Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Reviewing documentaries about the Iraq war is a problematic activity that quickly reveals any reviewer's own bias, this reviewer included. No End in Sight is the best docu I've yet seen on the subject. It's a fascinating hundred minutes of reasoned testimony about the situation in Iraq, up to the first months of 2007. Unlike some other advocacy docus, No End in Sight doesn't strive to entertain with sensational or shocking footage, or to score points with editorial tricks or comical jests at public figures. It has nothing in common with the 'ambush & belittle' approach of Fahrenheit 911. Using satire to reveal underlying truths no longer works, if reality is already an absurd exaggeration.
No End in Sight instead tells the straight story of what went wrong in Iraq, starting when American forces took Baghdad in 2003. Director Charles Ferguson relies on the testimony of many high-ranking military and diplomatic personnel as they explain how no occupation plan was ever formulated or executed to fill the gap left when Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled. When structure and order were needed, the administration did nothing, allowing Iraq to destroy itself in an orgy of looting and vandalism. Intelligence reports were not read and common sense was ignored, while administration spokespeople assured America that expert advice was being consulted at all times. Washington ignored on-site officials that said promises were being broken and opportunities squandered. An experienced general told Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to secure Iraq, and was soon replaced. Any information contradicting the Administration's idea of easy success was labeled 'guesswork', and ignored.
Almost all of these interviewees are retired or 'have been excused from duty' in Iraq, but it's difficult to make a case that any of them are vindictive enemies of the Bush administration. Ambassador Barbara Bodine talks about trying to establish an office in a city without even simple resources - no typewriters, no chairs. She organized neighborhood councils, but her leading contact was assassinated. Jay Garner, a retired Army general placed in charge of Iraq, was quickly replaced by Bush's appointee Paul Bremer, a non-diplomat with no related experience. Bremer almost immediately disbanded the Iraqi army, putting a hundred thousand armed men out of work and guaranteeing that the country would be thrown into utter chaos.
The docu brings a number of facts into much better focus. After the liberation of Baghdad, a strong authority might have kept the country intact. While U.S. forces concentrated on securing oil installations, future insurgents and terrorists seized Hussein's vast arms and weapons stockpiles, which had been left unguarded. Even worse, the country's libraries, museums and archives were looted and burned, even after promises were given that they would be protected. As those archives contained vast holdings and manuscripts about the region's ancient civilizations, the loss is comparable to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
The United Nations sent special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello to Iraq, to help bring order. After a couple of photo ops with Paul Bremer, he was ignored. De Mello was killed in a terror attack that destroyed most of his office building.
Maps show Baghdad in early 2007 as a crazy quilt of armed camps. A multiplicity of warring factions, warring Islamic camps, and self-armed neighborhoods have set up their own territorial boundaries; the rest of the city is up for grabs. The United States 'coalition' controls only the Green Zone and the airport, but even those strongholds are regularly attacked. Nowhere are troops secure from attack. The few diplomats that venture outside the Green Zone must be protected by mercenary gunmen. We're also shown a realistic estimate of the astronomical cost of the war, and how it has crippled the USA's ability to function militarily.
No End in Sight limits its direct criticism of the administration to public statements expressing an arrogant contempt for the media, the public and the truth. Familiar White House faces act cavalier about the Iraq mission as they are caught in fraudulent statements and outright lies. The show does not draw hard conclusions, solicit emotional responses or wave the flag for any particular course of action. No End in Sight is simple public information, clearly stated.
Much of the show was produced in Iraq, showing how the Iraqi people are struggling to survive. Contradicting official figures, we hear estimates that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed since the 2003 'mission accomplished' victory. Killings are wholesale and ransom kidnappings are epidemic. The besieged American forces can trust nobody and private 'security' mercenaries can and do kill civilians with complete impunity. Rather than go for a big finish, director Ferguson simply lets a Marine express his sincere misgivings: "America can do better than this."
Magnolia's DVD of No End in Sight is a handsomely packaged and encoded disc; the enhanced widescreen image is consistently good-looking.
Viewers who have already seen No End in Sight will want to loan it to their friends. Magnolia's disc contains a number of arresting extras culled from unused interview material.
Additional interviews are presented with Richard Armitage (Deputy Secretary of State, 2001-2005), Aida Ussayran (Deputy Minister Iraq Human Rights Ministry) and Omar Fekeiki (Office Manager, Baghdad Bureau The Washington Post).
Other topics discussed are as follows:
Personal story: Larry Diamond presents a former Stanford professor talking about what happened when he was enlisted by Condoleeza Rice to go to Iraq to help with the political transition.
In Life Under Saddam, Iraqi ambassador Faisal Al-Istrabadi describes conditions in Iraq in the pre-invasion period.
General Jay Garner and Ambassador Barbara Bodine discuss the De-ba'thification policy.
Originally produced for the New York Times website, Disbanding the Iraqi Army has input from relief official Joost Hiltermann, U.N. diplomat Jamal Benomar, security advisor Walter Slocombe, occupational strategist Colonel Paul Hughes and Faisal Al-Istrabadi.
The CPA discusses the Bremer regime, with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Army civil affairs officer Heather Coyne, Intelligence officer Paul Pillar and Professor Linda Bilmes.
Journalist Chris Allbritton and journalist and bodyguard Warzer Jaff talk about their experiences with Kidnapping and Crime.
Iraqi journalist Ali Fadhil talks about being arrested in a night raid in U.S. Military Conduct.
The question Could It Have Been Different? is addressed by Barbara Bodine and Paul Pillar.
Faisal Al-Istrabadi, Journalist Nir Rosen ask themselves Was it Worth It?
Author Jessica Stern, General Jay Garner and Jamal Benomar talk about the greater regional Consequences of the botched occupation of Iraq.
Finally, Footage of Iraq assembles just under ten minutes of the production's raw video footage of life in the occupation.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
No End in Sight rates:
Supplements: Large gallery of interview extras, see above
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 31, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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