10 August 2007

No End in Sight

Written & Directed by: Charles Ferguson

Grade: A

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in footage at the outset of No End in Sight, says that the War in Iraq is "complex for people to understand," the implication being that we shouldn't even try. Thankfully, though, Charles Ferguson has laid it all out in a cogent manner so that all may understand, outlining, in dissecting essay format with the aid of journalists, academics, soldiers and, most fascinatingly, former administration officials, the indisputable failures of the war's execution. The complexity of the war and its (mis)handling is distilled into concise coherency, and the culpability aimed squarely, and fairly, at George W. Bush. Glossing over the history of the pre-invasion perfidy—such as the fabricated links between Saddam and 9/11—and Bush and his cabinet's general mendacity, and as such avoiding partisan divisiveness, Ferguson's fashioned a film to which any American, from liberal choirmembers like Al Franken to administration supporters like Christopher Hitchens, could nod their head in devastated, disappointed agreement.

"It is a story in which many people tried to save a nation," the film declares of itself, going on to then detail the many ways in which those people utterly failed in every which way imaginable: to date, the country's infrastructure is entirely decimated, along with the civilian population, which has experienced casualties approaching American Civil War levels, in the ballpark of 600,000, to say nothing of the ongoing refugee crisis. But, in the words of an Iraqi journalist who has emigrated to the United States, it's the ones who died who are the lucky ones.

That's because the country is in a state of complete collapse, and the primary culprit is the hubris of Bush and his ignominious retinue; an arrogant lack of planning for handling the aftermath of the initial invasion—they began planning fifty days before the invasion, which Ferguson contrasts to the two years Truman spent preparing for post-war Germany—led to a sense of lawlessness on the city streets from day one, and as such the initial goodwill of the Iraqis longing for liberation, assuming as Ferguson does that such an attitude was prevalent amongst the Iraqi people, was immediately squandered. The unchecked, uncountered large-scale looting, well-known from newscasts of the time, quickly transformed into organized extirpation; the Americans took out Saddam but didn't assume a police capacity, thereby leaving nothing in his place but a void, a sense of hopelessness that was soon filled-in by the mosques and their radical clerics.

The post-invasion efforts were led by appointed officials with no experience in the Middle East, reconstruction affairs or the military; almost no one spoke any Arabic. Young college graduates with nothing on their C.V.s but political connections, through their generously donating parents, at high levels were given essential jobs like Baghdad traffic management while the rest of the duties were assumed by overpriced and ineffective American contractors. Just like New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina, Iraq was done in by dastardly cronyism at the highest levels of American government.

L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, emerges as the clear villian of the story; No End in Sight spends a substantial chunk of its running time examining Bremer's disastrous decisions, from de-Ba'athifying the government to disbanding the Iraqi Army—and thus, overnight, turning 500,000 people with guns embittered and unemployed—making the convincing argument that those were the clear seeds of the current insurgency and the nightmarish state that the country finds itself in today.

The narrative of the war's failures is so absurd it could play comically, if not for all the horrible death and decimation; No End in Sight is, of course, relentlessly grim, nearly unbearably depressing, with chapter titles like "Things Fall Apart", "The Void" and "Chaos". While a few years ago Americans were willing to fill movie houses to laugh at Bush and misdoings (Fahrenheit 9/11), today the mood is too gloomy for such lightheartedness. The projected total cost of the war, as of now, stands at $1.86 billion, not to mention all the human costs, measured in deaths, nor the cost of regional destabilization and America's international disrepute. There's no way to describe contemporary Iraq other than, unexaggeratedly, as utter chaos. No End in Sight seems to imply that it's only a matter of time until Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, is in control of the country; America can stay and temporarily stave off the inevitable, but any hopes of a flourishing democracy are entirely, unquestionably dead. The film ends with a Marine asking, rhetorically, "are you telling me that's the best America can do?...That makes me angry." And of course so it does also to every American in the theater, having just bore witness for two hours to haughty incompetence and total failure with very real, fatal consequences. The story may not be new, but Ferguson lays it all out so it's clear to see—Iraq is totally fucked up, and not because America tried its hardest and failed but because it barely tried at all. That's not a politicized opinion, as Ferguson shows, it's the God's honest awful truth.

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