No End in Sight

I’m tempted to say that someone should force the people running the White House to watch Charles Ferguson’s riveting but depressing documentary. But what would George W. Bush get out of it? He knows that neither he nor his loyal advisors make mistakes, and therefore everything in this film must be wrong. And I suspect that Karl Rove has already seen it; he’s not the sort to let such truth crimes go unanswered.

And what a truth crime it is! You may think you know how badly the administration bungled the war in Iraq, but No End in Sight tells the story so carefully, so dispassionately, and so authoritatively that you’re awed by the enormity of these people’s incompetence and the tragedy of its results. And you feel in your gut not only that today’s situation is hopeless, but that it didn’t have to be this way. Despite the temptation to make jokes about the title, No End in Sight’s 102 minutes (there’s apparently a 146-minute version playing in Europe) zips by quickly–surprisingly quickly a depressing film consisting mostly of talking heads.

Ferguson is no Michael Moore. There’s no grandstanding here, no wacky humor, and no obvious rabble-rousing. I’m not even sure, despite some early references to the lies that got America into this war, if he thinks that invading Iraq was a bad idea from the start.

But Ferguson clearly finds the administration’s handling of the occupation to be one very bad idea after another. With the thoroughness of a first-class detective, this computer-tycoon-turned-first-time-filmmaker examines how Cheney and company ignored the best advice of the most knowledgeable people, placed its trust only in those whose opinion it wanted to hear, and created a horrible and incurable mess.

For instance, the film spends a good deal of time on the decision to disband the Iraqi army. The administration believed, against Pentagon advise, that they didn’t need an enormous army for the occupation. Since there weren’t enough American soldiers there to do the job properly, the existing Iraqi army (most of whom felt no great love for Saddam) were an obvious asset, and one the occupiers on the ground in Iraq wanted to use. But the order came down to disband the Iraqi army, turning this promising asset into 200,000 unemployed, angry men with guns. The insurgency picked up steam very soon after that.

Most Iraq war documentaries focus on the regular folks caught in the war, whether they are American soldiers or Iraqi civilians. Ferguson does a bit of that, but he tells most of the story through the people who ran the occupation during its first few months. These include former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Ambassador-to-Iraq Barbara Bodine, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, and General Jay Garner. Their evidence is damning.

No End in Sight is easily be the best documentary of the year so far. It won’t make as much money as Sicko–and not only because it lacks Moore’s humor and box office status. Moore showed us a dreadful situation and a way to fix it. Ferguson shows us a worse situation and tells us how it could have been avoided. But as the film’s title implies, there’s not a fix this time.

So follow what I assume is Karl Rove’s example, and see No End in Sight. It won’t make you happy, but chances are it won’t offend you as much as it probably offended Karl.