January 30, 2023
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Documentary casts new light on old topic

What distinguishes Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight” from other documentaries about the Iraq War is Ferguson’s lack of celebrity. Where Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” is bogged down by his persona and sensationalism, Ferguson’s stinging indictment of the war focuses on the cold, hard facts. Ferguson draws on extensive insider testimonies to reveal unsettling truths. The result is a powerful and incendiary film.
Ferguson removes himself from the movie’s proceedings. Relying on archival footage, narration by Campbell Scott and exclusive interviews, Ferguson avoids hearsay and conspiracy theories. Though he does not appear on screen, Ferguson is occasionally heard as he probes journalists, authors, politicians, soldiers and military officials about their knowledge of the quagmire in Iraq.

The film is organized into chapters, beginning with recent history involving U.S.–Iraqi relations. Ferguson traces U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein back to the Reagan Administration’s funding of the dictator’s war efforts against Iran. The film proceeds with an in-depth examination of the arrogance and ignorance Ferguson associates with the Iraq War, including the White House’s decision to undermine reports stating that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Hussein. The film also states that the U.S. State Department’s “Future of Iraq Project” was ignored, while key personnel lacked experience in both general reconstruction and Middle Eastern affairs.

Interviewees in the film uphold that a turning point in Iraqi morale came when soldiers were explicitly ordered not to stop looters after the capture of Hussein. This ultimately led to the Iraqi people’s loss of faith in American occupation. The disbandment of the Iraqi military, under the command of director of reconstruction Paul Bremer, left many Iraqis without jobs and further enraged with the United States. Immense weapon depots weren’t secured, and insurgents distributed their contents to the recently unemployed Iraqi soldiers. Foreign Service officer and interviewee Barbara Bodine quips, “When we were first starting the reconstruction, there were 500 ways to do it wrong and two or three ways to do it right. What we didn’t understand is that we were going to go through all 500.”

Ferguson may retrace familiar territory but he does so with stunning resolve and commitment. Moving at an unrelenting pace, the film bombards viewers with interview after interview. Most participants who have had dealings with Iraq speak in support of each other and against the war. Those who don’t are revealed to be more concerned with saving face. Administrative speeches are undermined by grisly news footage, including President George W. Bush’s 2003 report of the end of major combat operations in Iraq cutting to a series of car bombs, injured children and gunfire. Ferguson adeptly constructs a painful and infuriating argument that is difficult to refute.

The film projects the cost for the Iraq War to be $1.8 trillion; that the divided Baghdad is now, more than ever, an ideal place to harbor terrorists; and the United States military is stretched too thin to respond to any new threats, presenting the idea of an apocalyptic future. In a stirring interview, an Iraqi veteran, wounded because his Humvee was poorly equipped, maintains that he must ultimately be able to look back on the war and see that his suffering wasn’t in vain.

“No End in Sight” opens with archival footage of Donald Rumsfeld commending Bush and his leadership in Iraq and saying “The contributions you’ve made will be recorded by history.” Ferguson’s film ensures that those words will be true, though not in the context Rumsfeld may have intended.

“No End in Sight” was written and directed by Charles Ferguson.

“No End in Sight” received 3.5 out of 4 stars.