No End in Sight Reviews
The great crime of this documentary is how interesting and compelling it is, given that it's simply summarising relatively recent events. As it just so happens, many of those events are so unbelievable that you couldn't make them up.
Watch this, watch 'Taxi to the dark side', watch 'Standard operating procedure' - watch them all. They're all great and they all matter.
A lot of big interviews and doesn't go to far off the rails.
The thesis is that the Iraqi invasion could have been quite successful had the strategy included a meaningful plan to maintain order in Iraq, had officials tasked with creating ties with Iraqis in positions of responsibility been given authority and resources, and had not some critical blunders not been made - by some critical blunderers.
Those portrayed as wise are an unlikely alliance of State Dept. career officials and those in the military - who had the expertise to understand what it takes to maintain order in a war zone. The villains are the civilians in the Defense Dept. - notably Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz - and the inexperienced man tasked with governance, Arthur Bremmer. President Bush is not so much an active villain as he is clueless bystander who puts blind trust in his leadership and offers no thoughtful oversight, even as things accellerate out of control.
There's an obvious bias throughout the movie. At no time do we sense that this is an inquiry into what happened. Those interviewed are a phalanx of Cassandras who tell of how they warned the administration of the scope of forces needed to successfully manage the overthrown country. The villains are shown only in news clips - or with a placard reading "Donald Wolfowitz (eg) refused to be interviewed." It would have been more honest to say he declined to be interviewed.
Nonetheless, the story of how Iraq descended into anarchy after the U.S. invasion, and the political steps that got it there, certainly rings true. We know, as is highlighted, that the decision to fire the entire Iraqi military and to "deBaathify" the country of its technocrats helped to create an insurgency and to cripple our own ability to maintain the country's infrastructure. If the movie is to be believed, when the U.S. scored a military victory, there was an enormous quantity of generals who were willing to help the U.S. with the transition - who were turned out onto the streets along with their subordinates.
And so the sickening story unfolds - of the looting, of the rise of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - and of the breakdown of all civil order, which we are to believe occurred because of the power vacuum created especially by Rumsfeld's refusal to put more "boots on the ground" and to avoid "nation building."
The thing sadder than seeing a tragedy unfold is to learn that it could have been avoided. The famous words "Mission Accomplished" might not seem so ironic today had the war been administered in a different manner. This movie does give a good, painful, overview of how the handling of the war led to the country's collapse, and how that did not need to be that way.
Unfortunately, of course, the people who most need this information will never watch this documentary. They don't care that it isn't the shrill cherry-picking of Michael Moore. All they see is that it is critical of the Bush the Younger administration, and they will assume that, in fact, it really is the shrill cherry-picking of Michael Moore. It doesn't matter that most of the words spoken are by people who in one way or another were there, people who saw first-hand the mistakes. And you must understand, I am not including all supporters of the war in the group of "people who most need to see this." I personally believe the war was always a mistake, but I can understand not believing that, and I think you can go with, "Well, now that we're here, let's finish." What I mean by "people who most need to see this" are people who believe that Bush the Younger and company [i]never[/i] made mistakes, that [i]everything[/i] which has gone wrong can be blamed on someone else.
This documentary mostly ignores the events of September 11, 2001, as irrelevant to the war in Iraq. It is mentioned that various of the people interviewed were in the Pentagon that day; a few are explicitly lucky to be alive. However, it gives us a little background from the first Gulf War and really picks up with the beginning of the second Gulf War. For the most part, the highest level of people in on the decision-making process are not interviewed in this film, because for the most part, they declined the opportunity. However, this is a sober analysis, including interviews with many mid-level people who were making important decisions. It examines exactly where all those decisions were wrong, where intelligence was ignored. There are actual soldiers interviewed, executives, people whose job was ensuring that the Iraqi people really did greet us as liberators. And it explains exactly why that did not happen.
The biggest failure was that the people making the decisions didn't listen to the people with the information. It seems, reading between the lines, that the Bush the Younger administration decided on a narrative and stuck to that, no matter what was actually happening in Iraq at the time. I don't believe that you need military experience to successfully lead a country during time of war; while Abraham Lincoln technically had military experience, it was only in the loosest sense, and he seems to have done okay. And heaven knows there have been plenty of soldiers who successfully pressed campaigns despite needing translators to communicate with the people in the country where they were fighting. However, the reason they succeeded was that they were willing to listen to the people who [i]were[/i] soldiers and [i]did[/i] speak the language, and that simply did not happen in Iraq. Leaving aside how much time Bush spent fulfilling his obligation in the Texas National Guard, he never saw combat, and it seems he did not in Iraq listen to people who had.
This is a very staid documentary. There are no flashy graphics. There is narration through some of it, but mostly, the people and the footage speak for themselves. There is a tone of quiet bewilderment from many of the people who were in positions of responsibility in Iraq, a sense that not enough attention was paid. There are three or four decisions which are generally agreed to have been the worst ones, and all of them were advised against in pre-invasion briefings. Thousands of years of cultural history were destroyed when the national library went up in smoke, but the oil ministry was protected. There were not enough people to protect weapons caches, and instead of working with the Iraqi military, many of whom were no great fans of Saddam Hussein, they were all fired--but allowed to keep their weapons. Armed men with no way of supporting their family make foolish decisions. Those decisions were bad for all of us.
This is a simple, quiet documentary. There are a few explosions, but they are shown with a sense of despair, because probably Iraq's best hope for peace was killed in one of them. What's more, this movie is an analysis of how it could have all been avoided, and that analysis is much more complicated than "we shouldn't have invaded." If we were going to invade--and the evidence shows that Bush the Younger was pretty much determined to invade at some point no matter what--there were ways to do it and keep the Iraqi people on our side. We knew how, and we know that Bush didn't even read the summaries painstakingly prepared for him out of long reports. Certainly he didn't pay attention to the people who knew best. I do not believe that all leaders have to know everything that will ever be important, because that's impossible. However, I believe the best leaders surround themselves with people who [i]do[/i] know about the important issues. What's more, when it comes down to it, they listen to what those advisers say.