No End in Sight
Director : Charles Ferguson
Screenplay : Charles Ferguson
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2007
While there currently appears to be no end in sight for U.S. involvement in Iraq, the irony of the title of Charles Ferguson's sober-eyed documentary is that it didn't necessarily have to be that way. While the film doesn't offer any solutions to what can only be described as a military and political quagmire of epic proportions, it clearly and thoughtfully makes account of all of the mistakes that were made along the way, most of which were the apparent result of the Bush Administration's rush to invade without having properly planned for the aftermath.
This is not new news, but the manner in which Ferguson lays out the facts maintains the power to shock and awe, not to mention anger and incense. Yet, the power of No End in Sight is that Ferguson doesn't use cheap tactics, pulpit bullying, or look-at-me righteous indignation to get his point across. As a political scientist by training, Ferguson recognizes that the best path to making one's point is an accumulation of information presented in a clear, concise manner. No bullhorns, glib trips to Cuba, or surprise interviews with feeble NRA leaders are needed--just ask the right questions.
Aesthetically, there is nothing eye-grabbing about No End in Sight. It is little more than a parade of talking heads punctuated by news footage of those who declined to be involved (basically, Bush's inner circle--secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, and vice president Dick Cheney) and raw video footage of the devastation that is postwar Iraq. Ferguson's subjects are varied across the political and military spectrum, and he wisely avoided pundits, commentators, and others who have witnessed the Iraq War unfold mainly from the sidelines. Rather, he goes right to the heart of the matter by talking to those who were directly involved in planning and executing the Pentagon's plan for how to deal with a sectarian Middle Eastern country with a sudden, gaping power vacuum, and what they have to say paints a disheartening portrait of a war machine run amok with no care for what happened once the military objectives had been achieved.
While Bush is the most popular whipping boy for blame in leftist circles, No End in Sight portrays him as an essentially powerless head who delegated authority to his trusted advisors, particularly Cheney and Rumsfeld, who were determined to ignore any and all advice and proceed their own way. Similarly, L. Paul Bremer, who was put in charge of the reconstruction although he had absolutely no experience in such matters (a recurring theme), is singled out as having made a series of absolutely disastrous decisions, including the dissolving of the Iraqi military and the debathification of the government, which all but insured hundreds of thousands of men would be jobless and angry, thus creating a perfect storm from which an insurgency was guaranteed to arise. Rumsfeld, however, looks the worse, partially because some of Ferguson's news footage of him veers toward the two-dimensional. However, it's hard to blame the filmmaker for repeating footage from a press conference in which Rumsfeld all but sneers at legitimate questions regarding Iraq and mocks any concern about how his decisions have resulted in chaos. The sheer arrogance is almost numbing.
For anyone--right or left--No End in Sight is an important film in the same way that Peter Davis' Hearts & Minds (1975), the film it most closely resembles in form and intent, was such a crucial film for the Vietnam era. In its own way, No End in Sight is the most riveting film of the summer, and also the saddest. It never addresses the question of whether or not the U.S. should have invaded Iraq, nor should it because that would have tied the film up in pro- versus anti-war politics that would have distracted from its focus on what we did after the bombs stopped dropping (for the record, Ferguson was initially in support of the invasion). Unfortunately, the American military was ordered to do nothing in the aftermath, new kinds of bombs soon starting going off, and here we are. The portrait isn't completely bleak--there is the lingering sense that something might be done, even now--but as a veteran marine who spent several tours in Iraq asks at the very end of the film, “Is this the best America can do?”
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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