REVIEW How the 'gang of four' lost
Iraq No End in Sight
directed by Charles Ferguson By Khody
WASHINGTON - Iraq, a quagmire? "No,
that's someone else's business," then-US secretary
of defense Donald Rumsfeld brusquely told the
White House press corps in the summer of 2003. "I
don't do quagmires."
The scene is played
twice in Charles Ferguson's documentary No End
in Sight, as if cruel irony were easier to
swallow the second
But the first-time director's
devastating and lucid account of the George W Bush
administration's mismanagement of the Iraq war
does not rely on rapid-fire news clips of public
officials touting discredited intelligence to make
its case. Nor is it a documentary filled with the
polemics of anti-war activists decrying the
broader neo-conservative agenda.
- founder and president of Representational
Pictures and the recipient of a Special Jury Prize
at this year's Sundance Film Festival - doesn't
present much that is factually new, nor does he
analyze the Bush administration's rationale for
going to war.
Instead, No End in
Sight focuses on the early months after the
ouster of Saddam Hussein, a short-lived period of
restrained hope when the nation was freed from the
binds of a dictator. What makes this film so
revealing (and painful) to watch is the meticulous
way in which Ferguson, a former Brookings
Institute scholar with a doctorate in political
science, dissects the incompetence of an
administration so eager to go to war it forgot to
plan for its aftermath.
The collection of
news footage, narrated history and interviews
details a contemptible and widely acknowledged
pattern of White House folly and hubris. As
Ferguson convincingly shows, the Bush White House
made a series of policy decisions that would
determine a disastrous course of events - the
descent of Iraq into civil chaos under the
dysfunctional stewardship of an occupying force.
Within the first two months, L Paul Bremer
III, appointed by President Bush to oversee the
Iraqi reconstruction, makes several major and
irreversible mistakes, including halting the
formation of an early Iraqi government immediately
after the fall of Baghdad; de-Ba'athification, a
policy that dispensed with most of the bureaucrats
and technocrats who knew how to manage the
country's ministries; and the decree to disband
the Iraqi military, which disfranchised half a
million armed Iraqi men.
Contrary to the
mainstream US narrative that places the blame for
Iraq's plight squarely on the shoulders of
insurgents, Ferguson's film argues that the war
was lost by the coalition in its first month as US
forces, at the behest of their leadership,
remained on the sidelines and failed to protect
Baghdad's citizens from the rampant looting that
accompanied Saddam's flight.
makes it abundantly clear where the main
culpability lies, pointing the finger at the "gang
of four": Vice President Dick Cheney, former
deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, Bremer
and Rumsfeld. All four declined to be interviewed
for the film.
Curiously, Bush is described
as an aloof leader who does not bother to read
National Intelligence Estimates that contradict
the predetermined ideological imperatives pushed
by his advisers. He is noticeably absent from the
decision-making process, and thus becomes a
willing victim of the cronyism he
In many cases, the
criticism leveled at US officials comes directly
from the lips of former diplomats and generals,
men and women who were appointed to help rebuild
Iraq, who worked on the ground to implement US
policy, only to have their advice brushed aside by
the distant arm of Washington's bureaucracy.
They include Barbara Bodine, a diplomat
who was placed in charge of the city of Baghdad by
the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian
Assistance (ORHA), which was placed under the
direct auspices of the Defense Department; retired
Lieutenant-General Jay Garner, who oversaw ORHA
before the arrival of Bremer; and an array of Bush
appointees who tried and failed to shape Iraq
policy, such as Richard Armitage, ex-deputy
secretary of state, and Colonel Lawrence
Wilkerson, chief of staff for former secretary of
state Colin Powell.
Upon arriving Baghdad,
Bodine discovers that there are no desks or
typewriters for her ORHA staffers to work from,
and that only five of her employees speak Arabic.
"There were no plans," she admits in the film.
Garner, who was in Iraq for less than two
months before being relieved by Bremer, complains
of being shut out of ORHA planning before the
invasion. The agency, under the direct control of
Rumsfeld, was formed less than 90 days before US
troops arrived in Iraq. Museums and government
ministries remained unguarded, and the sense of
disorder led to increased looting. Unprotected
ammunition dumps provided future insurgents with
copious weapons caches.
But the most
damning testimony comes from Colonel Paul Hughes,
a military man who was part of the ORHA transition
team after the US invasion. Hughes was responsible
for efforts to reorganize the Iraqi Army until
Bremer's arrival. Amid the mayhem in Baghdad, his
efforts to gain the trust of Iraq's military
officers and reconstitute some semblance of order
on the city's streets are thwarted by the
incompetence of Bush appointees.
Ferguson alternates between interviews with Hughes
and the supercilious Walter Slocombe, senior
adviser for national security and defense to the
CPA, two competing narratives emerge.
didn't disband the army. The army disbanded itself
... There was no army to disband," says Slocombe.
But Hughes is having none of it. "If the
military had been kept together and treated with
respect, we could have nipped the insurgency in
the bud," he says. In fact, he counters, the first
incidents of roadside bombing in the Iraqi capital
occurred several days after Bremer officially
disbanded the Iraqi military.
this decision to disband the army came as a
surprise to most of us," says Armitage in the
film. "I thought we had just created a problem. We
had a lot of out-of-work [Iraqi] soldiers."
The message of No End in Sight is
one of incompetence. The film shows what happens
when a small circle of Pentagon civilians initiate
disastrous policies without consulting those on
the ground. Ferguson's effort to contextualize and
explain the Bush administration's mistakes makes
this film essential viewing for anyone who has
followed - and exacerbated - the "quagmire"
ensuing in Iraq.
Let us hope a copy finds
its way to the White House's doorstep.