No End in Sight (2007)

This is the documentary about post-war Iraq that good reviews last year.

Read Kevin’s Sept. 28, 2007 review about this film below, followed by my own review.


Sober, engaging documentary of the Iraq war and specifically, almost in a historical way already, what went wrong in the first 2-3 years of the war that changed its history. This director has a deductive agenda, of course, but it’s less bombastic than the other war documentaries out there. What is most compelling is the testimony of the players, as they speak for themselves, and those who were actively out there trying to save the country from going down in flames, and being thwarted from doing so.

There’s a strong clarity & logical structure to the film that helps build the case for its argument. Again, as with most documentaries, not without its particular viewpoint, but it’s hard to argue against much of the facts now clearly acknowleged as Administration failures. The gut punches come at the end, when pointing out the magnitude of the war’s legacy.

The lingering feeling upon leaving the movie theater is of recognition that one’s life will somehow, in some way big or small, be ultimately affected by the decisions & blunders made halfway across the world, and that the worst of what’s been produced may yet be revealed. Yikes.

Posted today
by Reid


For the most part I agree with Kevin’s comments, although I have a few criticisms which I will go into. Since I had seen several Frontline episodes on the Iraq War and read several Atlantic articles on the same topic, I wondered if this film was something that would interest me. While I don’t think the film added new insights or information, the film still managed to hold my interest. For that reason and the fact that I think the film effectively show the failures of the Bush administration in the Iraq War without ad hominen attacks or blatant bias, I give this film a decent score. But I do feel he could have a made a more compelling argument.

Let me discuss what I mean. The film highlights certain decisions that now seem to have greatly underminded the success in Iraq: not sending enough troops; failing to protect key Iraq sites from looters; failure to form an Iraqi political working group; de-baathification of the government; disbanding the military. But the film, for the most part, does not investigate the reasons these decisions were made–something I would have liked to have known and something that I think is crucial to truly assess the decisions.

Let me comment on a few of the decisions:

De-baathification of the government
To me the most obvious reason for doing this is to clean the government of Sadaam loyalists. Suppose if the Baathists were not removed and later resulted in sabotage or assistance to Sadaam and those loyal to him? What was the possibility this could happen? Were there things that could have been done avoid this? Could you create a procedure that would effectively keep those who were only Baathists to get a job from those who truly had deep loyalities to Sadaam? If you didn’t, why wouldn’t it be wise to expunge the government of this group?

Disbanding the military
The obvious reason for disbanding the military is that you eliminate a possible threat to the coalition forces. It may also be easier to disband the army than to effectively weed out those who would case problems.

To me exploring these questions, allowing for critics to respond, would only strengthen the film. (I would have also wanted the filmmaker to investigate the reasons the administration did not want to provide more troops or protect key sites. Interviewees assert, either directly or indirectly, that the administration was arrogant and relying on unreliable information (from Chalabi), but the filmmaker should have pressed them with other possible explanations.)

Btw, the last two decisions were made by Paul Bremer. I would have liked to have known if the interviewees thought that someone else could have done a significantly better job than Bremer? Were the conditions such that even the most competent person would likely make bad decisions? Even if that were true, the Bush administration would still be accountable, but it is not an insignificant detail.

Now to be fair to the filmmaker, many of the key figures who made these decisions declined to appear in the film, but the director could have exerted more effort in trying to find these answers. On a simple level, he could have asked those that participated in the film why these key policymakers made the decisions they made. Now some interviewees do say that the Bush administration officials were overconfident, but at that point the director should have asked why the interviewees thought that. He could present them with possible explanations and get their response. Viewers could decide for themselves at that point.

Without this explanation, viewers can’t come to a fair conclusion about the performance of Bush team. Now, I think it’s fair to say that many mistakes were made and things have not gone well. We can also say that the Bush team bears ultimate responsibility for this. But what I want to know is the reasons these decisions were made: was the Bush administration too arrogant; were they simply incompetent and foolish? Or did sound reasons exist for their decisions? Did certain circumstances exist that lead them to make these decisions?

One example that comes to mind is the failure to protect munitions dumps from the insurgents. That just seems like an obvious thing to do, so what good reason could possibly exist to explain this? But remember WMD and Sadaam had not been captured yet, so the military directed their energies at these two objectives. In hindsight (since there were no WMDs and that we caught Sadaam without him disrupting the country or escaping), these objectives don’t seem so important. But imagine if insurgents or Sadaam and his people got a hold of WMD. The military probably would’ve been severely criticized (and perhaps justifiably) if they deployed significant numbers of troops to protect munitions dumps. The director could have then presented interviewees responding to the above with reasons this was unlikely or alternative actions.

Another thing I would have liked would have been the director to show that he investigated the background of the interviewees–specifically if there were anything that would make viewer doubt the credibility of the interviewees. For example, one of them may not have gotten a promotion they wanted. This may not invalidate the comments of the individual, but
these efforts would show viewers that the filmmaker was thorough, fair and credible–so it would only strengthen his film–whatever the conclusions may be.

I think Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz made huge mistakes that will cost this country dearly. But I don’t think they’re idiots, nor do I question their committment to the country. The documentary at least suggests as much, and I find tha a bit unfair.

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