City Paper is not for tourists
There’s no shortage of statistics, analysis, and eloquent opinions in No End in Sight, Charles Ferguson’s prizewinning documentary about the United States’ occupation of Iraq. But in terms of tidiness, none of the film’s interview subjects expresses concern about the administration’s decisions better than retired Army Col. Paul Hughes: “Common sense tells me, You don’t do that.” Hughes, who was part of the transition team after the “Mission Accomplished”nanointed taking of Baghdad in May 2003, is speaking specifically about the move to disband the Iraqi military, but the remark could apply to the whole litany of missteps chronicled here—and it’ll feel like a tiny, triumphant moment of high-rank candor to anyone who’s spent the past four years figuratively smacking his forehead as the situation has disintegrated. Inarguably, No End in Sight piles on, adding to the onslaught of criticism—filmic and otherwise—against the Iraq invasion, and sitting through yet another round of battering may sound wearisome. But for a comprehensive, comprehensible account of what’s gone wrong, you can’t find much better. Ferguson is a first-rate lecturer whose most impressive talent is the ability to speak to the layman without resorting to Michael Moorenisms such as jokes, ironic pop songs, and general hammerings-home. Instead, he looks at a series of problems—from a slapped-together reconstruction organization sent to work minus little things like computers and a staff, to a tight circle of upper-level policymakers who’d never set foot in Iraq—while presenting some basic information (courtesy of narrator Campbell Scott), and letting people such as Hughes tell the story of what went wrong. (The film isn’t completely free of cheap shots: There are a few subtly critical images of George Bush in shirt sleeves, for example, and, more frequently, footage of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld making an ass of himself, such as infamously retorting “Stuff happens!” in response to questions about the looting of Iraqi artifacts.) Ferguson, above all, is meticulous in his chronological combing of each and seemingly every government mishap. By the time No End in Sight gets to a late chapter titled “Things Fall Apart,” you’ll believe that call could have been made a long time ago.