How many years, how many lost lives, how many readily avoidable blunders have we witnessed since our commander -in-chief stood on the deck of that aircraft carrier under a sign declaring “Mission Accomplished” and announced that combat operations in Iraq had reached an end? The answers to these and dozens of other questions about how the invasion wound up as badly bungled as it did can be found in this exhaustive and authoritative documentary from first-time writer-director Charles Ferguson.
This filmmaker’s approach is virtually the reverse of the one trademarked by Michael Moore. The voice of No End in Sight isn’t the director’s. The outrage, bewilderment and contempt aimed at the architects of the Iraq disaster aren’t his, either. Ferguson’s masterstroke is his decision to tell this tragic story in the voices of irrefutable witnesses to the quagmire-in-the-making: officials at the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Council, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, and former Bush appointees such as Richard Armitage and General Jay Garner. A great many voices are heard, all with one thing in common: incredulity at the way expert advice was consistently trivialized and even dismissed outright by a small inner circle of armchair warriors with virtually no military experience.
The director pulls back the curtain to reveal a handful of administration officials who set events in motion as though playing with toy soldiers. We see them shifting the focus from those responsible for the attacks of 9/11 to a dictator who was known to have no connection to Al-Qaeda — just for the hell of it, basically — and then making one staggeringly stupid mistake after another in the wake of the invasion.
The film shows clearly how Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Bremer and their assistants — with the president just barely in the loop — themselves set the stage for the insurgency. They needed no help from Osama bin Laden. U.S. forces failed to protect the Iraqi Museum and Library, occasioning the loss of the country’s national heritage while giving its people the message that their liberators placed little value on it. By allowing widespread looting to continue in the wake of the assault on Baghdad, as American soldiers looked on, the administration effectively told the city’s residents they would have to look to Muslim militias for protection of their lives and property.
And the stupidest move of all: By disbanding the half-million-man Iraqi army (which could have been used to restore order), the war’s planners instead sent hundreds of thousands of suddenly unemployed, angry, heavily armed fighters into the streets, where they continue to blow up American personnel on a regular basis to this day.
No End in Sight is the most important film of the year thus far. More significantly, it’s the most comprehensive, clear-eyed account of the Iraq debacle and the arrogance behind it that we have. If it doesn’t win the Oscar for best documentary, we’ll have to conclude that its studio hired the same geniuses who sold this war to handle its award-season marketing campaign.