Monday, September 03, 2007


A confederacy of dunces

"What we didn't understand was that we were going
to go through all 500."

Former Ambassador Barbara Bodine, describing how there were 500 wrong ways to
invade Iraq and only two or three right ways.

By Edward Copeland
It didn't have to be this way. Admittedly, I was opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq before it happened but after viewing the documentary No End in Sight and seeing what went wrong spelled out in such a thoughtful, compelling manner, it's difficult not to come away thinking that it could have worked. Unfortunately, those planning the war didn't seem to have much interest in doing anything beyond toppling Saddam Hussein.

Dick Cheney was right when he said we'd be greeted as liberators, because we were in the beginning. Then, the powers that be flushed that opportunity down the toilet for reasons that only they could explain and which they never will. Somewhere in hell, Saddam is laughing his ass off.

Unfortunately, as one person says in the film, the dead Iraqis such as Saddam are the lucky ones since they don't have to exist in the chaos that came out of an unexpected vacuum of power and purpose in the U.S. occupation plan.

Written and directed by Charles Ferguson, a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a life member of the Council of Foreign Relations, No End in Sight is remarkable for its "Just the facts, ma'am" approach. There's no need for ratcheting up the rhetoric: The film's recitation of the facts, many of which are well known, are assembled in such a way that viewer provides his or her own sense of outrage or disbelief without any prompting from the filmmaker.

Interviewing a wide assortment of officials involved in the initial invasion as well as journalists, troops and others, what's so astounding about this Iraq documentary, and there certainly have been no shortage of documentaries on the subject, is that those involved believed in the mission. They wanted to succeed and they wanted to leave an Iraq that was better than the one they invaded.

Unfortunately, the people making the decisions either because of arrogance, incompetence, indifference or some combination of all three, let the opportunity for a success story to slip through their fingers and everyone is paying the price to this very day.

When intelligence officials gave the White House a dire assessment of the growing insurgency, an insurgency basically created by the insane decision by Paul Bremer to disband the Iraqi military (leaving a half-million angry, unemployed armed men on the streets), Bush described the assessment as "guesswork" that only described situations as bad, worse or worst. Only later, did these analysts learn that even though they boiled down their findings to a single page, the president didn't even bother to read the one-page summary.

As one interview subject describes it when administration officials would declare that U.S. troop levels would be down to about 25,000 by August 2003, they were living in "fantasyland." "I don't know what they were smoking, but it must have been good," he said.

No End in Sight spells out in great detail how each mistake led to a greater one and how it all led back to no post-invasion planning. In contrast, the film points out, the U.S. planned for two years what a post-World War II occupation of Germany would be like. In this war, no plans were even started until a matter of weeks before the invasion itself.

So many shocking details are recounted in No End in Sight, that it's tempting to list them all, but these insane choices need to be seen and heard to be believed, such as the college professor working on the occupation who ran into one of his recent college graduates who was placed in charge of coming up with a traffic plan for Baghdad, though she had no such experience other than a father who was a big Bush campaign contributor.

The film probably is best summed up by Marine Lt. Seth Moulton, who fought in the Fallujah campaign and takes offense at the idea that what has happened in Iraq is "the best American can do." He knows better and anyone who sees this film, no matter their position on the war, will know better as well. Why it didn't happen is a mystery that unfortunately those responsible for it will probably never answer for.

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I'm really looking forward to seeing "No End in Sight", but I'm extremely skeptical of the idea that "it could have worked."

Even if it had been less bloody, less disastrous in the short run, in the long run the message would have been the same to the Middle East: "America thinks it knows what's best for you. What you think doesn't matter."

It's not quite the same thing, I admit, but imagine if, say, China went mega-wacky and decided to deal with disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina by invading Louisiana. How would we behave?

I might have a very different attitude towards a world body behaving in such a way to take out a particularly brutal dictator -- but we know how the right has made the very idea of world bodies radioactive here in the States.
I agree that we never should have gone in, but after watching this film, I can see how it could have turned out better than it has if the people in charge had listened to other people instead of acting in their reckless and incompetent way.
I think we pretty much agree. I've just always thought of it as degrees of badness.

Like, "it'll be very bad if we invade, but it'll be horribly bad if we do it without getting any real international support." I should have added "And it'll be horribly, horribly, bad if we have absolutely no plan in place for what to do once we invade."

Maybe we all should have realized the degree of the Bushies' stupidity when they couldn't even get it together to provide some attempt at fake WMDs. I was sure they'd at least go that far.
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