No End in Sight

People who know me may think that my endorsement of No End in Sight would stem from my total disdain for the Bush Administration. I’ve left a blog trail over the past couple of years that would certain cause me to plead guilty.  But I’m sincerely hoping that those watching will not just be those siding with me, but also Republicans, strong conservatives, and anyone who thinks Bush’s invasion of Iraq is justified. This film is not hysterical in tone. It’s not wrung from a filmmaker who some right-wingers might fault for exposing his “bleeding heart” with hippie platitudes.

In fact, what impressed me about No End in Sight is the more stoic, traditional approach it took towards examining what happened in Iraq. Presented as a documentary you might expect on PBS, this film looks at the Iraq quagmire from a strategic and tactical standpoint. Yes, it does prologue the invasion with the question of the Bush Administration misleading the US by connecting Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda, but once the film gets to the heart of the matter–the fall of Saddam and after–the film becomes more analytical.

The Bush Administration is even given some credit with the possibility of making Iraqi allies after Saddam Hussein’s fall, with shots of Iraqis cheering the US  and giving us the “thumbs up.” The happy faces seem so distant now, although they were recorded on video only a few years ago. What’s made clear in this documentary is that, just as was the case with 9/11, an opportunity for the Bush Administration was squandered.

Much of the movie centers around the crucial months just after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Mass looting had taken over the country with the military ordered to stand down, leading then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to make the famous glib comment, “Stuff happens,” to a questioning press. The interview subjects of No End in Sight, most of them insiders for the administration (no angry left radicals here to be sure), coolly present their case of how the Bush Administration, and more specifically the Defense Department, spiralled the country into anarchy and chaos.

Some of the interviewees are from The Organization of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq (ORHA),  commanded by Rumsfeld and the first having to deal with the thankless task of getting Iraq in order just after massive looting had left its basic institutions structureless. Officials of ORHA had to set up shop with no phones, no computers, no typewriters and was lucky to even have a building to meet in.  Enter the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and its head, L. Paul Bremer, replacing General Jay Garner (head of ORHA) as the administrator of Iraq after one month and ORHA became practically useless.

The details of mismanagement will leave you thunderstruck: looting allowed, initial troop elevations rejected, crucial well-engineered plans struck down, no basic utilities, no experienced personnel, virtually no Arab-speaking employees–there’s just simply too much to list here. My favorite moment of bureaucratic bungling: the restructuring of Baghdad’s roads assigned to a new college graduate with no training whatsoever in city planning.

This film will definitely make no new friends for Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld (were they even gaining any?). But it will also make Bremer, himself untrained for his role, look even more like a bastard for his authoritarian policies. As presented in this doc, he may have been the one single person directly responsible for the current round of chaos in Iraq.

I would sincerely like the right-wingers out there reading this to please, please, please watch this film.  Try to restrain from the reflexive reactions of “Do you prefer Saddam there?” or “Are you cut and runners?” This film does not provide any answers for how to resolve this mess.  But before you criticize the lack of solutions, consider the officials’ explanations of how deeply we are set into this quagmire.  No End in Sight shows how militarily-inexperienced Washington officials, culturally and historically ignorant of Iraq, took a decidedly superficial and arrogant response to Iraq’s growing crises, leaving an administration to defend itself with pathetic jingoistic attitudes and slogans.

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