As President George W. Bush's current low standing in national opinion polls attests, opposition to the Iraq War is no longer a partisan issue. The war is a horrifying mess. The people of Iraq are miserable. The brave men and women of our military are being asked to sacrifice their lives and their limbs for a murky, always ill-defined cause that appears lost long ago. That's the exact point of Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight, a despairing documentary about disastrous mismanagement.
A former fellow at the Brookings Institute, Ferguson started out as a proponent of the Iraq invasion but has gradually withdrawn his support because of the way the Bush administration has conducted the war. Other, typically conservative Republicans share Ferguson's dismay. A more liberal documentarian, like Michael Moore, for instance, might focus on the shifting justifications that have been advanced for launching the invasion: the weapons of mass destruction that were not there, the link between Saddam and Al Qaida that has been widely debunked, etc. But Ferguson barely brings up these troubling issues. Even the generally liberal New York Times writer Thomas L. Friedman and his kindred spirit at Newsweek Fareed Zakaria could envision a desirable outcome of the war. Though ambivalent about a strategy of "preemptive" invasion, both openly expressed hopes that a functioning, democratic Iraq could become a stabilizing force at the heart of the Middle East. The opposite, of course, is what has come about instead.
To tell this tale, Ferguson has assembled a line-up of witnesses who not only supported the idea of the invasion but served the Bush administration in trying to make it work. Conservative, Republican and/or career military, the stars of No End in Sight are an imposing lot. They were the initial people on the ground after Baghdad fell. And they were the first to discover that whereas Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had a clear enough grasp of what kind of force the United States military would require to take Iraq, he and his advisors hadn't the foggiest idea what it would take to hold and rule Iraq while some kind of indigenous democracy was installed. As footage in the film establishes, while Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki testified before Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be necessary to control a religiously divided Iraq after Saddam was deposed, Rumsfeld thought he could do the job with 90,000 or fewer and ultimately dispatched 140,000 only after being pressured to do so by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had grave private misgivings about the Iraq invasion from the beginning.
Rumsfeld's profound miscalculation led him further to direct that American troops stand aside when the country erupted into widespread looting. No End in Sight replays footage of Rumsfeld sneering at press concerns about the tolerated lawlessness, claiming that television exaggerated what was going on by showing the same footage repeatedly. "Are there really that many vases to be stolen in Baghdad," he jibed notoriously. But at the end of the riot, Iraq's national library and museum, the latter housing priceless antiquities dating back 2,500 years, were both almost totally destroyed. Our flagrant indifference to this desecration quickly corroded the confidence of the Iraqi people that they were in the hands of liberators.
People like career diplomat Barbara Bodine, who was dispatched to Baghdad after service as the Ambassador to Yemen, complain that she arrived in Iraq with general instructions to lead a recovery but was housed in offices without computers or even telephones. The longer she was on the ground, the more she realized that no true plan for an occupation was ever drawn up. The U.S. army was instructed to guard Iraq's oil fields but not its armories, where insurgents helped themselves to the weapons and the explosives that are still killing our troops to this day. Gen. Jay Garner, who was in charge on the ground in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's flight, quickly developed a strategy to reinstitute law and order by reconstituting the Iraq army. But then Garner was replaced by Paul Bremer, who countermanded Garner's plans, disbanded the army and instituted deBaathification, which purged the country of its teachers, technocrats and bureaucrats. The result was the pandemonium that we've yet to get under control.
The consequences of the Bush Administration's hubris that it could conquer a complicated country quickly and on the cheap are nauseating. As of today, 3,753 American soldiers have died and more than 27,000 have been wounded. Three million Iraqis have fled their homes in terror. Estimates suggest as many as 600,000 civilians have died. Why? Ferguson doesn't venture a guess. A president and those around him thought they could do what they wanted in a part of the world about which they remained stubbornly uninformed. And with the blood of our children and $10 billion a month in our tax dollars, the rest of us are paying the price for his deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance.
- 2007 Magnolia Pictures
- No End in Sight chronicles the Bush Administrations' inadequate planning and incompetent handling of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.