, just stood around and watched as Baghdadwas torn apart, the national library burned, the national museumlooted. All the ministry buildings were dismantled andlootedtellingly, only the Ministry of Petroleum was guarded. Baghdad'swater and electricity fell apart, and links with the rest of thecountry turned into wild and dangerous interzones. Most important ofall for the maintenance of order, large caches of arms were unknown toUS troopsand insurgents pillaged them.
Iraq was lost in the first week of the occupation. But worse was yet tocome. And worse. And worse. A key moment was the replacement of ORHA,The Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA),headed by Jay Garner, which was not allowed to protect any of itssites, by the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by thearrogant Paul Bremer.
3. This is when the US destroyed the country's human infrastructure,and in so doing sowed the seeds of insurgency and civil war. Theoccupation fired the entire Iraqi standing army, half a millionofficers and men alike, and dismissed and barred from work 50,000"Baathist" government officials and employees. Rendering all thesepeople unemployed dealt a huge economic blow to the country in itself.But far worse than that, it led to permanent conflictultimately tocivil war. It created many enemies, and it left no one to work with. Atthis point the goodwill the Americans had won by toppling the despoticregime of Saddam Hussein was lost. The violence and lawlessness thathad been allowed to proceed unchecked began to become organized. Beganto have a cause.
4. Many of the Americans sent in to help with occupation andreconstruction had nothing to work with. Ambassador Barbara Bodine (incharge of Baghdad in spring 2003) arrived to find offices supplied toher and her staff that were empty rooms with no computers, not eventelephones. But as she says on screen, it didn't matter because theyhad no phone listsand no one to call.
Nir Rosen is one of the most knowledgeable and independent Americanjournalists in Iraq and a producer and talking head of this film. As hehas recently said, Iraq today, four and a half years later, is a regionof city-states, a source of instability to the whole area, to Syria,Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, even perhaps to Egypt. Pacifying andcontrolling Baghdad no longer means anything because Baghdad doesn'tcontrol the countryif you can call it a country. The US forces arejust another militia, the most hated but not the most effective.
First-time director Charles Ferguson gives us the various figures, thecold facts, the cost, the numbers of dead and wounded. But what mostmatters is what people have to say, and Ferguson has assembled some keytalking heads. These include former Secretary of State RichardArmitage, Ambassador Bodine, Colin Powell's former chief of staff Col.Lawrence Wilkerson, Col. James Hodges, soon-replaced Iraq viceroy JayGarner (who like others strenuously objected to the dismissal of thearmy and the debathification, but was ignored by his replacement, PaulBremer), Bremer adviser Walter Slocombe, frustrated ORHA functionaryPaul Hughes, and other diplomats, journalists, officers, and enlistedpersonnel who were there in Iraq after the invasion.
Ferguson has a doctorate from MIT, where he has taught; is a member ofthe Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution (he's aninsider!); and has authored three books on information technology. Hisapproach is analytical. The basic problem was that the usualsuspectsBush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, & Co.had spent virtually no time onplanning the aftermath of "Shock and Awe"--the occupation. It was allplanned, skimpily, at the last minute, deliberately ignoring all theexperts' advice.
No End in Sight is not so much an indictment or a polemic or a proposalas a post-mortem. Its aim is to lay out the whole devolution processthat took place under US control of Iraq. Never mind the run-up to thewar, the justifications, the aims. Here is the story that shows thesituation might have been handled better. Things are much worse.
We get to see a lot of political documentaries now so we have learnedto judge them. This is a very fine oneand for Americans an essentialone.
Reviewed byevanston_dadVote: 8/10/10
In retrospect, I suppose 2007 will go down as the year in whichfilmmakers began addressing the problems in Iraq. The number ofIraq-themed films has piled up and disappeared at a breathtaking pace.Maybe it's not a surprise that the best of them so far is the one thatdoesn't try to turn the conflict into something fictional. All of theother Iraq movies have been well intentioned but limp; you can tellthey want to address what's wrong without truly enraging anyone. Well,Charles Ferguson, the writer and director of "No End in Sight," has nosuch qualms, and his film enrages indeed.
Meticulously crafted, "No End in Sight" proves what everyone hasalready known for a long time: the Iraq conflict is a completedisaster. The film is certainly biased; anyone who wants to discount itbased on that fact is welcome to. But anyone who wants to deny thatAmerica's handling of post-invasion Iraq has been anything but acomplete "quagmire" (to borrow a word from the film) is hopelesslydeluded. "No End in Sight" is not about whether or not the war in Iraqwas justified; in fact, the film goes out of its way to affirm that atfirst many Iraqis were happy that the U.S. had deposed Saddam Hussein.Rather, the film is about what went wrong after the invasion, about howgroups that actually had a reconstruction plan were met withindifference at every step by an administration that really carednothing for the Iraqi people even as they fed the American public a lotof hooey about bringing freedom and democracy to them. This film makesclear that for all of its recent talk about dangerous nationsdestabilizing the world's peace, the United States is one of the mostdangerous countries currently in existence.
It's terrifying that governments are run like this; if this film isaccurate, my office at work is better managed than the project foroccupying post-war Iraq. Ferguson can't be blamed if his film seems onesided. None of the key decision makers managing Iraq policy -- Cheney,Rumsfeld, Rice, Bremer -- agreed to be interviewed for the film. Theonly consolation the film offers is that Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld nowlook like complete fools. Either they thought they had a good plan forrebuilding Iraq and proved themselves to be ridiculously incompetent;or (and more likely) they never really cared about what happened toIraq in the first place and have proved themselves to be downrightscary.
Reviewed bytomcardelloVote: 7/10/10
Good film, a well done documentary. Most outstanding achievement wasits balance- this is no Mikey Moore ultra-leftist propaganda"mockumentary". It makes salient points and lets the audience draw itsown intellectual conclusions. It was the final nail in the coffin forme- i have no faith left in gov't. I recommend this to anybody who'spolitically involved. It's a bit slow, you have to have a solidattention span to stay involved. I wonder why several key peopledeclined to be interviewed? Pres Bush was cited as not having readnumerous key reports, i wonder why not? Why do so many people defendthis absolutely unwarranted (and illegal) war? When did Congressdeclare war on Iraq? How could we have legally invaded without thisdeclaration?
Chronological look at the fiasco in Iraq, especially decisions made in the spring of 2003 - and the backgrounds of those making decisions - immediately following the overthrow of Saddam: no occupation plan, an inadequate team to run the country, insufficient troops to keep order, and three edicts from the White House announced by Bremmer when he took over: no provisional Iraqi government, de-Ba'athification, and disbanding the Iraqi armed services. The film has chapters (from History to Consequences), and the talking heads are reporters, academics, soldiers, military brass, and former Bush-administration officials, including several who were in Baghdad in 2003.