The anti-war film for Republicans

Creative works inspired by the war in Iraq have adopted a variety of moods: Many are partisan, others humanitarian, a few unabashedly patriotic. “No End in Sight,” the new documentary from former Brookings Institution scholar Charles
Ferguson, is the first wartime appeal to common sense.

The few vocal critiques of the film, which Ferguson excerpted for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Thursday, have come largely from the left. Ferguson barely touches on the administration’s shifting case for war, making only passing mention of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s oil bounty and the erroneous claim of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Instead, Ferguson deliberately focuses on the issue of competence — or the clear lack of it among those in charge of post-invasion Iraq — making “No End” all the more stunning to watch.

Ferguson tells the tale of the hasty war plans that began in early 2003 and squandered the early good will among Iraqis after Hussein was deposed. His thesis is particularly relevant to the current raging congressional debate on whether U.S. troops can help combat the insurgency, because Ferguson’s well-reasoned conclusion is that the U.S. presence created the insurgency.

A three-time author, doctor of political science and self-made millionaire, Ferguson is well equipped to challenge both parties’ preferred interpretations of the war. Working with producer Alex Gibney, who created a superb documentary in 2005 on the fall of Enron, Ferguson supplements moving and sometimes confrontational interviews with archival footage and live shots taken during his own time in Iraq.

Heroic moments are few and far between among the senior officials profiled. Paul Hughes, the director of strategic policy for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, is depicted as a resolute if failed advocate against the tragic decision to disband the Iraq army and send irate soldiers into the street. (Hughes later played a key role in the Iraq Study Group.)
Retired Gen. Jay Garner, who spent two tense months in 2003 leading the reconstruction, appears still shell-shocked by his sudden removal and by the installation of L. Paul Bremer, whom war critics later derided for running Iraq into the ground.

Bremer, like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Rumsfeld deputy Paul Wolfowitz and other administration figures, refused Ferguson’s interview requests. Their non-cooperation is announced on an individual basis throughout the film, as stark title cards flash on a black screen. If the decidedly apolitical Ferguson can see that avoidance as a sign of guilt, Republicans in the audience may well concur.