An unusually sober documentary, No End In Sight , has finally arrived after months of critics trying to draw our attention to it. It dissects the conduct of the Iraq war without any ironic narration in the style of Michael Moore. This is not a film about how we were misled into war; that’s Fahrenheit 9/11 . Nor is it about how a fearful news media helped sell us on false intelligence; that’s Bill Moyer’s Buying the War . There is only a little history, such as how the 2003 embargo laid a base of suffering in Iraq in which extremism flourished.
Instead, No End in Sight provides one interview after another with very high-level officials who were directly involved in the war’s execution, who are now so angry they can no longer remain silent. We’re not talking about pundits here; we’re talking about the senior military and Iraq analysts who were right in the center of the decision making. Since the film’s limited release over a month ago, no serious challenge has been raised to its facts.
The film was created by the former head of the Brookings Institute, Charles Ferguson. What he delineates, in a fashion unimpeachably authoritative, is a series of one stupid decision after another by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others, arrived at through naiveté and a bullheaded failure to listen. Was it inevitable, after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, that old and new hatreds should shatter Iraq into utter chaos? Possibly not. But toppling a government with insufficient troop levels, no understanding of the complexities of the country, and no plan for a replacement structure was a recipe for disaster. Generals on the ground warned the Bush/Rumsfeld team about this loud and clear in 2003. But the Bush inner circle, none of whom spoke Arabic or had any military or foreign policy experience, marginalizing sane voices in the State Department, was convinced American troops would be welcomed as liberators, and the rest would be easy.
The film demonstrates that many average Iraqis did not reject American troops – at least at first. But in the first of a long series of wrong choices, American troops were ordered to do nothing to stop the looting that soon broke out. The film shows footage of absolute lawlessness sweeping the country; the 7,000-year-old treasures of the Iraqi National Museum destroyed; the Iraqi National Library burned to the ground. This is cut against footage of Donald Rumsfeld jokingly dismissing the looting. The disconnect is astonishing. This, the film argues, was the real beginning of the insurgency.
But the most terrible mistake, the film argues, was still to come. Paul Bremmer, an inner circle bureaucrat, without warning or consultation, disbanded the Iraqi army. That meant half a million armed men kicked onto the street with no way to feed their families. It meant 50% unemployment, instantly. Now, instead of using the Iraqi army to combat a growing insurgency, the disenfranchised army became the insurgency.
In the absence of a stable Iraqi government, army, or police force, with the Americans largely confined to the Green Zone and ordered not to establish martial law, a power vacuum was created. It now seems inevitable that Islamic fundamentalism moved into the void, ushering in Muqtada al-Sadr and a proliferation of deadly militias.
No End in Sight is one of the saddest films I have seen. Over four years, the waste of 150,000 Iraqi lives, over 3,000 U.S. dead and 20,000 more wounded, the expense of almost $2 trillion, has brought us to total failure of our objectives. We live in strange times; our news media should be the ones telling this story. But increasingly, we must turn to our documentarians. Should you see the film? Only if you want to be informed.