Some of the best entries in the ever-expanding field of Iraq war docs have been personal and visceral, putting viewers in the dusty boots of those in the line of fire, but this methodical, occasionally tiring exposé pulls the camera back to examine just how big a hole we as a nation have stepped in. A convenient toolkit for future historians, Charles Ferguson's film shines the high beams on the buildup to war, and the utter chaos in the early days following the invasion. A staggering assembly of talking heads rattles off the mistakes, blunders and utter disregard for reason, logic or outside voices as the administration proceeded to tear down the country, with no obvious strategy for putting it back together. The film races through literally dozens of bad ideas and miscalculations, but places three sins above all others:
1) The disbanding of the entire Iraqi army.
2) The purging of all Baathist party members from the bureaucracy.
3) Paul Bremer, who gave the first two orders.
Then there is the noxious presence of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (a loathsome mook who every day becomes more like a storybook parody now that he's safely away from government.) Rummy ensured that the occupation force would be too small, and then feigned surprise at the results, and, in a press conference segment that could run unedited on the Daily Show and still be funny he says "quagmire" isn't a word he'd use. Huh? Other familiar disasters, like the looting of Iraq's national museum and the destruction of priceless cultural artifacts, which seemed to be avoidable, now look like part of the U.S. playbook, as if to strip Iraqi culture down and start fresh.
Not much of this information in the film is new, but there are disturbing asides, like the inexperienced rookie put in charge of the traffic bureau. The biggest problem is that in getting access to former insiders, such as General Jay Garner and Richard Armitage, Ferguson has given them space to play "cover your ass," claiming that if only their advice had been heeded things would be sunshine and puppies in Baghdad. This is a fatal flaw, because as vividly as the film depicts what went wrong in Iraq, hence its necessity, there is little talk of motive, and not enough questioning of why it ever happened in the first place.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.