Early on in Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight
, Donald Rumsfeld announces that the U.S. Army is about to engage in "the first war of the 21st century." There's an unmistakable note of pride in this statement, which dates from the eve of the Iraqi invasion in 2003. And that archival clip is a fitting place for Ferguson to begin his argument, which takes the former Defense Secretary to task for his arrogance, stubbornness, and general refusal to admit mistakes.
Ferguson built the film, his first (the Brookings Institute fellow received guidance from co-producer Alex Gibney of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
fame) out of 200+ hours of interviews with diplomats, scholars, former Bush administration officials and U.S. soldiers. The filmmaking team also ventured into war-torn central Baghdad, at great personal risk--this is the first film I've seen in which members of a security detail are given on-screen credits in advance of the editor and cinematographer. Ferguson's goal: to meticulously examine the first year of the conflict, pinpointing the key mistakes that continue to hamper the war effort today. The resulting film, though clinical in its treatment of the facts, paints a damning portrait of the Bush Administration's insistence on staying the course. Netscape News sat down with Ferguson and Gibney at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where No End in Sight
premiered to standing ovations and was ultimately awarded a Special Prize by the Festival's Documentary Jury.
Netscape: I personally have a knee-jerk reaction against charges that key members of the Bush Administration are "stupid" or "evil." What's a more reasonable way of explaining why these guys made so many bad decisions?
Charles Ferguson: I think it's much more about blindness, and perhaps also arrogance. Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld are intelligent, accomplished people.
But they seem to have been very narrow-minded, unwilling to listen, and also, in a number of cases, dangerously arrogant.
Alex Gibney: I also think this administration has had an obsession with executive power. I mean that in both the literal sense--in terms of the chief executive, the President--but also in terms of other executives, such as Jerry Bremer, in whom they invested a tremendous amount of power. This is something that goes back into deep history. Ever since Nixon's resignation, I think both Rumsfeld and Cheney have been obsessed with that idea. And that's fed into this larger sense of arrogance, of a kind of willful blindness, because they're determined to retain the prerogatives of the executive, the ability to do what they want to do, no matter what anybody else says.
There are a number of title cards in the film, referencing Bush administration officials who wouldn't speak to you on camera. What do you think is behind that shared reticence, given that Rumsfeld, Bush, etc, seem so confident in their deeds and ideas when they speak to the press?
Ferguson: Well, they're confident when they speak to the press. They're not, in general, nearly as enthusiastic or confident about accepting critical questions from the press when they can't be controlled. And that, unfortunately, has been the experience of not just myself in making this film, but of many journalists who have tried to explore what happened.