By Sara Katz
While the film’s title may read like a recent dismal headline in The Times, the content of “No End In Sight” focuses almost exclusively on the beginning of the Iraq War. Besides an initial historical overview of past international meddling in Iraqi politics, the film is solely concerned with how the war was carried out.
What the film does not discuss is the more politically sensitive and debatable question of why. Nor does it touch on how the war was sold to the public. The result is a film with an analytical structure akin to a doctoral thesis that manages to be politically relevant without getting bogged down in ideology.
In fact, the first-time director of the film, Charles Ferguson, has said that he was initially in favor of the 2003 invasion. Besides this, the influence of Ferguson’s background in political science is evident. While the movie managed to elicit scattered moments of laughter in the audience, it is clear that Ferguson was less concerned with entertainment than he was with providing a cogent outline of the behind-the-scenes planning (and lack thereof) of the war. This story is primarily told by the government officials who were interviewed for the film.
The roster of those interviewed reflects Ferguson’s own insider status, a result of serving three years as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The list includes some well known and usually tight-lipped officials such as Richard L. Armitage, and Col. Laurence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell.
Just as interesting as these figures, if not more so, are the interviews with officials whose influence in Iraq was tragically short-lived and under-utilized.
One of these figures is Jay Garner, a retired lieutenant who served as the head of the Organization of Recovery and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq, or ORHA.
As Ferguson’s acerbic narration points out, while the U.S. was able to plan for two years before occupying Germany in WWII, ORHA was given only 90 days to plan the aftermath of Iraq. The story that unravels is gripping even if it is the familiar one of expert advice going unheeded by those at the top of command.
The core of the film focuses on three decisions made early into the occupation. Decided by a handful of inexperienced individuals, these strategic moves would prove to be fundamental to the chaos that would later engulf the country.
These were the choices to delay sovereignty and institute a formal occupation; de-Baathificiation; and the disbanding of the Iraqi military. The film rightly gives the most attention to the last of these. As Ferguson points out, the move wasted the chance to utilize these professionally trained soldiers, 137,000 of whom had already signed statements of loyalty to the new American occupying power. Instead, the entire armed military, consisting of somewhere between 450,000 and 650,000 men, was left unemployed. The suggestion by Ferguson and many of the senior military officials interviewed is that the ascension of the insurgency can be traced to this regrettable strategy. The careful attention that Ferguson gives to waging this argument makes this the most compelling part of the film.
Despite Ferguson’s efforts, Donald Rumsfeld, L. Paul Bremer III, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz refused to be interviewed for the film. While unfortunate, the military officers and senior intelligence officials who did agree to be interviewed or provide inside information makes “No End In Sight” a worthwhile piece of documentation. Even if it does not provide much new information, its careful analysis and clear organization allows a greater understanding of this recent historical event.