Movie Review: No End in Sight

noendinsightI had the privilege to see Charles Ferguson’s movie “No End in Sight” this evening. Opening this weekend, tonight was a special screening co-hosted by the Center for American Progress and USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy. Phil was there and got in a good question. Nick said he would, but I didn’t see him.

Charles Ferguson has made a strong picture that will likely get strong traction by not playing on emotion but telling it like it was. Through 3,000 pages of interview transcripts over 70 interviews, plus 40 more in Iraq, he creates a riveting narrative with smart interviews spliced with press conference footage to make this film. The result is some pretty incredible, and damning, statements from former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, General Jay Garner, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Col. Paul Hughes, Nir Rosen, George Packer and others. Splicing in news conferences from Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, President George W. Bush, and others helped tell the story of OHRA, CPA, and after. Needless to say, Rumsfeld plays a significant role in the movie through his press conferences.

If you read Imperial Life in the Emerald City, you already have an idea the charlie foxtrot the movie describes. If you read Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate, you already have an idea of what the movie’s about, especially since it was over dinner with Packer in 2004 that Ferguson decided he needed to make this film.

The movie begins with the post-9/11 attempts to link Saddam with al-Qaeda, through Shinseki’s testimony, the selection of Chalabi, the creation of OHRA, then the CPA, Bremer’s four fateful orders (including de-Baathification and disbanding the military), but stops before the Golden Mosque Bombing. By then, as Ferguson said in the panel discussion after the movie (also on the panel were Greg Treverton from RAND and Nicholas Cull from USC), the die had been cast and the purpose of the movie fulfilled: highlighting the mismanagement, the ignoring of sage and local advice, and the venality of the policy makers that created the environment of tinder the Golden Mosque bombing ignited.

Because of its strategic focus, there are areas the movie does not delve into, such as the private military contractor debate, save some brief comments and the showing of part of the Aegis Trophy Video. It also does not delve too far into the privatization of the rebuilding, save a few penetrating examples such as Marines working with local Iraqi’s to build a frontier fort in 5 months for $200,000 while Parson’s required over 17 months and spent well over $1 million more. But in truth, it doesn’t need to get into these specifics as it instead focuses on a strategic leadership that created its own reality.

Speaking with Ferguson after the movie, it seems the distributor will put on the website interviews not included in the movie, such one with Larry Diamond. But don’t hold your breath, it seems those won’t be online for a long time, possibly a year.

This is a must see movie even if you have been paying attention. This is not Michael Moore emotional hyperbole but a factual account of failed leadership. If you haven’t been paying attention, which is probably not many readers of this blog, Ferguson creates an easily digested synopsis of how America managed to create an insurgency in Iraq.   

After the fold is the (auto-playing) preview of the movie that adequately captures what it is about.