No End in Sight
Directed and produced by Charles Ferguson
Magnolia Pictures, 2007
The Iraq war statistics shown on screen at the end of Charles Ferguson’s’ debut documentary, “No End in Sight,” consciously wallop you back to the title. The numbers are not easy to swallow, but they’re probably the only clear issue in the movie.
Early in the film, we meet Col. Paul Hughes who in 2003 was director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation in Iraq. He is warm, personable, and speaks in a straightforward manner reminding us of the actor Jimmy Stewart. We see a photograph of him with Gen. Jay Garner who led the troops in the 1990 Gulf War. Bush named Garner head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid as he got ready to make his flightsuit photo op victory speech. Within two months, Garner and Hughes were thrown out as Henry Kissinger’s guy, J. Paul Bremer, took over in a renamed Coalition Provisional Authority.
The movie focuses on Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz and Bremer, the architects of what we know as an unjust, illegal war and occupation. No matter what was happening on the ground, if it didn’t fit their plans, the people who reported it were quickly replaced or just ignored.
The occupation became official, but martial law was not declared, so U.S. troops just watched the looting and destruction of Iraqi institutions and government buildings. There was no Iraqi police or army. On screen, in front of the National Museum of Iraq Antiquities, we see a chubby, mustached, middle-aged Iraqi man with tears flowing as he sees that anyone seeking profit could just walk into the museum and take the priceless objects that represent the cradle of civilization, some of them 8,000 years old. “Stuff happens,” explains Don Rumsfeld, chiding the press for making an issue of a stolen vase.
The film argues that if we had just listened to Hughes, Garner and a half a dozen Americans in the film who were on the ground in Iraq early on, maybe we’d be watching a documentary called “The End is in Sight” or “It’s Already Over.”
But we’re not watching the alternate good version. There isn’t one. There is no such thing as a good occupation, even when we’re feeling sympathy for those who are interviewed. Even Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of defense, seems sympathetic compared to the war architects — scary!
What we do know is that 600,000 Iraqis are dead, 2 million are displaced, and 3,700 U.S. soldiers are dead. As many as 50 percent of the returning troops may have serious physical or psychological problems.
The film shows that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Bremer were waging a spin battle as though Iraq and U.S. troops didn’t matter one bit.
This isn’t new (remember Vietnam). For four years, we’ve been asked to swallow what many already knew would make us choke and make the rest of the world hate us. And we’ve agreed to pay for it.
There have been at least a dozen really good documentaries about Iraq. What distinguishes “No End in Sight” is that it gives the big picture, though not a better one.