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No End in Sight

I have been watching Iraq documentaries with an eye to posterity. One day my kids are going to ask me, “Dad, what was that whole Iraq thing about?” and I want to have something to pop in the DVD player that will explain what I really can’t.

So far, most of the Iraq docs have been disappointments. Some make their points well, but their points are anecdotal, or far too skewed politically, or more confusing than clarifying. “Gunner Palace” was an exception, and now I have second documentary worth keeping: “No End in Sight.”

Charles Ferguson’s film doesn’t bother with trying to draw the line from 9/11 to Iraq, or with justifying the war, or even with how the initial campaign was waged. “No End in Sight” basically begins with W. Bush in that silly flight suit declaring “Mission Accomplished,” and then shows what went wrong from there, diving into how, and why, this war, which was supposed to last only a matter of months, drags on and on. This is an examination of policy and procedure; it might be drier than listening to soldiers talk about getting their arms blown off, but it’s more thorough, insightful, and revealing.

“No End in Sight” manages to stay (mostly) apolitical by focusing on the mid-level bureaucrats just trying to do their jobs. Nobody’s reciting soundbites or being coached in their answers here. These are the folks whose jobs don’t change when administrations do, who may have political affiliations but are more interested in what works than in what the party line is. Though the film leans left (as most of us do, when thinking about this awful war,) there are no crazy activists, nobody calls Bush or Cheney minions of the devil, and Rumsfeld is never referred to as Skeletor. It’s refreshing.

Instead, Ferguson breaks down the chaos in Iraq into three bad decisions, made one right after another. There’s lots of commentary from talking heads on the decisions, and it becomes clear that what we have here is a failure to communicate. Too few people making too many decisions with too little background or experience; that’s what it boils down to. The tragedy is that the people with the background and experience were there, they were offering opinions and advice, but nobody was listening. Politicians on both sides have argued that the mess we have now was inevitable, but these folks will argue until they’re blue that Iraq didn’t have to be the fiasco it has become; it was made that way.

I have seen so many documentaries lately that rely on anecdotal evidence and emotional ploys to make their points, I’ve started to wonder if anyone knows how to construct a good argument anymore. Ferguson comes through with grace, if a slight lack of style; after watching “No End in Sight,” I feel educated, not manipulated. And angered, and saddened, but in the end, perhaps a bit hopeful. There are good people out there, competent people who knew what the mistakes were as those in power were making them. We’ve got an administration change coming, and perhaps I’m being naive, but “No End in Sight” makes me think maybe there could be an end in sight – if the right people start listening to the right people, maybe this mess can be cleaned up. Let’s hope so. Then one day maybe I’ll be able showing my kids Charles Ferguson’s second documentary — “Iraq: How We Got Out of That Mess.”


  • for anyone really interested in the policy decisions behind the reconstruction of Iraq.
  • if, like me, you’d like to be able to explain to your kids someday what this whole thing was about.

Not Recommended

  • if you’re looking for lots of action and excitement. This verges on classroom material. Heavy on talking heads, light on actual footage.
  • if you’re deeply politically swayed one way or the other, and just looking for more soundbytes to add to your shouting match.
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