No End in Sight Blogging

No End in Sight finally came to Hanover tonight and I, of course, went. Thoughts:

  • Does anyone know what the deal with Jay Garner’s nose is? It’s multi-pronged. As in, it has two tips. I can’t tell, but I think he may have three nostrils. I can’t find a good picture online, but it’s truly fascinating.
  • Paul Bremer drinks Fanta during meetings with President Bush. Surely there’s some significance in that.
  • Paul Pillar blinks a lot.
  • Why was George Packer interviewed in a badly-lit stairway? They really couldn’t have found an office to do that?
  • The privacy accorded to the Iraqi assistant to the Washington Post Baghdad bureau seemed weirdly arbitrary. On the one hand, the lighting the filmmakers used purposefully obscured his face. But he put his name on there. Sure, it could be an alias, but in that case wouldn’t it be easier to just not put a name at all?
  • On a subject of more substance, I thought the movie’s critique of the war didn’t go far enough. At its most devastating, it merely implied that a successful prosecution would have been impossible. But the average viewer could leave with the impression that if Jay Garner’s team had been given more time, if the Iraqi army hadn’t been disbanded, if de-Baathification hadn’t happened, if we had taken action against the looting in April 2003, if we had more Arab specialists on the ground, if we had a bigger troop presence – if, in short, the Bush administration had been halfway competent, it could have worked. We could have secured Iraq, we could have left in about a year, and, if nothing else, we would have successfully removed a dictator and rebuilt the country he ran. But this is far from the case. We didn’t put more troops on the ground not just because of Rumsfeld’s military transformation ideology, but because there weren’t any more troops to send. We didn’t send more Arab linguists to Iraq not just because Bush wanted to reward political cronies, but because there weren’t any more Arab linguists under government employ. In short, a competently run occupation didn’t just not happen, it couldn’t have happened. And that assumes one accepts that even a perfectly run war would have been morally and politically justifiable (to be fair, the movie was about the occupation, not the argument for war, so it’s understandable that the movie didn’t cover this). The movie chronicles in brilliant detail the multitude of ways the Bush administration screwed up the mission, but at the end of the day it’s just a very-well fleshed out version of the incompetence dodge. I seem to recall this critique being made of the movie when it was first released, so excuse me if I’m being horribly unoriginal, but it’s completely right. The case Charles Ferguson made here is very strong; it just could have been much stronger.
  • The movie was also, at times, blatantly right-wing in ways that were both unnecessary and inappropriate. There is a strong insinuation at a certain point that Moqtada al-Sadr should have been assassinated; Ferguson even quotes a Marine to the effect that the administration’s failure to kill him was an insult to his fellow soldiers who fought the Mahdi Army. Lawrence Wilkerson is quoted as critiquing the mission in Iraq because it hinders our ability to attack North Korea or Iran; the idea that attacking North Korea and attacking Iran are both horrible ideas under basically any circumstances doesn’t seem to cross his mind.
  • The movie’s consistent taunting of administration officials (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz) who refused to be interviewed was both juvenile and pointless. Can you seriously imagine Ferguson calling Cheney office and asking if he wanted to be interviewed for an Iraq documentary entitled No End in Sight? And considering how badly the one Bush loyalist who did participate in the film (Walter Slocombe) got raked over the coals, I don’t even blame them. Compared to some of the things those guys have done, this is nothing.
  • I was actually curious about the movie’s claim that, had Norman Schwarzkopf just instated a no-fly zone over all of Iraq in 1991, the rebel forces would have successfully dislodged Saddam. The current Iraqi ambassador to the UN is quoted as claiming that the rebels had controlled a majority of the country before Saddam unleashed his helicopter squadrons. Is this true? It certainly didn’t sound familiar. In any case, even if this is true, it’s an open question as to whether a 1991, Iraqi-run post-Saddam Iraq would be any less dysfunctional than the 2007, American-run post-Saddam Iraq.
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