August 28, 2007

Film Review: No End in Sight

No End in SightA documentary written and directed by Charles Ferguson. Released by Magnolia Pictures. UR; 2:02. Opens Friday, Sept. 7,at the Baxter Avenue Theatres.    The Charles Ferguson documentary, “No End in Sight: The American Occupation in Iraq,” has been lauded for its cogent and even-handed dissection of American fumbling. Ferguson is a DC think tank insider, not an activist — he boasts a doctorate in political science from MIT, and Council on Foreign Relations and Brookings Institution credentials.  As such, he brings a rigorous, reasoned and sometimes self-critical methodology to his documentary.    This is, of course, the exact opposite methodology of our current administration; the neocons are driven not by reason but ideology.  Instead of seeing the world and adapting to it, they wish the world to adapt to their vision of it.  For people like Ferguson, an analyst who has spent years studying world politics, culture and history, the White House’s approach is unfathomably stupid.    Ferguson points to those first few weeks of anarchy after the toppling of Saddam’s regime as the critical moment when America “lost” the Iraqis. We ordered the disbanding of their army and by extension their police force, and yet were adamant that our troops were in no way to intervene in civil affairs. Into this void (when the United States was protecting only the Oil Ministry), extra-legal militias arose to enforce order, frequently along sectarian lines. Iraqis, hearing only silence from the United States in the spring of 2003, turned to groups like the Mahdi Army to provide some form of government.    When the United States attempted to reinstate order, policies imposed by a stubbornly ignorant Pentagon only compounded the problems. Most deadly was de-Baathification, which rendered the most experienced members of the civil service and the military permanently unemployed. These newly dispossessed became the backbone of the insurgency.    Much of the film’s credibility comes from its overtly non-partisan tone. Ferguson was reportedly pro-war, and interviewees such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former National Intelligence Council chairman Robert Hutchings are not exactly bleeding heart liberals. It is hard to make the typical neocon defense that this movie is some ad hominem attack when many of the mea culpas come from their own henchmen.     If you listen to enough “Fresh Air” or read Seymour Hersh, George Packer or The New York Times, you already have a pretty good understanding of this material. At best, this is a good, blood-boiling review of our spectacular incompetence. For people who rely more upon CNN, “The Daily Show” or The Courier-Journal’s international news coverage, this movie is essential viewing.    “No End in Sight” may well end up being the defining cinematic document of the Iraq war. And yet, its stubborn refusal to address the most fundamental issues of our involvement there can be infuriating. Ferguson can talk all day about our managerial missteps, but the real question is how the hell we got there in the first place. The bottom line is that the United States shot Iraq in the face under the false pretense of self-defense. There’s no point in blaming its death on the medical care.