Saturday, July 28, 2007

No End in Sight (in Iraq)

Netflix (Red Envelope) has paired up with Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theaters and Mark Cuban to release a stunning documentary on the history of the war in Iraq. The film is “No End in Sight,” directed by Charles Ferguson (about 102 min, no rating given but would fit PG-13). The film's website is here.

It does start reenacting the experience of September 11, 2001 with the crash into the Pentagon (the only existing videotape). Quickly, the Bush administration tried to find a nexus between Saddam Hussein (largely secular) and Osama bin Laden (fiercely religious). Many conservative commentators predicted the same thing during that period. But fact-checking and investigation failed to find convincing evidence. Nevertheless, the Bush administration made its case to the UN, set up a time table, and invaded Iraq and quickly removed Saddam.

The administration took several steps to set up various entities to “govern” Iraq. But it failed to take the necessary police action to stop looting and lawlessness (Saddam had released prisoners just before the invasion). After a month of wholesale bedlam, no reasonable control could ever be put in place. Further blunders included disbanding the Iraqi military and some other infrastructure, denying Iraqis of income, shaming them as providers of families, and making the population easy fodder for radicals and insurgents.

Soon the spectacle of American soldiers taking horrific casualties in extended and repeat deployments in a “back door draft” started. At home, the moral debate on whether there should be a draft and congressperson’s children should be in harms way started, while at the same time, nobody was understanding the basic policy blunders in Iraq.

Civilian (and Congressional) control of the military is fundamental to American constitutional law. Yet it was not the military that was failing, it was civilian leadership which repeatedly hired overseers with no personal military service and poor knowledge of the region, language and culture. The leadership failure seemed to not so much a matter of bad intention (even if Saddam’s suspected nexus to Osama turned out to be wishful thinking) as “group think” that tends to undermine intellectual honesty. Even so, bloggers focused on national affairs in general probably did not fully understand how misguided our handling of Iraq really was; we saw problems in a global perspective, too, without paying attention to the specifics of the country.

The film is professionally made, with many stunning on location shots of daily life in Baghdad, well conducted interviews, and with a moving orchestral music score by Peter Nashel.

The theatrical release appeared in Washington DC July 27. Check Landmark Theaters for a schedule around the country. The DVD is due in early 2008 and will probably have many extras.

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