A friend of mine once said that America's symbol, the eagle, is a fierce creature with razor-sharp claws, a ferocious beak and a giant wingspan that allows the eagle to soar high and swoop down on its prey. Yet the brain that controls this awesome power is no bigger than a pea.
It's not hard to see how this disproportion of brain and brawn in America's symbol manifests itself in the George W. Bush White House. While Karl Rove has been called "Bush's Brain," the rest of the team has earned a reputation for incompetence that rivals Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops.
Unlike those benign bunglers, the malevolent actors in the current administration are responsible for the deaths of over 3,600 American members of the Armed Forces, more than 70,000 Iraqi civilians and military, and the displacement of nearly four million refugees. This epic havoc has cost American taxpayers nearly $10 billion a month. While President Bush declared the end of hostilities in 2003, as he stood in front of the now famous "Mission Accomplished" banner, he refuses to impose a date, or allow Congress to impose a date, for a real end to the war.
Writer/director/producer Charles Ferguson, in his debut film, No End in Sight (Jennie Amias, Audrey Marrs, Jessie Vogelson, prods.), captures the stubbornness that led to this constitutional stalemate and lays out a very methodical and chilling brief that details the missteps that he believes made this war unwinnable.
Ferguson admits he was an early proponent of the war but changed his mind as Iraq descended into chaos after the invasion. His beef with the war centers on the bungling of reconstruction and the series of choices made by the Bush Administration that made the current situation inevitable. "Unfortunately, many of the decisions were made by a small group of people," Ferguson notes. "This is unprecedented in foreign policy."
The principal actors in this cabal--Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz-all ignored the advice of key figures in the military and insisted on the implementation of one ill-fated decision after another. From not having enough troops to handle security after the so-declared conclusion of hostilities, which sparked widespread looting; to disbanding the Iraqi Army, which put thousands of people with military training and access to modern weapons on the street; and the coup de grace, de-Ba'thification, which turned the country's trained cadre of bureaucrats into an unemployed mob, this series of blunders was a recipe for an insurgency.
These directives were implemented by Ambassador Paul Bremer, who acted like a Roman pro-consul. Ferguson's portrait of the "can do" Bremer is a study in the sins of toadyism coupled with incompetence that is the hallmark of this administration. "These people are not stupid," Ferguson maintains. "I've met Cheney, I've met Condi. I don't agree with them, but they are not stupid." Part of the answer, according to Ferguson, is the insular nature of their decision-making process, coupled by "rigidity and arrogance."
The inside-the-Beltway, policy wonk side of Ferguson--he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution--comes out when asked if he agrees with the president's claim at his recent press conference, that he wanted diplomacy to work and Saddam ignored the UN resolutions, making war inevitable. I asked Ferguson if this was how he read the situation, or if the president was being straight with the public.
"I think I'd split it down the middle," he admits. "It's obvious that the administration wanted this war to remove Saddam, and wanted to eliminate the possibility that Iraq would be governed by any government that possessed weapons of mass destruction. If he had disarmed, it wouldn't have occurred."
Others would argue that it was clear that Saddam didn't possess weapons of mass destruction and that this was used as an excuse to scare the American public, give Congress some cover and get this war on the road.
Ferguson's film steers clear of this question, but outlines several instances of what can only be called "faith-based" analysis when we learn that Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney and some of the other leading lights of the policy team bought into Iraqi exile Adnan Chalabi's assertions that the war would be over in four months. Chalabi painted a picture of our troops being greeted as liberators and, largely based on this advice, the US went to Iraq on the cheap.
Could anyone have stopped this debacle before the bombs started dropping? What would have happened if Colin Powell had refused to go in front of the UN to show spy photos of supposed rocket launchers that turned out to be false?
"I don't know if he could have stopped it if he had resigned and said this is crazy," says Ferguson. "If he had, and George Tenet joined him, maybe it would. It might have." If a dozen people had spoken up, would it have mattered? "We'll never know."
See No End in Sight for a chilling look into the post-invasion policies of the US--what journalist James Bamford has called "an absolute fantasyland"--when it opens in New York July 27 and Los Angeles August 3.
No End in Sight won a Documentary Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was executive produced by Alex Gibney, whose Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room was nominated for an Academy Award. No End in Sight is being distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Michael Rose is a former IDA Board member.