Friday, August 03, 2007

"No End In Sight"--Sobering Documentary

Last night we went to see "No End In Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq," a documentary film that chronicles what went wrong at the outset of the War.

It's a terrific piece of filmmaking. Anyone with a desire to get a better understanding of how and why we got where we are today in Iraq should see No End, which is playing is select theatres around the country.

No End makes its point largely through interviews with Americans who were involved in the initial efforts to reconstruct and administer Iraq after the War. These are hardly liberals who opposed the War. Most were government employees trying to do a good job.

Among the interviewees is former General Jay Garner, who was tapped by the Bush administration to head up the post-war reconstruction effort; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Ambassador Barbara Bodine (in charge of Baghdad right after the invasion); and Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

(Ambassador Bodine has a great statement: "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 then understand was that we were going to go through all 500.")

It's a tale of incompetence and recklessness at the highest levels of the Bush administration. No End focuses on three critical mistakes early in the occupation that had enormous impact. The first was to allow the wholesale looting of Baghdad and Iraq while American soldiers literally looked on. One of the best moments in the film is a juxtaposition of images of massive looting--taking whole government ministries down to the studs--against Defense Secretary Rumsfeld saying "stuff happens," and laughingly deriding the media for showing the same clips of some guy carrying out a vase, while Rumsfeld smirks and asks "how many vases are their in Iraq."

The second mistake was de-baathification, an order prohibiting members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party from holding any office in post-reconstruction Iraq. Garner, who was on the ground, opposed the order, which was made by officials in Washington with no conception of the vaccuum that existed in ordinary government at the time. While it would have been correct to bar the very highest Ba'ath Party officials, the order out of Washington struck far too deep and threw tens of thousands of ordinary government employees, teachers and technocrats out of jobs without having anyone to replace them.

The third mistake was completely disbanding the Iraqi Army, an order that Garner, the State Department AND the American generals on the ground thorougly opposed, but that was made in secret in Washington with little consultation. That move immediately caused several hundred thousand men to become unemployed. At the same time, U.S. forces had not secured dozens of Iraqi munitions dumps and armories, which were soon looted of weapons by the former soldiers.

One of the stars of No End is Col. Paul Hughes, who served as Director of Strategic Policy for the U.S. Occupation in 2003. He was shocked at the decision to disband the Iraqi Army because, at the time, he was in direct talks with numerous high-ranking Iraqi military officers who were offering to bring in large, intact units--including full divisions--to help restore order. Hughes had data on 137,000 soldiers who could be used and was getting more.

When the Iraqi officers heard of the order disbanding the military, they begged Hughes to reconsider, making clear that the alternative was an insurgency. There was nothing Hughes could do. Imagine his frustration as the insurgency blossomed over the next few months.

The arrogance of the Bush team--Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rice--in making bad decisions while ignoring advice from experts and folks on the ground, comes through loud and clear.

The film might have been better if it had someone who would back up the Bush administration--who'd explain the reasons for these bad decisions (there were reasons, some even good, to at least partially support some of the decisions that were made).

The movie also gives us an unlikely insight into the current presidential contest. Many are critical of Hillary for her nuanced answers to questions, particularly on foreign policy. Obama (and others--we'd include Richardson here) like to give glib, easy-sounding responses. Maybe on the campaign trail that's how it has to be.

But in real life, most decisions, especially of this sort, are not black and white--they require nuance. The devil is in the details. No matter what the rationale, it was stupid, utterly stupid, to disband the ENTIRE Iraqi military after the war. It was bound to cause anarchy, and it did. But one could have argued for a more nuanced policy in which senior military officials would be carefully scrutinized, whereas career officers would be presumptively kept on.

The same goes for the other decisions--yes, some senior Ba'ath party members had to go. Create a commission of Iraqis to help figure out which ones. Yes, we can't stop all the looting, but we have to stop as much as possible by declaring martial law and taking a stand.

At the end of the movie, you feel dirty. You can't believe that Bush and Cheney are still in office. You can't believe that some people still defend them. But mostly, you feel like we owe an apology to our troops and to the Iraqis, for screwing it up so badly.

Here's the trailer for the movie:

1 comment:

Mosquito said...

And the mistakes continue on and on...Maybe the filmmaker will do a part two. Then they could let the American people know:

Bush and Cheney STARTED the civil war in Iraq with Steele and Negroponte being in charge of the Salvadorization of Iraq. Even the methods of torture (such as using power drills) are the same as those used by the original South American Death Squads (that the US created)...

And the latest hoot??? George Bush who said he couldn't bring himself to talk to or negotiate with the insurgents is now wanting to ally with and "join" the insurgents so he can be recorded in history as on the winning team....Now doesn't that just beat all? And now we will join with the insurgents to bring down the Iraqi gov. that we put into office. I guess Bush has decided it's best to create a new gov with a new version of Saddam Hussein to be the "new" American dictator of Iraq.....

In the meantime our tax dollars go to "secure oil" for rich oil companies to get richer at our expense so that we won't have the money for our infrastructure (bridges here at home) or for healthcare for everyone.

Let the corporations start paying for the armies they need .... let's use our tax dollars on stuff we need here at home....our money has been drained by the military industrial complex for too too long.

I tell you Bush and Cheney have lost any trace of decency and ethics (if they ever had any to begin with).... buzz