Competent doc makes a strong case against the war in Iraq but offers nothing new

No End In Sight

on July 27, 2007 by Mark Keizer
The name Michael Moore may be invoked numerous times as Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight makes the rounds in multiplexes and on editorial pages—not for the similarities between Ferguson's film and Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 but rather for their differences. Both documentaries chronicle the questionable reasoning behind, and protracted aftermath of, America's invasion of Iraq. But Ferguson's take has the precision and seriousness of purpose of a sniper's bullet while Moore's is a homemade shrapnel grenade.

Judged by how its arguments are presented, No End in Sight is the better documentary, but it only highlights how brilliantly Moore courts the media to get his arguments wider play. In the end, which will be more effective—the lesser documentary that more people are likely to see, or the withering, but conventional poly-sci paper that will be largely ignored?

A first-time filmmaker with a PhD in political science from MIT, Ferguson is less interested in why the U.S. went into Iraq than the missteps that led to the knotty situation in which America currently finds itself. Nearly all of his points will be familiar to those who've read, among other books, Bob Woodward's State of Denial or seen the recent spate of Iraq War documentaries that now constitute a cottage industry.

After a brief recap of 9/11 and a depiction of President George W. Bush's desire to find anyone willing to blame it on Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Ferguson enumerates post-war screw-ups that he says have left more than 3,000 Americans dead and created thousands of terrorists willing to blow themselves up to fight the Great Satan.

Not surprisingly, none of the major players, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Vice President Dick Cheney, agreed to be interviewed. But Ferguson does round up a decent array of writers and frontline players who testify that the U.S.' Iraqi adventure continues to be a horror show starring a litany of Rumsfeld/Cheney cronies with no military experience, no background in government planning and no sense of the enormity of the challenge they face.

Editors Chad Beck and Cindy Lee methodically lay blunder atop blunder until they reach the inescapable conclusion that the Bush administration is a confederacy of dangerous dunces. Ferguson elicits much bafflement from Jay Garner, administrator of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), who says he was given too few resources, too little time and too little influence over policymakers to achieve his goals.

In May 2003, Garner was replaced with L. Paul Bremer, the real villain in Ferguson's telling. It was Bremer who made the major post-invasion decisions that permanently doomed the U.S.' efforts. He stopped the formation of an interim Iraqi government, removed all Baath party members from power and disbanded the Iraqi military, leaving 500,000 Iraqis unemployed, armed and angry.

Although the documentary may leave viewers fuming, it's doubtful it will move the needle of public opinion. Those who bristle at the sight of Rumsfeld's condescending and arrogant manner during White House press conferences or lament the unheeded warnings that the U.S.' post-invasion force was severely under-manned will find their anger stoked anew.

But with nothing fresh to say about Iraq, the only reason to consider this documentary over other films and books on the subject is Ferguson's clear, deliberate and sober style. Effectiveness aside, we don't necessarily need another primer on how the Iraq War has been America's greatest foreign policy disaster. At this late hour, the documentarian who'll effect real change will find a smoking gun. Anything else is just preaching to an increasingly large choir. Distributor: Magnolia
Narrator: Campbell Scott
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Charles Ferguson
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 102 min.
Release date: July 27, 2007 NY/DC, August exp
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