Perhaps the most damning aspect of Charles Ferguson's Iraq War critique No End In Sight is that even supporters of U.S. military intervention will agree with a lot of it. Ferguson makes it plain that forced regime change could've worked in Iraq. It could've worked in 1991, when the first President Bush asked the Iraqi people to rise up, then wouldn't support them with military force—effectively ensuring that no rebel forces would be left alive a decade later. And it could've worked in 2003, when U.S. troops rolled into Baghdad and really were "greeted as liberators," as the American people were promised.
So No End In Sight is hardly another partisan anti-war doc. Instead, it's a cogent, often infuriating explication of how the execution of the war went awry. Ferguson interviews any government official who'll go on the record about what happened, and nearly all of them say that the occupation was botched almost from the moment Saddam Hussein's statue fell. Within days, looting began, destroying thousands of years of culture, and depleting the city of resources the transitional government needed. Then, just when those transitional authorities had begun to make headway, they were cleaned out and replaced by Bush administration yes-men—some of them, campaign contributors' children with no city-planning experience—who followed the orders to purge the Iraqi government of all traces of Hussein. Skilled bureaucrats and armed men were set loose on the street with no income. Though No End In Sight really only covers one year of the war, all the factors of the current quagmire were in place by 2004.
Cinematically and journalistically, No End In Sight is about at the level of a Frontline episode, which isn't so bad. Ferguson largely avoids cheap shots and festival-ready "boo" lines, and though he does include some of Donald Rumsfeld's greatest verbal gaffes, they're more for context than derision. The documentary's biggest problem may be the roads Ferguson doesn't take. He might've engaged with some of the ongoing defenders of the war, like John McCain or Christopher Hitchens, or had someone offer opinions on what the U.S. can do now. And he makes a major mistake by not talking to anyone from the Washington press corps, whose jovial laughter when Rumsfeld cracked jokes about the looting shows how easily they were led away from reporting the real story. On the other hand, it's unlikely that the press corps would've gotten much candor in 2003 and 2004, because back then, Iraq's middle managers followed the corporate code, doing as their bosses ordered while hoping to be vindicated when everything backfired. Mission accomplished.