As a chronicle of stupidity, Ferguson's film is nearly beyond compare. Acting as sort of a Cliff Notes version of many of the better books on the many blunders in planning and leadership prior to the 2003 invasion -- particularly The Assassin's Gate by George Packer (who provides some of the best soundbites for the film) and Thomas E. Ricks' Fiasco -- the film lays out in no uncertain terms what went wrong, whose mistake it was, and what the results were. Fortunately for the film, but unfortunately for the world at large (not to mention thousands of Iraqis and Americans), those mistakes were legion, and hard to comprehend.
Neatly sidestepping the question of why the U.S. invaded Iraq (a subject that too easily lends itself to unsupportable conspiracy theorizing), Ferguson aims right at the manner in which the government planned for it, or rather, didn't. To relate the enormity of the disaster, he brings together an impressive roster of people intimately involved with it, ranging from furious former Coalition Provisional Authority officials to dissembling administration advisers to baffled Iraqis to embittered Marines. It's by now a familiar storyline, and one that we're likely to see summarized in history textbooks of the future, but well summarized here.
The main actors were the favorite neo-con whipping boys of the left, particularly Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, whose brazen and lazy arrogance helped doom the post-invasion effort from the beginning. There's the arrogant assumptions that 100,000 troops would be sufficient for an invasion, even though the army's experience in peacekeeping during the 1990s showed that a force at least four or five times larger than that would be necessary. You have the reams of studies that the State Department produced on Iraq and what to do after an invasion, simply ignored by the Pentagon (which had for some reason been given full responsibility for something it had no real training for). A gloomy National Intelligence Estimate on the prospect for civil war in Iraq which was brushed aside as mere guesswork by the president, even though he hadn't bothered to read even the one-page summary created for him. A president unaware that his subordinates were busy making decisions of enormous import off the cuff and without reflection that would later come back to haunt them (allowing the looting in Baghdad to create an air of chaos, disbanding the army despite repeated entreaties from every knowledgeable person not to, and so on). It's a rage-inducting catalog of blind stupidity that becomes well-nigh impossible to sit through; almost more so due to Ferguson's unusually sober and even-handed take on it.
There's a welcome egghead factor here that's unusual for the agitprop documentary but is perhaps not surprising considering that Ferguson has a Ph.D. from MIT, was previously a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. So mixed in among the interviews with experts and insurgent warfare footage are a number of graphs and charts laying out the political power structures involved, as well as highlighting in simpler terms some of the more complex issues.
Even with all the high-ranking officials who parade their litany of awesome stupidities before the camera, Ferguson doesn't let it get too theoretical. He cuts back constantly to shots of the fighting on the ground, and roaming scenes of the Stalingrad-esque ghetto that all Iraqi cities seem to look like now. The final word is given to Marine lieutenant (and Iraq vet) Seth Moulton, who sizes up the embarrassing snafu the war has become and says simply, "Don't tell me that that's the best America can do."
This isn't the end, my friend.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Monday 22nd January 2007
Box Office USA: $1.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $1.4M
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 89 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 8.3 / 10
Director: Charles Ferguson
Producer: Alex Gibney, Charles Ferguson
Screenwriter: Charles Ferguson
Starring: Campbell Scott as Narrator (voice), Gerald Burke as Gerald Burke, Ali Fadhil as Ali Fadhil, Robert Hutchings as Robert Hutchings
Also starring: Alex Gibney
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