I was surprised to find No End In Sight to be as good as it was. It didn't get into conspiracy theories or confuse the issues by shouting about lies and stealing oil. It just looked straight at Iraq, what people tried to do and what did happen. Wrapped at the beginning of 2007, it had a very dismal view of Iraq's prospects (though no more dismal than mine were at the time), but neither did it really try to ask for a pullout. In fact, the last quote in the movie was of a Marine saying, with suppressed fury, 'this is not the best we can do.'
From a personal perspective it was hard to watch, both because if I ever have to watch another soldier getting blown up it will be too soon, and because it was all so enraging. It brought together almost every last thing that, when it happened, I said to myself, "that doesn't seem right" or "how could they make such a huge mistake?" and compressed it into a very short chronology. There was almost nothing that was new to me, and there were certainly a few wrinkles I feel were more important than the ones they had in there, but I was astonished at its incisiveness and, insofar as a documentary would allow, erudition. Though the director certainly had an angle and the framing of the story certainly injected somewhat tendentious drama, it did not in any sense strike me as a facile hatchet job. Indeed, it merely brought together a bunch of things I knew already but usually didn't contemplate in such rapid succession. That was quite sufficient to bring ears to my eyes for all the opportunities we lost.
At the end of the day, of course, it offers no solutions, just the sense that we've made very great blunders and caused a massive amount of unnecessary suffering, and now we are deep in the hole. The surge seemed to turn this back for a while, but the recent struggles between Maliki and Sadr underline the tenuous and uncontrollale nature of improvements so far. Iraq (excepting Kurdish areas, which have been largely independent since the mid-90s) has gone from one strong man to many strong men, orbiting an exhausted and demoralized center. Is there a solution any more? I don't know the answer to that, but this movie reminds me: what we are doing right now isn't a solution, it's a gamble. Worse, it's a gamble the between bad (a detente of strong men with Iran the main external power broker) and worse (extended chaos, breeding the generations of terrorists). Good outcomes are possible, but only, really, by chance.
I can only presume that this is Gen Petraeus' hope: if we hold the line long enough, some unforeseen configuration of currents will emerge that we can forge into a lasting peace. This is actually somewhat plausible, but only if the blacksmiths understand Iraq clearly as it is, not as their conscience would prefer it to be, or as they find it politically expedient for it to be. This holds no less true for Democrats than Republicans: it does Iraq no good (and some ill) to blame everything unpleasant about Iraq on Bush et al. Something dramatic must be done. If our next Commander in Chief chooses withdrawal, then s/he (and we) will own the consequences. Pretending it would be easier than it will be is just repeating the same mistake over again.