Thursday, August 02, 2007

No End in Sight

In terms of style, the latest feature documentary about the Iraq War to have come out in the theatres, No End in Sight is quite conventional. Just a dozen or so talking-heads mixed with news footage and occasional commentary. Its approach however is a little different from other documentaries about the war (I have seen only one - Iraq in Fragments). It doesn't get into the subject of the life of ordinary Iraqis before or after the war, the sights and sounds on the ground as it were. Neither it is a polemical or ideological attack on the Bush administration and its foreign policy. This is not to say that it is not effective, it is devastating expose alright but the focus is limited entirely to the strategic mistakes the Bush administration did in the first few months after the ouster of Saddam Hussein from Baghdad. Although Ferguson doesn't explicitly state his own position on the justification of the war, it is not hard to guess that like many strategic analysts (he is a fellow of some washington think tank too) he believed the invasion was justified and that his only gripe is with the bungled mismanagement of the aftermath. It is as if the documentary was meant to be shown for the future budding strategists. "Let's learn from our mistakes. We will not repeat them when we attack the next country on the list" -- that's what I thought the film was basically saying. (At one point the narrator even points that the war has left the country short of funds and resources for a possible military "engagement" with Iran which is a greater threat and a more hostile country.)

Even though it lacked any political perspective in terms of just plain facts it was really an educational two hours spent. To be honest I stopped following the news about the war long back. But I think even those who were uptodate with the latest wouldn't have known such facts like for example, the traffic management of Baghdad was handed over to a fresh graduate of the georgetown university! Or the callous way the administration allowed the Iraqi museum to be destroyed and looted. Some of the relics housed by the museum belonged to the oldest human civilization on earth. There are many such small facts which coalesce into a devastating whole, all underscoring the arrogance and hubris of people who planned the whole thing.

It is precisely this attitude of hubris and contempt towards the Iraqis (more than oil grab or lasting military occupation) that establishes parallels with the imperialist projects of the past. I think in principle the idea of humanitarian intervention and universal human rights is a very honourable one but you just need to see a few press conferences of Donald Rumsfeld (the documentary contains clips from plenty of those) to convince yourself that concepts like universal law and political ethics were the last things on their minds when they were planning the whole thing. This is one major flaw of the film. Getting all the details wrong was only a proximate cause of the failure, the ultimate cause was the dishonest intention with which they went into the war at the first place. If they really had cared for human rights and democracy and the will of the Iraqi people all this could have been avoided.

Some reviews here and a trailer:


contrarian said...

I wonder if its becoming (or has already become) a universal phenomenon for news/documentaries. It seems easier to take a stand and justify it rather than collect all facts or delve into depths of intentions/motives of actions. Much like statistics perhaps, you can use it to prove a point and then abuse it to counter it as well. With just camps to decry the war or support it, real voice of Iraq is lost somewhere perhaps.

Alok said...

I don't see anything wrong in this approach as long as you are open to listening to the claims of the other side. only bare facts and data wouldn't make any sense.

in fact there are many documentaries about Iraq which try to capture the day to day life of ordinary Iraqis. (have only read about them.)

KUBLA KHAN said...

I hope you take these comments in the spirit in which they are meant.I am amazed at your naive comment...."humanitarian intervention" by the west in Iraq.
there has never been any humanitarian intervention anywhere. this is just the same old process of imperialism.this is such a subtle and fantastic system now that it even dupes the victims. I understand that you are from India, a country itself having emerged from the same narrative of imperialism and sanitization by the British. As Edward Said writes in Culture And Imperialism...'independence is to be wished for THEM as long as it is the kind of independence WE approve. anything else is unacceptable and, worse, unthinkable'.
If you see the narrative, the historical narrative of imperialism, one finds western writers, some we commonly admire, complicit in their silence. The movie makers you admire, the novelists and poets we all praise, why have they been silent after so many holocausts in Africa, Asia and elsewhere? How important are their discourses?
As long as one ignores that imperialism regards the native as inferior, like in asia, africa, south america, this discourse will be meaningless. These narrations are only judged by imperial standards alone. this victory is pyrrhic, like the terrible one in Iraq.
the complicity of this silence is admirably and fiercely but intelligently and brilliantly critiqued by Said in his fantastic Culture& imperialism.
I understand your post was on this documentary that i haven't watched, but i could not repress this answer.
ciao a

Alok said...

Hi Kubla, I was not supporting this american government policies in Iraq. And I expressed my disapproval in the post too...

Getting all the details wrong was only a proximate cause of the failure, the ultimate cause was the dishonest intention with which they went into the war at the first place. If they really had cared for human rights and democracy and the will of the Iraqi people all this could have been avoided.

But having said that i had some sympathy with the original idea of humanitarian intervention, at least in principles. I think it can be justified in principle on the basis of universalism of human rights and democracy. I don't agree with the ideology that any western intervention has to be necessarily racist and imperialist. In fact I find the whole East-West dichotomy extremely troubling, specially the whole doctrine of cultural essentialism -- that rationality and respect for human rights are exclusive products of western culture and people in the east are condemned forever to live under tyranny of their customs and traditions which includes autocratic governments. all this western culture eastern culture talk I find very stupid. Racism and reverse racism, I resent both. as you can see from my own blog I feel at home with european culture history even when I have never been there. Of course I expect similar reciprocation from people in west too -- that they take an interest in the culture and history of my country. only then can a genuine cultural communication happen. we have to stop defining our values with respect to our geography and try to find common ground. Saying the west is by its very nature racist and imperialist towards the east doesn't take us anywhere...

also India was lucky in the sense that the anti-imperialist movement wasn't entirely based on the hatred of the other but rather was seen just as one step towards social progress and freedom from backwardness and ignorance. that it was an essentially progressive movement. this also explains why indian democracy, whatever be its shortcomings (and there are a lot) still is a functioning democracy.

Alok said...

also I know Said's work only though secondary essays and articles. Have not read any of his main works yet but I feel the whole school of thought, which damns all western scholars of eastern culture and history as inherently racist and biased, extremely unfair to say the least.

Szerelem said...

hmmm I have my problems with Said (and I still have a lot left to read of him) but I think you are being rather unfair on him.
I agree with what you say about India - we have been able to move past the bitterness and that is a good thing but western intervention in the Middle East is a whole different ball game and when you start readin the history of that area you its really not surprising the kind of hatred they have for the west. Plus its all very well to argue that the west should feel at home in Eastern culture but how true is that really? (note, I am not saying at all that all western scholars are racist or biased)
Bernard Lewis is considered the doyen of Middle Eastern studies and yet he goes around supporting the Iraq war and is the poster boy for the Bush administration. (I had a post on him just today...not detailed though). Sure he is only one example but its his kind of simplistic narrative that people want to follow in dealing with an extremely complex region.

Alok said...

It is true, Indian civilization was never considered a threat to the west unlike Islam. We never really had any rivalry and nor are we rich in precious natual resource (oil) like the arab world. so that comparison doesn't really hold much.

may be not Said but many of the followers, and ordinary people who perhaps would never have read him see west from a very biased perspective. the same is reciprocated from the other side too. an engagement between the two both at the cultural and at the political level will only help in bridging the gap. but unfortunately neither side is interested in doing it. it is not just elites, even ordinary people are content to let themselves remain imprisoned within their own culturally conditioned perspective... this I find particularly sad.