Last Monday night I made the mistake of attending a press screening for “No End in Sight,” a documentary about the war in Iraq. Expecting a hard-hitting denunciation of U.S. foreign policy, I was instead treated to 102 minutes of people like Richard Armitage, Samantha Power and George Packer explaining why things turned sour. All in all, I felt like I was watching the PBS News Hour but without even the token appearance of a leftist like Juan Cole.
Director Charles Ferguson, upset over blunders in Iraq
The movie is just another example of the “what went wrong” mentality that occurs when an imperialist invasion fails to achieve its stated goals. After Vietnam proved to be unwinnable, “peace politicians” began to speechify about the “tragedy.” If LBJ had been able to accomplish his goals, as he had in the Dominican Republic, there never would have been a peep out of them.
“No End in Sight” hardly goes into the criminality of the invasion, as do many inside-the-beltway studies like Thomas Ricks’s “Fiasco.” There is no hand-wringing over nonexistent WMD’s or alleged ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. This is not to speak of the film’s utter refusal to even question American material interests in the region, including the desire to control oil. This obviously flows from the worldview of director Charles Ferguson, who has a PhD in political science from MIT and who went on to consult for the White House and the Department of Defense. He is now a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is not exactly the sort of person who will even entertain the idea that the U.S. does not have a right to impose its will on other peoples. His main interest is in figuring out why such a project did not work so as to help the ruling class figure out how to do it better next time.
Drawing upon the dubious insights of General Jay Garner, the head of Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), who was eventually replaced by the infamous Paul Bremer, the film argues that there were three fundamental mistakes:
1. The U.S. failed to pull together a puppet (my word obviously) government in a timely fashion.
2. It decided to purge the bureaucracy of all Baath party members.
3. It dissolved the Iraqi army.
If these mistakes hadn’t occurred, things would be proceeding swimmingly. That at least is the impression that the rogue’s gallery of interviewees intend to communicate. One of them is Colonel Paul Hughes, who recounts how he wanted to beat down George W. Bush’s door to warn him about the consequences of dissolving the Iraqi army. One imagines that in Mr. Ferguson’s insular little but powerful world, Paul Hughes plays the same role that Martin Luther King Jr. played in ours. Nowadays Hughes is involved with the United States Institute of Peace, an outfit that is run by Chester A. Crocker, who was Ronald Reagan’s Undersecretary of State, a position that surely earned him the qualifications to promote world peace, as long as we understand this as the peace of the graveyard.
Belgrade passenger train destroyed by NATO bomb
At least with Paul Hughes, there can be no confusion about what he stands for. He is careerist military bureaucrat who grieves now over the fact that Iraq does not resemble Jordan. But it is characters like Samantha Powers and George Packer who nearly had me bolting from my seat. Powers and Packer made a career out of promoting “humanitarian interventions” from their roosts at Harvard University and the New Yorker Magazine respectively. Both were deeply involved in pushing for war in Yugoslavia and are mainly upset today because Bush was not as adroit as Clinton in bending the will of a foreign population to our aims. They see Bosnia and Kosovo as big success stories, even if it was accomplished through war crimes such as destroying passenger trains and the human beings within.
Obviously not recommended.