Nation & World

Film and discussion follows thread of conflict in Iraq

3 min read

“So I guess some of you have issues with the way things are going in Iraq?” Samantha Power, Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, asked a packed house at the John. F. Kennedy Jr. Forum last Thursday (Sept. 13) as she introduced a screening and discussion of the documentary “No End in Sight: The American Occupation in Iraq.”

Students, faculty, and members of the military jammed the hall to watch the film and take part in the discussion with Power, the film’s director Charles Ferguson, and Gerald F. Burke, a retired law-enforcement officer who was senior police adviser to the Baghdad chief of police in 2003 and 2004 and national security adviser to the Iraq Ministry of the Interior in 2005.

The work is the directorial debut of Ferguson, an Internet entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who got the idea for the documentary after a dinner in 2004 with longtime friend George Packer, a journalist and the author of “Assassins at the Gate: America in Iraq.” The following year, he created Representational Pictures and began exploring the large-scale issue of how it all happened, making what he called a film about “politics and policy that was not itself political.”

The picture unfolds through a series of telling interviews with civilians, soldiers, and a wide range of senior administration officials who recall the lead-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Power is interviewed in the film, as is the Kennedy School’s Ashton B. Carter, the Ford Foundation Professor of Science and International Affairs, and Linda J. Blimes, a lecturer in public policy.

By his own account, a strong academic background and an even-handed approach helped Ferguson gain access to a wide range of top-ranking officials. Reflecting on how he obtained a coveted and candid interview with Richard Armitage, United States deputy secretary of state from 2001 to 2005, he told the crowd, “Maybe he recognized that I wasn’t Michael Moore and that I was trying to make a different kind of film.”

When asked what conclusions he hoped viewers would draw from his film, the soft-spoken director acknowledged his own ambivalence about the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, admitting he didn’t think it was clear that using military force to depose the former Iraqi leader was an inherently bad idea.

He said he hoped his film would encourage people to think differently about the use of military force the next time, saying that “there is a difference between going to war arrogantly, incompetently, and insensitively as opposed to intelligently.”

— Colleen Walsh