||Anyone who’s kept abreast of the history of the Bush Administration’s cruel misadventure in Iraq won’t find much that’s new in Charles Ferguson’s documentary, but “No End in Sight” still performs a useful service by presenting the damning evidence with clarity and sobriety, based on testimony from people with direct knowledge of the events.
The film begins by dissecting the run-up to the invasion, demonstrating that there was an almost immediate determination to secure justification for it following 9/11. The lack of proof that there was any connection between the regime of Saddam Hussein and the terrorist assault proved no obstacle to the ideological preconceptions of planners in the executive branch, whose major players—as Ferguson repeatedly points out—declined invitations to be interviewed for the film.
The larger portion of “No End in Sight,” however, focuses on the aftermath of the quick military success, when—it’s made abundantly clear—the administration totally bungled security and rebuilding. Interviews—with such figures as Jay Garner, the retired army general who was first appointed to oversee the remaking of Iraq before being replaced by L. Paul Bremer III and the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Ambassador Barbara Bodine, originally put in charge of Baghdad in the days following the invasion; Gerald Burke, who was appointed as an advisor to the Iraqi Interior Ministry; and Col. Paul Hughes, who was the on-site director of occupation policy—make clear the astonishing lack of planning for maintaining order, the utter failure to make use of capable locals, and a string of poor decisions (including personnel appointments) imposed by policymakers back in Washington and then executed by Bremer. Once again, the refusal of most of the primary administration officers to participate in the film is unfortunate, but the observations of Walter Slocombe, who was designated as a senior D.C. decision-maker though his practical knowledge of circumstances on the ground was distinctly limited, testify to the fact that despite what’s happened in the intervening four years, the architects of the debacle remain immune to admissions of error. And comments by Iraqis and journalists only confirm the unhappy diagnosis.
Narrated coolly by Campbell Scott, Ferguson’s film certainly isn’t overly slick—it lacks the sheer panache of many documentaries made nowadays—but it makes abundantly clear the fact that the failure of Bush administration officials to understand the situation in Iraq and take the necessary steps to secure munitions, keep order and build popular support exacerbated religious divisions and directly led to the spiral of violence that’s only gotten worse over time. And while it takes some potshots at obvious targets like Bremer Donald Rumsfeld, whose arrogance and obtuseness are made all too apparent, the general approach underplays the anger that usually fuels pictures on Iraq in favor of a more measured attitude that emphasizes sad resignation over forceful condemnation.
By now there’s a virtual library of books published on the tragedy of the Iraq war, some very good and others mediocre. And some may feel that the number of theatrically-released documentaries on the subject has reached the saturation point, too. But while “No End in Sight” doesn’t offer startlingly new information, its calm, methodical presentation of the evidence is a solid contribution to the work of broadening the wider American public’s understanding of what may well be the biggest foreign-policy mistake in the nation’s history.