The Iraq war will end up costing the United States $1.8 trillion, according to an estimate by Harvard economist Linda Bilmes and Columbia University Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
That figure is cited at the conclusion of No End in Sight, a bracing documentary that asserts what most of us already know: The Iraq war has been a travesty. (The film won a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.)
With the calm, measured approach of a legal document (aided by actor Campbell Scott's soothing narration), director Charles Ferguson makes his case for the war's mishandling. A comprehensive group of elite talking heads, including former members of the State and Defense departments, recount the unforgivably bad decisions made on the road to war. Included in the film are not only people such as Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance Director Jay Garner, but journalists and soldiers on the ground who saw the trickle-down of bad judgment at the highest levels.
Despite that orderly procession of talking heads, Ferguson's documentary is a frightening picture of how an American administration allowed startling mismanagement, poor planning and inexperience to bungle the war and rebuilding efforts from the start.
Through Ferguson's lens, no one loses his temper or cries, but that stoicism only adds to the sense that Iraq is a nightmare from which even those directly involved haven't yet awakened. None of us has.
Beginning as many Iraq docs do, with Sept. 11, the film builds a convincing case for how a combination of excessive hubris and foreign-policy ignorance on the part of the Bush administration created the current debacle that is U.S. policy in Iraq. It is the argument of the filmmaker, and subjects such as ORHA official Col. Paul Hughes, that Iraq never was able to recover from the post-invasion looting and violence that the American forces made no attempt to quell and that eventually mutated into a devastating insurgency and sectarian violence.
Especially harsh words are used to describe L. Paul Bremer, the business-suit-with-combat-boots preppie and Coalition Provisional Authority head who operated blindly from within the protected Green Zone. The Green Zone turns out to be a powerful symbol of the entire war debacle and American strategy in dealing with it, a quarantined slice of artificial calm in the midst of chaos.
No End in Sight 4 stars Directed by Charles Ferguson. Not rated. Opens Fri., Aug. 17. At Midtown Landmark Art Cinema.