If you ever wondered what went wrong with the Iraq war, Magnolia Pictures, No End in Sight, will dramatically illustrate how the disaster evolved. The movie opens with an unsanitized view of Iraq in 2006, a flashback to George Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech, and Iraqi journalist Ali Fadhill telling us, “people who died got lucky, but people who lived, are dead, while they are living.”
The captions on the screen tell you, “This is the story of America’s invasion of Iraq. It is the story in which many people tried to save a nation.” It pans across the faces of failure and then takes you back to September 11, 2001, that fateful day when Osama bin Laden attacked the twin towers and the pentagon. Colonel Paul Hughes tells us that, “Suddenly the whole world turned upside down…I said to myself, I am going to die today…This is something Osama bin Laden had to orchestrate, because he was the only terrorist I could think of that could coordinate this kind of activity.”, Senior Iraq Analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency was immediately task to see if he could draw any relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. He met with counter terrorism group chief Iraq analyst and they concluded there was no relationship Marc Garlasco. Despite this lack of connection, the Bush administration set on a course of war with Iraq.
Taking us back to the 1980’s the films illustrates for us the long history the players in the Bush administration had with Saddam. This history helps to explain why the Bush administration pursued a war in Iraq. Despite the concerns expressed by Collin Powell and Richard Armitage, the only members of the administration foreign policy inner circle with military experience, these militarily inexperienced leaders set on a course for war with Iraq. National Security Presidential Directive 24 placed post war Iraq under the pentagon. There Rumsfeld naively ignored the thirteen-volume state departments study, The Future of Iraq Project, and chose instead to pursue a plan advocated by Ahmed Chalabi, which would install him and other exiles as leaders in Iraq. As George Packer, Journalist and author of The Assassins’ Gate, explains, “So the plan was essentially, we’ll stay in Iraq for three or four months, we will install a government made up of exiles and led by Ahmed Chalabi, and then in August or September of 2003 we will begin a drastic reduction of troops.”
“During WWII the United States started planning the occupation of Germany two years in advance, but the Bush administration didn’t create the organization that would manage the occupation of Iraq until sixty days before the invasion.” ORAH, the Organization for the Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq, reported directly to Rumsfeld. Retired General Jay Garner was tasked with heading the organization because of his experience commanding soldiers responsible for humanitarian affairs in the Kurdish portions of Iraq, during the first Gulf War. When asked if he was prepared for this task, he responded, “I don’t think we were ever prepared…a task of that magnitude probably takes years to prepare, but of course nobody had years.” Ambassador Barbara Bodine was placed in charge of Baghdad just three weeks before the war. She was a career foreign service officer; she was one of the few state department mid-east experts that the pentagon allowed into Iraq.
ORHA started work at the pentagon fifty days before the invasion of Iraq. In office with no equipment and no staff, they held their first meeting, where they came to the realization there were no plans. On the sixteen of March, ORAH boarded a plane with 167 people who were to become the interim government of a country of twenty five million people. They waited in Kuwait to enter Iraq, there like Americans back home they watched the absolute lawlessness going on in Iraq while the American military did nothing. Marine Lieutenant Seth Moulton said, “We’re a platoon of Marines, we certainly could have stopped looting if that had been our assigned task.” Martial law was never declared, as was authorized under the fourth Geneva Convention. James Fellow, National Editor for The Atlantic Monthly and author of Blind into Baghdad, said, “The greatest mystery of post war Iraq involves that month or so after the fall of Baghdad, on why the U.S. didn’t do anything to control the looting; because in a way, everything that’s been a problem since began in that first month.” According to Ambassador Bodine, OHRA had made a list of twenty sites that need to be protected, but the oil ministry was the only major facility protected by the U.S. Military. None of the sites on ORHA’s list were protected. At a time when American troops were desperately needed to control looting, Rumsfeld cancelled deployment of the First Calvary division, a force of 16,000 soldiers.
It was into this vacuum ORHA entered Iraq with nothing left to work with. Only five of them spoke Arabic. In this lawlessness, Iraqis turned to sectarian leaders for protection. Heavily armed militias took over control of the streets. Centcom had planned to bring back the Iraqi army to help secure the streets. But then Jerry Bremmer came to town. He had no Middle East experience, knew no Arabic and had no military experience. He made three fateful decisions. First, He stopped the formation of an interim government. Second, de-ba’athification; purging 50,000 ba’ath members off government payrolls. When Bremer was asked about being warned that it wasn’t wise to place that many unemployed on the streets, he spouted the now familiar Bush administration mantra. “I just don’t remember it—I honestly don’t remember it.” The third decision would be even more explosive, disbanding the Iraqi military. This placed half-a-million armed angry men on the streets, leaving them with no option, but to join the insurgency as a means to feed their family. Five days later OHRA went home replaced by the Central Provisional Authority (CPA).
The decision to disband the army was made in one week by a few men back in Washington, men who had never been to Iraq. They did not consult with the military commanders in Iraq, the Joint Chief of Staffs, ORAH, the State Department, the CIA, the National Security Council, or “apparently the president of the United States.” The consequences of that decision were deadly. By July 2003, insurgents began planting improvised explosive devises (IED’s) all over Iraq. There was a dramatic rise in the casualty rates among American soldiers. We see a clip of President Bush telling the insurgents to “Bring it on.” Wounded soldiers tell of the wounds suffered in unarmored vehicles. The CPA would stay behind the walls of their fortified compound, the green zone. Almost no one in the CPA spoke Arabic. Ambassador Bodine was fired for expressing opinions that were not popular. Bremmer’s team was staffed with “pretty boy” young kids out of college with no experience, whose parents had made large contributions to the Republican Party. Fraud, corruption and waste were rampant through reconstruction projects. The U.N. sent in Sergio Vieira de Mello, its best post war reconstruction expert, to help. He arrived with a team of Arabic speakers. But he was quickly dismissed by Bremmer, his calls not returned. In August 2003, a bomb destroyed the U.N. headquarters, killing Vieira de Mello. By 2004, the relationship between the Americans and the Iraqis had deteriorated. Private contractors made the situation worse. Their violent actions went unpunished. The desire for vengeance fueled the insurgency. It now reflected much of the Iraqi population. Meanwhile American troops still did not have enough armored Humvees. While Rumsfeld claimed it was impossible to produce enough armored vehicles, Marine Lieutenant Seth Moulton asks why we can’t just retool the automobile factories we are closing in the U.S to produce the vehicles.
Professor of Middle East history and former advisor to the Bush Administration, Amazia Baram stated that, “When democracy cannot provide for the Iraqi people, people will say ‘to hell with democracy, we need a strongman.’ I can see the strong man already in the offing; his name is Maqtada al-Sadr.” In the Iraqi elections of December 15, 2005, the United Iraqi Alliance, of which Maqtada al-Sadr party is a major participant, takes nearly half the seats in parliament. Beginning in 2005, the administration began to take steps to correct its mistakes, accelerating training of the Iraqi Army and appointed a Muslim diplomat, Ambassador Khalilized. Back in America, the Democrats regain control of Congress and Donald Rumsfeld resignation is announced; he is replaced by Robert Gates, a pragmatist who has been privately critical of the war. Iraq is out of control, dominated by militias, insurgents, criminals and warlords.
Harvard Professor Linda Bilmes and Nobel prize laureate Joseph E Stiglitz, in a study found that the U.S. has spent $379 billion dollars on direct war cost to date, and will spend $389 billion on future military operating costs, $482 billion on veterans health care and lost productivity, $160 billion on other defense equipment and personnel costs and $450 billion in increased oil prices, bringing the total cost of the Iraq war to $1,860 trillion. The human cost is illustrated as disabled vets explain how they are still paying for their service in the war. The risks to our country are another price, we don’t have the troops to respond to other demands, the strengthening of Iran, and the fear that the region could erupt into war. The price of this war seems endless.
The film circles back to the faces of failure, as they soul search trying to answer why we failed. The familiar images and facts are pulled together in this film in a way that, what went wrong is easy to see. If we had just done this or that, it might be different. The question of why is much harder. Marine Lieutenant Seth Moulton asks, “Are you telling me, that is the best America can do? No, don’t tell me that, don’t tell the Marines who fought for a month in An Najaf that. Don’t tell the marines who are still fighting in Fallujah that is the best America can do. That makes me angry.”
Magnolia Picture’s No End in Sight, opens in select theaters July 27, 2007.