Monday, September 03, 2007

Movie Review: No End In Sight

Took in Charles Ferguson's Iraq documentary, No End In Sight, last evening and it is devastating and depressing. Well, even more than depressing it's fantastically frustrating. Frustrating because it is apparent that many of the principal players involved with formulating the justifications for the war (Vice President Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy ) or those tasked with leading the war effort (former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) or the rebuilding of Iraq (Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer) were so certain of the righteousness of their plans that they disregarded area experts, our own military commanders, and Iraqis in positions of power who were sympathetic to our cause.

Rumsfeld comes in for the most abuse, perhaps justifiably. His smack down of Gen Eric Shinseki for suggesting that we would need something on the order of "several hundred thousand troops" to pacify Iraq looks foolish in retrospect (it was in fact foolish at the time as well). Repeatedly, Rumsfeld looks like a man who had not in any way given thought to what a post Saddam Iraq would look like. He blithely dismissed the looting that presaged the general breakdown in Iraqi civil society by infamously saying that, "stuff happens".

Oddly enough, President Bush is largely absent from the movie. Apparently, Bush felt that all he needed to do was delegate down the chain and things would take care of themselves. I don't know if that leads to a more or less damning view of the man, but it is food for thought.

The most sympathetic figures in the movie are the lifers in the foreign service (Amb. Barbara Bodine, who was in charge of Baghdad for the U.S. Occupation) and several of the career military men (in particular Gen. Jay Garner, who was the head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, or OHRA and Col. Paul Hughes, who was Director of Strategic Policy for the U.S. Occupation in 2003). Bodine was placed in impossible circumstances, finding her staff placed in office spaces that had been looted and lacking such basics as telephones to having her directives for security placement around prominent cultural institutions ignored (her team had wanted the national archives and library given top priority; no security teams were dispatched to those institutions, which were subsequently robbed of their treasures).

Garner and Hughes, on the other hand, were kneecapped almost immediately by Bremer once he was in country. As has been noted elsewhere, Bremer's two most fateful decisions were to purge all former Baath party members from positions of authority and to disband the Iraqi army; those two decisions, in my mind, actually helped form the basis of what is now the insurgency in Iraq. The combination of removing all the senior civil servants in the country and sending many hundreds of thousands of professional soldiers into the ranks of the unemployed with no means for recourse was just too combustible.

In any case, I would recommend the film to anyone who wants to understand why we are where we are in Iraq. The movie closes with U.S. Marine Lt. Seth Moulton saying, "Is this the best America can do? It makes you angry". Indeed, it does make you angry and it makes you want to desperately find a way to answer Lt. Moulton's question with some kind of positive formulation. But, the tragedy of our war in Iraq is that there may be no resolution with which anyone could be satisfied.

1 comment:

Flizzo said...

Excellent review, P. That makes me want to hurry up and see this.

The Frontline pieces on Iraq within the past two years or so have been great. You can view them online. I believe the one at this link covers some of the same material, especially those critical decisions at the outset of the reconstruction.