No End In Sight
|Gen. Jay Garner|
|Colonel Paul Hughes|
|Directed by||Charles Ferguson|
<div align="center">“What happened in Iraq is a vindication of the general proposition that you should pay attention to the professional opinion of people who spend their lives looking at a certain class of questions. If you totally ignore them, you do so at your peril.”
</div> Charles Ferguson, filmmaker
For all the many ideological differences that package us as Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, and all the stripes and strata in between, there are certain things that as Americans we can generally agree on. We honor values like fairness and honesty, we don’t believe in attacking other countries unprovoked or under false pretenses, and when we do undertake something, we expect to do it right. That these are ideals too often honored more in the breach than the observance is a regrettable fact of real life. The ideals themselves are not partisan property.
Which explains why the current administration has sunk so deep in the national polls. Its handling of the war and the occupation of Iraq has not been a success. No End in Sight, a new and stunningly thorough and powerful documentary by Charles Ferguson, vivisects the body and shows the genesis of the rot.
Ferguson is no firebrand leftie. He is a political scientist, an academic, a former Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, a policy consultant, a venture capitalist who made a fortune in software. He was initially supportive of the war, and many of the people he interviews were one-time believers. We listen to disillusioned insiders like former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was briefly the coordinator for central Iraq in charge of Baghdad (“We used to joke that there were five hundred possible ways of getting it wrong. We managed to go through all five hundred”), and retired Gen. Jay Garner, who ran the occupation for a short time until he was replaced with L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer. We hear from journalists and authors, Arab and American. We hear the haunted testimony of Colonel Paul Hughes, Director of Strategic Policy on the ground in Baghdad. Hughes coordinated with the officers of the vanquished Iraqi army, who were ready and willing to use their troops to keep order in Baghdad under American command; he had to tell them that Bremer had decreed they were not to be used, but disbanded. “There are nights when I don’t sleep so well,” he tells the filmmaker.
We see news clips of Donald Rumsfeld extolling George Bush’s leadership (“I know with certain certainty that the contributions you’ve made will be recorded by history,”) dismissing U.S. responsibility to stop the looting, and sneering at the “Henny Pennys who say the sky is falling.” We see clips of Dick Cheney (whose 1994 interview warning of a “quagmire” in Iraq is now the toast of YouTube) drawing ominous connections between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. We see clips of President Bush, promising “food, medicine, supplies, and freedom” to the Iraqis and challenging the insurgents to “bring it on.”
With one exception, we do not hear directly from the small coterie of decision-makers. That exception is Walter Slocombe, who served as Director for Security Affairs in the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq in the summer of 2003. Though you sense in his eyes that he is wondering how in hell he let his secretary take this call, Slocombe sits and faces the questions, but suffers from the memory problems which have plagued so many who have been called on to testify about things gone wrong on their watch. The decisions he does remember, he still insists, were sound ones. In some cases Slocombe’s memories are at odds with those of Col. Hughes, who snorts incredulously “He said that?”
Three policy decisions announced within hours of Bremer’s arrival in Baghdad had incalculably devastating consequences, according to many of the seasoned first-hand observers interviewed in the film. First was the decision to set up a formal American occupation and delay the formation of an independent Iraqi government.
Second was the de-Baathification order, which removed from participation anybody with any connection to Saddam Hussein’s political party, which effectively meant any Iraqi with administrative experience.
Third, and most catastrophic, was the disbanding of the Iraqi military and security forces. Ignoring the frustrated warnings of men like Hughes and Garner, Bremer eliminated a large trained security force now under American control, and threw a half a million men with guns out into the streets of Iraq, angry, humiliated, and unemployed.
There were many other decisions, large and small, that contributed to the mosaic of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence engineered by a small cabal of men serenely confident that their theories of modern warfare, never tested in the real world of combat experience, trumped the urgent counsel of the men and women on the ground.
Ferguson’s film doesn’t reveal anything unsuspected. Its power lies in the sober, devastating way it marshals incontrovertible facts from unimpeachable sources. Asked by Charlie Rose recently what his movie tells us, Ferguson replied “It speaks to an extraordinary emotional and intellectual blindness on the part of the people who did this.”
During the film we experience again Donald Rumsfeld’s much-quoted quip that “You go to war with the army you have.” But it is not the army that comes into question here. It is the policy decisions of a small group of men playing drawing-room games with lives and cultures and countries, and coming up short.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be