Thursday, February 3, 2011

Film Review | No End in Sight (2007)

The Blind Side

by Thomas Delapa

Hindsight may be 20/20, but in the case of the Iraq War, No End in Sight clearly deserves a second look.

Director Charles Ferguson ended his eye-opening 2007 documentary on the eve of the American “surge”—a time when the Iraq occupation was looking like an interminable, Vietnam-style quagmire. Today, while U.S. military operations there have officially ended, some 50,000 American troops remain, and the government's battle against violent, sectarian insurgency remains an ongoing campaign.

Neo-revisionists looking for a way to resurrect George W. Bush’s moribund presidential legacy won’t find any ammunition in this major post-mortem. While Ferguson’s interview subjects run the range of the political spectrum, a consensus appears that America’s overall war strategy was (pick one or more): “a fool’s errand,” “a grave error,” and “we did almost everything wrong.” Perhaps we should go as far to quote former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell, who once ominously warned of U.S. intentions in Iraq: “You break it, you own it.”

Ferguson delves primarily into the U.S. postwar strategy following President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” proclamation in May 2003. Many high-level participants— such as senior occupation officer Col. Paul Hughes—seem to agree that American mistakes revolve around three fateful decisions made immediately thereafter: 1) the decision not to declare martial law in the wake of looting and disorder in Baghdad; 2) the wholesale, indiscriminate “de-Ba’athification” that purged the Iraqi government of skilled workers and bureaucrats; 3) the decision to disband the Iraqi army. With regard to the latter, some in the military (which might have been utilized to keep order during the occupation) instead ended up fighting in the insurgency as part of anti-U.S. militias.

If there’s a nonstop theme in No End in Sight, it’s that the Bush administration utterly failed to formulate an adequate plan for the occupation and reconstruction in the aftermath of all that shock and awe. Winning the war was relatively easy. Winning the peace remains as elusive as the search for Saddam Hussein’s WMDs.

While rueful experts such as Hughes and former U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine were either marginalized or fired, and many Pentagon policy recommendations were ignored, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld White House instituted a top-down, take-no-prisoners approach, for instance vastly underestimating the total number of troops needed for the occupation. Not-so-fun fact: In World War II, the Allies devoted two years on a strategy for the German occupation; by contrast, the Bush White House spent less than two months on a plan for postwar Iraq.

For those willing to reconstruct these crucial events, No End in Sight recoils with biting sound bites that tragically refute what we now know. Way back in 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney declares that Iraq was in “the last throes of insurgency.” Likewise, at a 2003 press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flippantly states that he “doesn’t do quagmires.” And in Famous Last Words department, Arlington division, in 2003 Bush scoffs at talk of an insurgency with a bellicose “Bring ‘em on.”

With the estimate of the war’s overall cost (including veterans’ care) escalating to well over $1 trillion, American taxpayers are still pouring it on. This is a far cry from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s rosy 2003 pitch that Iraq’s reconstruction would pay for itself, the cost offset by gushing Iraqi oil revenues. To date, over 4000 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, along with at least 100,000 Iraqis. Some three million Iraqis have fled their country.

Contrary to Bush administration predictions, the Iraq War has been no magic carpet ride. One expert even goes as far to say that the war and the chronic Iraqi national instability have actually been instrumental in “reviving radical Islam in the world.”

While the outcome of the tumultuous current events in Egypt are far from certain, recent social revolutions—as in the case of the Soviet Union—have shown time and again that history must take its course, and that the ultimate end to despotic regimes must lie in the power of the people, not in disastrously myopic superpowers.



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