It’s playing at the Michigan Theater right now, and I saw it with some friends last night. A.O. Scott, perhaps my favorite New York Times movie critic, called it “a sober, revelatory and absolutely vital film,” and he does a much better summary than I could right now. A couple of excerpts from his review:
If failure, as the saying goes, is an orphan, then “No End in Sight” can be thought of as a brief in a paternity suit, offering an emphatic, well- supported answer to a question that has already begun to be mooted on television talk shows and in journals of opinion: Who lost Iraq? On Mr. Ferguson’s short list are Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and L. Paul Bremer III. None of them agreed to be interviewed for the film. Perhaps they will watch it.
It is important to note that Mr. Ferguson’s principal interlocutors were not, at the time, critics of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq but rather people who had, often at considerable professional cost and personal risk, committed themselves to fulfilling those policies. They include Barbara Bodine, a diplomat with long experience in the Middle East; Paul Eaton, an Army major general; Seth Moulton, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps; and Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who served as head of the Organization of Recovery and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq.
That agency, set up to rebuild and stabilize Iraq after the invasion, soon gave way to the Coalition Provisional Authority, directed by Mr. Bremer, who took over in May 2003. Already, according to the eyewitnesses interviewed in “No End in Sight,” terrible mistakes had been made. Looting and other early manifestations of disorder were more likely to be met with Rumsfeldian aphorisms — “Stuff happens”; freedom is “untidy” — than with appropriate tactical responses. And then, once the provisional authority assumed control, orders came down to purge the bureaucracy and the civil service of all members of the Baath Party and to dismantle the Iraqi military. As Mr. Eaton and Mr. Garner tell it, the last policy was especially disastrous and was arrived at and carried out precipitously and without discussion.
They, Ms. Bodine, and others — including Richard L. Armitage and Lawrence Wilkerson of the State Department — describe from the inside what has become, to the rest of us, a recognizable pattern. The knowledge and expertise of military, diplomatic and technical professionals was overridden by the ideological certainty of political loyalists. Republican Party operatives, including recent college graduates with little or no relevant experience, were put in charge of delicate and complicated administrative areas. Those who did not demonstrate lock-step fidelity to the White House line were ignored or pushed aside.