If the tone of No End in Sight, one of the latest in a slew of docs around the Iraq war, feels a little familiar -- hard-edged reporting, decisive point of view, insider perspectives and razor-sharp editing -- there may be a reason. The film was exec-produced by Alex Gibney, who directed last year's Oscar-nominated Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room. The two films, although they have different subject matter, have key similarities at the core. Both are about men abusing power and privilege, the inherent dangers of trusting those in authority without questioning their motives and motivations, and the consequences of blind arrogance and willful ignorance. No End in Sight is about war, Enron about business, but both structurally and in overall message, the films have much in common.
Former policy wonk Charles Ferguson, who made a killing in the business world when he sold his software company off to Microsoft for a cool $133 million, decided he wanted to make a film about the Iraq war. The resulting film, No End in Sight, does three basic things: Shows the decision-making process that has led to the post-invasion situation we are currently in with Iraq, paints a picture of the giant hole the administration has dug us into there, and explores what (if anything) it might take to get us out. If the film's title strikes you as a bit negative, well, Ferguson clearly doesn't have the most optimistic outlook on the Iraq situation, but with deliberation and aforethought, he shows the viewer exactly why.
The stories these witnesses from the belly of the Iraq war have to tell are chilling, taking us behind-the-scenes to expose how exactly a military campaign has descended into near-anarchy: The insufficient troops, the lack of adequate armor to protect vehicles being driven in combat zones by our soldiers; the looting of Baghdad, which US soldiers had to stand by and helplessly watch, as they were under orders not to intervene. The disbanding of the Iraqi troops, which, ultimately, contributed to even greater unrest, is addressed by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, "I think the decision to disband the [Iraqi] army came as a surprise to most of us ... I thought we had just created a problem. We had a lot of out of work [Iraqi] soldiers."
The decisions made by the Bush Administration around the Iraq War are dissected ruthlessly throughout the film. The 18-volume document on handling post-invasion Iraq, put together by a multi-agency group within the State Department -- which was then totally disregarded; the President refusing to read even one-age summaries of recommendations -- all help paint a picture of a war run more by arrogance than sound decision-making. The administration's policy decisions are displayed for our perusal, shown side-by-side with their consequences. It's a penetrating, frightening look at the power wielded by a few people in the administration, and a scathing indictment of how the decision-making process (or lack thereof) around the war has led to a devastating situation in Iraq, a chasm out of which it may be nearly impossible to dig ourselves.
The film is methodically edited, interspersing tales from the ground with policy wonks, decisions with consequences, until it paints the administration into a corner. It would have been nice to hear the points-of-view of President Bush, Dick Cheney, Condolezza Rice, or heck, anyone in the current administration, speak on any of these issues, but they all denied Ferguson's interview requests. Not that it matters, so much, whether they chose to speak on camera for this particular film or not; their perspective and their decisions are a part of the public record, even if the internal thought processes and behind-the-scenes decision-making are not.
There have been a number of docs about the Iraq war of late: Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which uses a lot of found footage and cell phone footage to show us what really went on in the ranks of power at the controversial Iraqi prison; Iraq in Fragments, which used three stories -- one each from the Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurd perspectives, to weave a tale about the impact of the war on average Iraquis, Why We Fight, which delved into the psychology and sociology around war and killing, and, of course, Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's screed on the Bush administration's use of the tragic events of 9/11 to get us into war in Afghanistan and Iraq to begin with .
A screening of all these films in one fell swoop would give one a rather panoramic (albeit one-sided) perspective on the war overall. The difference with No End In Sight is that it takes a ruthlessly fact-finding, information-based approach, simply in finding the right people to talk to and listening to what they have to say, that ultimately paints a very different picture of the Iraq War than the one spun by the folks currently in the Bush administration. I can't imagine that anyone actively working for the current administration would publicly come out and say, "Yeah, I saw No End in Sight, and it's all spot-on. That's exactly how it went down."
Still, I have to hope -- and presumably, Ferguson and Gibney do as well -- that the film will stir up enough of a hornet's nest that eventually, the unabashed truth will come out, and there will, ultimately, be a resolution to the situation in Iraq. The culimination of Enron was the actual trials in the Enron case, some of which Gibney attended. Whether Ferguson will ever have that kind of closure around his film remains to be seen.