Deadly Decisions

Lucidly, dramatically and without resorting to partisan rhetoric, Charles Ferguson's not-to-be-missed documentary "No End in Sight" lays out in convincing, appalling detail the disastrous missteps of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The magnitude of the errors perpetrated by the Bush administration—a lethal combination of ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, bad or nonexistent planning, cronyism and naiveté—can make you weep with anger. We hear about the many jobs in Iraq handed to the sons of Bush campaign donors, and of the young woman, fresh out of college, who is put in charge of managing all traffic in chaotic Baghdad—despite having no experience studying traffic control or speaking Arabic.

These examples would almost be funny were they not a microcosm of all the bad edicts that emanated from Washington. Those decisions were made by a small cadre—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice and the president, all of whom declined to be interviewed for the film—that had no military experience, ignored all the advance planning by the State Department, failed to listen to those on the ground in Iraq and valued loyalty to their ideology above all else.

Thirty-five people are interviewed in the film, including retired Gen. Jay Garner, who briefly ran the reconstruction before being replaced by L. Paul Bremer, and Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was placed in charge of the city of Baghdad, where she had to start from scratch in an office that didn't even have phones. Former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage also makes an appearance, as does New Yorker writer George Packer and a clearly bitter Robert Hutchings, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, who is convinced that Bush did not even read the one-page summation of an intelligence report on the worsening situation that his committee submitted to the White House. One of the most eloquent subjects is Col. Paul Hughes, who watched in frustration as Bremer carried out what the film posits as the most fatal of all the bad decisions: disbanding the Iraqi Army, which sent tens of thousands of unemployed, humiliated men into the arms of the insurgency. These were soldiers, Hughes makes clear, who were awaiting an overture from the United States to assist in the reconstruction of their country. When this edict was added to Bremer's de-Baathification orders, which helped cripple the economy and drove the most-trained civil servants out of the government, it created a void that played right into the hands of Sunni and Shiite militants, not to mention Iran.

Though Ferguson is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (and a political-science professor at MIT), "No End in Sight" doesn't enter the debate over the rights and wrongs of the invasion. The director has said that he was an initial supporter of the war. This movie, his first, never raises its voice—the informative, dispassionate narration is read by actor Campbell Scott —yet it is bursting with the barely contained rage of the men and women whose expertise and best intensions were betrayed at every turn.

Well-informed viewers will no doubt find many of the movie's points familiar (it makes an interesting companion piece to Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone"). But this is the first film to put all the pieces together, and its cumulative power is devastating. Ferguson's movie should be required viewing for every member of Congress. The executive branch, however, is more likely to avert its eyes.