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REVIEW: No End in sight

By Philip Martin

This article was published September 21, 2007 at 2:36 a.m.

— Thoroughly depressing and enraging, Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight is one of the better realized and important documentaries to come out of the war in Iraq, in part because it maintains a certain journalistic detachment.

While it is the product of a specific point of view and offers a political argument, it feels more balanced and far better sourced than a typical television news special report. If it lacks the visceral power of cinema verite docs like James Longley's tragically beautiful Iraq in Fragments or Deborah Scranton's soldier-shot The War Tapes, it nevertheless has the power to evoke strong emotions. No End in Sight is a movie that will make you angry or sad. It provides no escape or transport from, but rather deeper engagement with, the regrettably real world.

The film spells out, again and again, how members of the Bush administration substituted their wishful assumptions for the judgments of professional foreign policy analysts - not just in the run-up to the war, when there seemed to be a need to build a case for Saddam Hussein as a diabolical madman with links to al-Qaida and an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, but in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Ferguson's film is less concerned with why we went into Iraq than how we botched it once we assumed responsibility for running and rebuilding the country. Most of the movie focuses on a few months in 2003, when, it might be argued, we "lost the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people.

Most of the people whose actions are impeached by the film - chiefly Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and L. Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein - refused to speak to the filmmakers. Given the sober marshaling of the evidence against them, this seems a rational course of action, like invoking the Fifth Amendment.

While undoubtedly there are still folks who support the president and believe the war in Iraq is proceeding apace, it is important to understand that Ferguson - a software millionaire, academic and a former Brookings Institution scholar - initially supported the invasion of Iraq and that most of the people he interviews were dutiful members of the administration. These aren't critics of the president or partisan voices, but former Bush loyalists such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine and staff members trained to analyze data and implement policy - soldiers and bureaucrats who became frustrated with the hubris and intransigence of their superiors. (Ferguson also interviews a number of journalists who corroborate their testimony,including Nir Rosen, James Fallows and George Packer.)

Anyone who has closely followed the events in post-Saddam Iraq will be familiar with much of what No End in Sight lays out, but the film draws disparate facts and anecdotes together in a way that is revelatory.

By the end of the film one can do little but conclude that Iraq was lost not by military and diplomatic experts doing their best in difficult circumstances but by a small and ignorant cadre of political operatives - including recent college graduates with no relevant experience - who saw the country as a kind of ideological laboratory, a chance to advance their personal and political agendas at the expense of American and Iraqi lives.

No End in Sight91Cast: Documentary with Campbell Scott ( narrator), Barbara Bodine, Richard Armitage Director: Charles Ferguson Rating: Not rated Running time: 122 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 45 on 09/21/2007

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