|"Moore isn't likely to find a more severe appraisal of his film and his work than this Slate piece by Christopher Hitchens." — Jack Shafer|
A defense of Michael Moore and "Fahrenheit 9/11"
I have stitched together this response to Christopher Hitchens' critical review of Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. Material has been cribbed from Chris Parry, Jameson Simmons, Mark Jensen, Ollie Byrd, Kevin Wohlmut, Slate magazine's reader discussion forum, Usenet, and a few other places I failed to bookmark. Click here for additional information and links to original sources.
Hitchens' original text appears in black, responses in various colors.
Here we go...
The lies of Michael Moore.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, June 21, 2004, at 12:26 PM PT
One of the many problems with the American left, and indeed of the American left, has been its image and self-image as something rather too solemn, mirthless, herbivorous, dull, monochrome, righteous, and boring. How many times, in my old days at The Nation magazine, did I hear wistful and semienvious ruminations? Where was the radical Firing Line show? Who will be our Rush Limbaugh? I used privately to hope that the emphasis, if the comrades ever got around to it, would be on the first of those and not the second. But the meetings themselves were so mind-numbing and lugubrious that I thought the danger of success on either front was infinitely slight.
Nonetheless, it seems that an answer to this long-felt need is finally beginning to emerge. I exempt Al Franken's unintentionally funny Air America network, to which I gave a couple of interviews in its early days. There, one could hear the reassuring noise of collapsing scenery and tripped-over wires and be reminded once again that correct politics and smooth media presentation are not even distant cousins. With Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, however, an entirely new note has been struck. Here we glimpse a possible fusion between the turgid routines of MoveOn.org and the filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl.
KW: I have to address the overarching philosophical and logical framework here: Hitchens is criticizing the movie almost completely based on what it does not contain. The movie is "opportunistic" because of things which Hitchens says Moore and the Left would be saying in some parallel universe where events unfolded differently. At a casual glance, Hitchens' lengthy review seems to focus maybe fifty percent on what Moore actually does say, with the other half — the what-if scenarios, Moore's remarks at the Telluride film festival, Al Franken, Gore Vidal — leaving the bounds of the celluloid entirely. ... Worse still, Hitchens takes the absence of this or that statement from the film, and twists it into a proactive statement of its opposite, which he then attacks.
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.
J9: [Hitchens] begins by talking about how he's not going to describe the film — dishonest, demagogic, a piece of crap, an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing — thereby associating all of those words in the reader's mind with the film. He gets to call it a piece of crap without calling it a piece of crap... [I] just thought I'd recognize his cleverness, since he went to all the trouble of trying to be clever.
In late 2002, almost a year after the al-Qaida assault on American society, I had an onstage debate with Michael Moore at the Telluride Film Festival. In the course of this exchange, he stated his view that Osama Bin Laden should be considered innocent until proven guilty. This was, he said, the American way. The intervention in Afghanistan, he maintained, had been at least to that extent unjustified. Something—I cannot guess what, since we knew as much then as we do now—has since apparently persuaded Moore that Osama Bin Laden is as guilty as hell. Indeed, Osama is suddenly so guilty and so all-powerful that any other discussion of any other topic is a dangerous "distraction" from the fight against him.
SH: The source of pure venom in the article — indeed, of [Hitchens'] media blitz against Moore since 2002 — seems to stem from a confrontation in late 2002 at the Telluride Film Festival. Hitchens refers to the clash at every chance, his "smoking gun" of Moore's hypocrisy. From his account, Moore continually went after easy applause, shouting "mission not accomplished" when discussing Osama bin Laden's getaway and playing the "real American" card by insisting he was "innocent until proven guilty." Hitchens was so bold as to bring a tape of this debate with him to Joe Scarborough's MSNBC program Scarborough Country on June 30, and a transcript of the exchange follows:
Joe Scarborough: You brought a tape of yourself debating Michael Moore in September 2002 at the Telluride Film Festival. And here's what he said about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Let's take a listen.
(Begin video clip)
Michael Moore: It seems as if he and his group were the ones who did this, then they should be tracked down, captured, and brought to justice.
Christopher Hitchens: Do you mind if I break in and say...
Hitchens: Ask you, what is the "if" doing in that last sentence?
Moore: What is the who?
Hitchens: What is the "if" doing in that last sentence of yours?
Moore: Well, all people are innocent until proven guilty in this country.
Hitchens: So you have no...
Moore: Even the worst piece of scum.
Hitchens: I feel I have to press you on that. You regard it as an open question, the responsibility of Osama bin Laden?
Moore: Until anyone is convicted of any crime, no matter how horrific the crime, they are innocent until proven guilty. And as Americans...
Hitchens: No, that's all I asked you.
Moore: Never leave that position.
Hitchens: I'm sorry. So bin Laden's claims of responsibility strike you as the ravings of a clowns, say?
Hitchens: OK. Fine.
(End video clip)
Hitchens: That's why I looked to see if I still had the tape, because I thought, now, a guy who was 100 percent opposed to the war in Afghanistan at the time — that's Michael Moore — he thought it was a war for oil, a war for pipelines, an unjust war — why is he suddenly saying he is against the Iraq war because it's the distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden? You follow my point here?
Scarborough: Of course.
Hitchens: Why does someone who thought that Osama was innocent and Afghanistan was no problem suddenly switch in this way? Because unless he says that he was dead wrong all along and Osama bin Laden was innocent and wronged, he can't say that everything else is a distraction from the hunt for Osama. So it's bait and switch. It's the work of a moral cretin and a political idiot.
Hitchens actually performs some Clintonian semantic gymnastics here. Moore's "if" is not intending "I think Osama is innocent and the Afghan war is unjustified;" he's trying to make an argument for American due process: "If he and his group were the ones who did this, then they should be tracked down, captured and brought to justice." Admittedly, Moore's choice of words is very awkward and possibly inappropriate given the topic, but notice the ease by which Hitchens extrapolates this verbal misstep into personal insults. In a recent interview on CNN, Moore makes his point much more clearly:
Because if you have a suspect and the suspect gets away, the police — or our military — have a right to go after and get that suspect. In fact, they should go get the suspect. And Richard Clarke's point, and my point is, is that they make a half-hearted effort. They kept our Special Forces from going in the part of Afghanistan where bin Laden was. They kept the Special Forces out of there for two months. ... So for all their talk about wanting to get bin Laden, they made a half-hearted attempt to do it, because they didn't want to divert resources from what their main goal was, which was to go in and invade Iraq.
I believe that I understand the convenience of this late conversion.
AF: There has been no such conversion.
Fahrenheit 9/11 makes the following points about Bin Laden and about Afghanistan, and makes them in this order:
1) The Bin Laden family (if not exactly Osama himself) had a close if convoluted business relationship with the Bush family, through the Carlyle Group.
2) Saudi capital in general is a very large element of foreign investment in the United States.
3) The Unocal company in Texas had been willing to discuss a gas pipeline across Afghanistan with the Taliban, as had other vested interests.
4) The Bush administration sent far too few ground troops to Afghanistan and thus allowed far too many Taliban and al-Qaida members to escape.
5) The Afghan government, in supporting the coalition in Iraq, was purely risible in that its non-army was purely American.
6) The American lives lost in Afghanistan have been wasted. (This I divine from the fact that this supposedly "antiwar" film is dedicated ruefully to all those killed there, as well as in Iraq.)
It must be evident to anyone, despite the rapid-fire way in which Moore's direction eases the audience hastily past the contradictions, that these discrepant scatter shots do not cohere at any point.
J9: [Hitchens'] statement that "Moore's direction eases the audience hastily past the contradictions" eases the reader past the fact that the assertion of contradictions is unsupported. There's no contradiction between the Bin Laden's relationship with Bush through the Carlyle Group and any other point. There's no contradiction between the role of Saudi capital in the U.S. and any other point. There's no contradiction between the criticism of troop strength and any other point. There's no contradiction between the legitimacy and viability of the Afghan government and any other point.
IK: When Hitchens complains that his six extrapolations are internally incoherent and do not readily fit the mould of some reductive conspiracy theory, he unwittingly reveals how textured this movie is... He misses completely the question-raising mode of the movie and he betrays his own inclination to reductive false choices, to illogical and insupportable either/ors.
Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not.
AF: This criticism is unsound and unwarranted because instead of running U.S. policy, Moore contends that the Saudi relationship has, at various times and to various degrees, influenced U.S. policy, and that the current administration jeopardised U.S. security by placating Bush family cronies in Saudi Arabia.
MH: This is a dramatic oversimplification on Hitchens' part and one that vastly exceeds the reductionism of which he accuses Moore. To argue that a particular group has an influence on U.S. policy is vastly different from saying that they run it outright. And demonstrating that politicians tend to respond to people and organizations that put money in their pockets — which is what Moore did with the Saudis in his film — is not some wacky conspiracy theory, it's an attempt at institutional analysis.
As allies and patrons of the Taliban regime, they either opposed Bush's removal of it, or they did not. (They opposed the removal, all right: They wouldn't even let Tony Blair land his own plane on their soil at the time of the operation.)
MH: I would have hoped that someone as smart as Christopher Hitchens would have had a better understanding of the nuances of international politics than is demonstrated in this sentence. Again he engages in simplistic binarisms that fail to reflect the way that influence is exerted in the world. Sure, the Saudis might have opposed the removal of the Taliban. I concede that point, mainly because I don't have any evidence to the contrary on hand, and because it's not really the key here. But in every situation like this, the players involved have to make judgments based on very complex sets of circumstances. And in this case, the Saudis might well have realized that the U.S. was going into Afghanistan with or without their approval, and decided, at a particularly sensitive time, that it was more important not to upset their allies in the region and its own citizens in the Saudi Kingdom, and not to be seen assisting American efforts or bowing to western demands. The Saudis can oppose the coalition while still supporting US policy more generally in order to maintain good relations with the world's only superpower. And the U.S. can accept that there are some deals the Saudis are not willing to make, as long as they play ball in the long term. No contradiction here at all.
IK: Hitchens' flawed thesis here is that there can be no notion of influence. If someone isn't moving lockstep with either Saudi or American demands, Moore's "theory" is undone. Moore here is more subtle and nuanced than is Hitchens.
Either we sent too many troops, or were wrong to send any at all—the latter was Moore's view as late as 2002—or we sent too few.
AF: Although himself opposed to all-out war and repulsed by the prospect of endless bombing campaigns, Moore was never against investigating, pursuing and prosecuting the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks upon the United States (nonviolently if possible, but forcibly if necessary). In the part of the film that pertains to Afghanistan, he argues that if the Bush White House was really so determined to send troops to apprehend (or kill) Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, then the president should have seen to it that enough resources were speedily and skillfully directed at fulfilling that aim. Countless experts have made a compelling case that the Bush administration blatantly undermined the effort in Afghanistan in its eagerness to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq (e.g., the operation was mounted without the requisite troop strength; multilingual special forces were considered so precious and, um, special, they were not able to act decisively, and were then secretly pulled out and packed off elsewhere, before their first task was completed). It is not contradictory nor dishonest of Michael Moore to further publicise such a widely held view, or to highlight additional motivations for the intervention, or to express his dissatisfaction that not enough is being done help the people of Afghanistan, however sarcastically.
If we were going to make sure no Taliban or al-Qaida forces survived or escaped, we would have had to be more ruthless than I suspect that Mr. Moore is really recommending. And these are simply observations on what is "in" the film.
JS: Hitchens clings to that most desperate trick of debaters with no ground to stand on — the straw man argument. He continually posits that Moore is angry with Bush for being light on the Taliban, the Saudis, and Bin Laden — using that assertion to say that Moore is both pro-war and anti-war. In reality, Moore is simply exposing the contradictions in Bush's movements. Bush makes terror the number one priority, whips up fear using the Al Qaeda bogeyman, but then dodges Iraqward when it comes time to really do anything about it.
If we turn to the facts that are deliberately left out, we discover that there is an emerging Afghan army, that the country is now a joint NATO responsibility and thus under the protection of the broadest military alliance in history, that it has a new constitution and is preparing against hellish odds to hold a general election, and that at least a million and a half of its former refugees have opted to return. I don't think a pipeline is being constructed yet, not that Afghanistan couldn't do with a pipeline. But a highway from Kabul to Kandahar—an insurance against warlordism and a condition of nation-building—is nearing completion with infinite labor and risk. We also discover that the parties of the Afghan secular left—like the parties of the Iraqi secular left—are strongly in favor of the regime change.
SH: Criticism of the war in Afghanistan is not an argument against [intervening] there. Hitchens, though, doesn't seem to appreciate the distinction, and instead paints a rose-tinted picture of Afghanistan to make Moore look like a fool. ... The problem is that Hitchens' upbeat scenario is overblown itself. The Washington Post reports that NATO support is in jeopardy... And what of the Bush administration's choice for president of Afghanistan, often called "the mayor of Kabul" because of his lack of provincial control? Or the United States' so-far failed mission to transition the Afghan economy to something other than poppy-based drug-peddling?
Z-: Hitchens criticizes Moore for what was left out of the film about how well Afghanistan is doing and then he is guilty himself of failing to mention [the torture of prisoners there, the swift resurgence of the Taliban, the multiple crimes of the United States in its continuing operations] and that Afghanistan has its second largest poppy crop in history. (Bad news for drug wars.) Does that make Hitchens a liar? (No, no more than Moore's failure to address Afghanistan's progress makes him one.)
MH: While Moore may not have included all of this stuff, those facts do not really undermine his case. Sure, Afghanistan might have an "emerging" army and be part of NATO's responsibility. But does Hitchens, or anyone else for that matter, really believe that it's not the Americans who still call the shots with respect to Afghanistan's military?
Hitchens might also be right that the secular left in Afghanistan and Iraq supported the overthrow of their respective regimes. The secular left in Afghanistan wanted to overthrow the Taliban well before the United States took any interest in doing so. In fact, the secular left in Afghanistan was trying to work out ways of throwing out the Taliban at the same time that Taliban leaders were making friendly visits to Texas during GWB's governorship. But Hitchens, again going for the "[you're either] with us or against us" model of argumentation, implies that the secular left's opposition to the Taliban and to Saddam Hussein also suggests that the secular left was happy with the way that the US-led forces undertook to overthrow and replace those regimes. Again, he fails to appreciate that there are people who opposed the Taliban and Saddam, but who also opposed the methods used by the US to remove them. This is also true, by the way, of secular leftists elsewhere throughout the world. I'm a secular leftist myself, and I was strongly opposed to both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein well before 9/11. Doesn't mean I agree with the methods used by the United States to remove them, nor does it mean that I support the way that the US and its allies and proxies have run those countries since then.
AF: Elsewhere, Hitchens mocks the idea that intervention in Afghanistan was anything other than punishment for state terrorism and a rescue operation for an enslaved society. According to Hitchens, Moore's suggestion that there may have been another motivation for the intervention (i.e. the development of enormous, long coveted energy resources within the region) collapses upon discovery that Unocal's negotiations with the Taliban were abandoned in late 1998, and not resumed. He also claims that a "long, boring and convoluted" section of Fahrenheit 9/11 is devoted to this theory. In fact Moore spends approximately 140 seconds visiting this topic. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Afghanistan's main rebel factions signed a pipeline safety agreement in September 1996 and Unocal signed a memorandum of understanding with the Taliban in January 1998, after extensive negotiating efforts.
In 1997, US state department officials and executives of the Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) discreetly entertained Taliban leaders in Washington and Houston, Texas. They were entertained lavishly, with dinner parties at luxurious homes in Houston. They asked to be taken shopping at a Walmart and flown to tourist attractions, including the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, where they gazed upon the faces of American presidents chiselled in the rockface. The Wall Street Journal, bulletin of US power, effused, "The Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history." (John Pilger, The Betrayal of Afghanistan, September 20, 2003)
What Moore didn't add, to his detriment, is that Unocal suspended its role in August 1998 and then withdrew in December 1998, citing "low oil prices and turmoil in Afghanistan" as making the pipeline project uneconomical and too risky (Osama bin Laden being the meddlesome "show stopper"). That said — and this is an important point — the basic, underlying plan was never completely discarded; rather, it was put on hold pending a softening of attitudes (evidenced by video footage of a Taliban emissary visiting the U.S. in March 2001) or until an internationally recognised Afghanistan government was in place (regime change, anyone?). As Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie argue in their book, Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for bin Laden, "the U.S. thought they could 'decouple' Osama bin Laden from the Taliban", but successive U.S. administrations took few of the necessary steps that would have placed the protection of human life ahead of a narrow set of economic and political interests, which included not offending their Saudi friends.
[Former CIA director Richard Helms' niece] organized several meetings for the young Afghan dignitary [Sayed Rahmatullah Hashimi], including ones at the Directorate of Intelligence at the CIA, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. Even better, Helms got her client interviews on two influential media channels, ABC and National Public Radio. This was a perfect opportunity to improve the Taliban's image, and thus facilitate negotiations. However, it wasn't all plain sailing for Hashimi. He was exposed to tough questioning on the PBS News Hour and on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation. ABC broadcast images of Hashimi's surly response to a pointed question from a female journalist, "I'm really sorry for your husband. He must have a very difficult time with you." But the print media — including the New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal — seem to be quite charmed...
In fact it was only figures from the women's movement — the most consistent and principled foe of the Taliban, inside and outside of Afghanistan — who were able to suss out the purpose of Hashimi's trip: "Hashimi's visit appeared to be a public relations ploy — an attempt to create a smoke screen to mask the atrocities that the Taliban has committed against the Afghan people and especially Afghan women." Furthermore: "Possible motivations for a State Department meeting with Hashimi include the desire to keep other Muslim sects from engaging in drug, gun, and terrorist activity in Afghanistan in order to clear the way for a proposed oil pipeline from Central Asia, through Afghanistan, to Pakistan. The pipeline has been planned by American companies since the mid-1990s."
In reality, from the beginning of 1999 until August 2001, there was a concerted effort to resolve the Afghan question. The only notable progression was the Republican decision to speed up the process begun by members of the Clinton administration. … Both sides understood the interests at stake. In the name of energy policy, Washington would support a progressive effort for international recognition of the Taliban. In exchange, the Taliban would adopt a more peaceful brand of politics, stop harbouring Osama bin Laden, and agree to stay in line with the other Sunni fundamentalist states. … The key to Central Asia's energy reserves, the country had to be run by a strong and uncontested government in order for the United States to peacefully profit from the situation. Which is why, even after the attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 — when the Taliban was openly protecting Osama bin Laden — the negotiating continued.
To one extent, the outcome of the talks is unimportant — the fact people were prepared and permitted to do business with the Taliban suffices to demonstrate that the intervention was not for humanitarian purposes.
Three days after the terrorist attacks on US soil, Unocal issued a press statement so as to put some distance between themselves and the Taliban without precluding their own interest in a possible future, post-Taliban era proposal. It reads in part:
Beginning in late 1997, Unocal was a member of a multinational consortium that was evaluating construction of a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. Part of this pipeline would have crossed western Afghanistan. However, Unocal suspended its participation in the CentGas consortium in August 1998 and formally withdrew from that consortium in December 1998. Our company has had no further role in developing or funding that project or any other project that might involve the Taliban.
After the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Mohammad Alim Razim, Afghanistan's minister for Mines and Industries, told Reuters News Agency that Unocal Corp was the "lead company" among those that would build a new pipeline, but in May of the same year, Unocal Chairman Charles Williamson informed stockholders that "Unocal has no plans or interest in becoming involved in any projects in Afghanistan." A short time later, one such project was formally given the go-ahead (details and partners yet to be finalised). Unocal spokeswoman Teresa Covington also told the Los Angeles Times that they had no plans in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, before adding, "I don't think it would serve me to say forever." But at this point in time, she continued, "our capital and future growth" lies elsewhere. In light of their previous involvement and investment, I personally find Williamson's claim [of having no interest] completely unconvincing. There has been a great deal of speculation regarding this pipeline and Unocal has received a lot of negative publicity as a result. More realistically, any renewed interest they may have had was probably weighed against that bad press and the likelihood of more to come.
But this is not the sort of irony in which Moore chooses to deal. He prefers leaden sarcasm to irony and, indeed, may not appreciate the distinction. In a long and paranoid (and tedious) section at the opening of the film, he makes heavy innuendoes about the flights that took members of the Bin Laden family out of the country after Sept. 11. I banged on about this myself at the time and wrote a Nation column drawing attention to the groveling Larry King interview with the insufferable Prince Bandar, which Moore excerpts. However, recent developments have not been kind to our Mike. In the interval between Moore's triumph at Cannes and the release of the film in the United States, the 9/11 commission has found nothing to complain of in the timing or arrangement of the flights. And Richard Clarke, Bush's former chief of counterterrorism, has come forward to say that he, and he alone, took the responsibility for authorizing those Saudi departures.
CP: Okay, so Hitchens calls Moore tedious and paranoid for pointing out something that Hitchens himself admits to having pointed out? Double standards anyone?
DP: This is what the 9/11 Commission's staff report 10 actually says:
National air space was closed on September 11. Fearing reprisals against Saudi nationals, the Saudi government asked for help in getting some of its citizens out of the country. We have not yet identified who they contacted for help. But we have found that the request came to the attention of Richard Clarke and that each of the flights we have studied was investigated by the FBI and dealt with in a professional manner prior to its departure.
For the moment lets put aside the question of who approved the flights. One of the basic questions concerning the Saudi flights is who exactly did the Saudi's contact to request the flights? So far the 9/11 commission says it doesn't know.
RS: Moore claims that the White House approved the escape of the bin Ladens. Hitchens cites an article in which Richard Clarke, who had earlier indicated that the White House and the State Department were involved in the decision to allow the bin Ladens to leave America, now takes "full responsibility." ... If this were even remotely credible, Moore would still not be responsible. After all, it is Richard Clarke's own testimony (on two separate occasions) that either the State Department or the White House or both came up with the idea or approved the idea of sending the bin Ladens home, with the compliments of the US government. Here are both of the quotations cited by Moore:
It is true that members of the Bin Laden family were among those who left. We knew that at the time. I can't say much more in open session, but it was a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House. (Testimony of Richard A. Clarke, Former Counterterrorism Chief, National Security Council, before The Senate Judiciary Committee, September 3, 2003)
I was making or coordinating a lot of decisions on 9/11 and the days immediately after. And I would love to be able to tell you who did it, who brought this proposal to me, but I don't know. Since you pressed me, the two possibilities that are most likely are either the Department of State, or the White House Chief of Staff's Office. (Testimony of Richard A. Clarke before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, March 24, 2004)
And here is Clarke's testimony from the same article Hitchens adduces:
"The request came to me, and I refused to approve it," Clarke testified. "I suggested that it be routed to the FBI and that the FBI look at the names of the individuals who were going to be on the passenger manifest and that they approve it or not. I spoke with the — at the time — No. 2 person in the FBI, Dale Watson, and asked him to deal with this issue. The FBI then approved … the flight."
In the new version of the story, the FBI approved the flight. But in the same article, the FBI denies having approved the flight. So, when Hitchens says that "recent developments have not been kind to our Mike" (apparently without irony, since in the immediately preceding sentence he has admitted to having voiced the same concerns himself), he might as well say that recent developments have been unkind to the facts.
This might not matter so much to the ethos of Fahrenheit 9/11, except that—as you might expect—Clarke is presented throughout as the brow-furrowed ethical hero of the entire post-9/11 moment.
SB: Plainly false. Clarke's appearance is fleeting. People only need watch the film for themselves to see how wrong Hitchens is.
And it does not seem very likely that, in his open admission about the Bin Laden family evacuation, Clarke is taking a fall, or a spear in the chest, for the Bush administration. So, that's another bust for this windy and bloated cinematic "key to all mythologies."
MH: Here we have Hitchens assuming that if you agree with one position that a person takes, then you must agree with all positions. There is no necessary contradiction if Richard Clarke believes that getting the Saudis out was the right thing to do, but also believes that the Bush administration has fucked up other national security and intelligence issues. Also, while the 9/11 Commission might have concluded that there was nothing wrong with the "timing or arrangement of the flights," why should this preclude others from believing that the Bin Laden [family] should, at the very least, have been [thoroughly] questioned as to what they might have known about the attacks. It's a little strange that so many conservatives have been willing to give the US government a pass on its awful treatment of prisoners taken during the "war on terror", and have even been happy to support such treatment when meted out to American citizens (Hamdi and Padilla) and yet are incredulous that some people think we should have questioned the direct relatives of the man responsible for 9/11. I'm not saying, and neither was Moore saying, that the Bin Laden family members should have been dragged off to Guantanamo or shoved into holding cells somewhere. I just find it troubling that the only people allowed to fly in those early days, and the only Arabs the US government seemed overly concerned about protecting, were the same ones who were related to the world's most wanted terrorist, and who also had massive investments in the United States.
A film that bases itself on a big lie and a big misrepresentation can only sustain itself by a dizzying succession of smaller falsehoods, beefed up by wilder and (if possible) yet more-contradictory claims.
F9: Once more Hitchens eases the reader past the meat and heads straight for the dessert, which would make sense if his point about Moore's points not cohering was valid. Except it's not. Put another way, Hitchens makes the understandable but misguided assumption that he has established sound arguments for the "big lie" and "big misrepresentation" of which he speaks, but he has not.
President Bush is accused of taking too many lazy vacations. (What is that about, by the way? Isn't he supposed to be an unceasing planner for future aggressive wars?) But the shot of him "relaxing at Camp David" shows him side by side with Tony Blair. I say "shows," even though this photograph is on-screen so briefly that if you sneeze or blink, you won't recognize the other figure. A meeting with the prime minister of the United Kingdom, or at least with this prime minister, is not a goof-off.
OB: Hitchens says, and I guess I am supposed to think that Moore says, "Isn't he [Bush] supposed to be an unceasing planner for future aggressive wars." Hitchens makes this up. It isn't in the movie. And next, since Moore says [Bush] is lazy, he is supposed to have contradicted himself for contradicting what Hitchens imagine he believes. Again, Hitchens has succeeded in criticizing something he brought into the conversation, his assumption about what Moore believes.
JS: You can tell that Hitchens is grasping at straws because he tries to pick apart Moore's assertion that Bush spends too much time on vacation by attacking the photographs Moore puts in the film. ... Hitchens says "the photograph is on the screen so briefly that if you sneeze or blink, you won't recognize the other figure." Well, I recognized him. Don't you think if the picture were really so damaging to Moore's argument, he would have just left it out of his own film? I'm pretty sure Moore gets final cut. There are plenty – plenty – of other pictures of Bush on vacation.
MH: In case anyone failed to notice, even if we put aside all the terrorism and foreign policy issues, at the time that Moore is talking about the nation's economy was also going to hell in a hand basket. I do agree with Hitchens that the President does not have to be in Washington in order to be working. I also agree that it is possible for Bush to perform many of his duties while on his ranch in Crawford. And I think that Moore probably made too much of Bush's golfing and other vacation activities. But Hitchens conveniently ignores the totality of these vacation images, and what they may (or may not) say about Bush's level of commitment, and chooses instead to comment on an image of Bush at Camp David, ignoring all the silly photo-ops like serving grits in a restaurant or playing golf or cutting wood or skeet-shooting that Bush seems to love so much.
The president is also captured in a well-worn TV news clip, on a golf course, making a boilerplate response to a question on terrorism and then asking the reporters to watch his drive. Well, that's what you get if you catch the president on a golf course. If Eisenhower had done this, as he often did, it would have been presented as calm statesmanship. If Clinton had done it, as he often did, it would have shown his charm.
DJ: Actually, Ike was frequently criticized for taking too much time off to golf. And Clinton was criticized for everything.
More interesting is the moment where Bush is shown frozen on his chair at the infant school in Florida, looking stunned and useless for seven whole minutes after the news of the second plane on 9/11. Many are those who say that he should have leaped from his stool, adopted a Russell Crowe stance, and gone to work. I could even wish that myself. But if he had done any such thing then (as he did with his "Let's roll" and "dead or alive" remarks a month later), half the Michael Moore community would now be calling him a man who went to war on a hectic, crazed impulse.
JL: This is a bogus argument — it assumes that there is no other response [Bush] might have made. What Hitchens describes would not have been decisive, effective leadership, any more so than his seven minutes staring into space. I believe an effective leader would have excused himself from the class immediately, gracefully, and headed off to take charge.
J9: I see no evidence, in Moore or anywhere else, that most people think Bush "should have leaped from his stool, adopted a Russell Crowe stance, and gone to work." Much more common is the reaction that he simply should have done something besides sit there. Something like saying to the teacher, "I'm sorry, but I've just been informed that I have to attend to a very important matter and I have to cut my visit short. I hope I'll be invited back another time." Then standing up and saying, "Now kids, I'm very sorry, but something very important has come up and I need to go deal with it. I'm going to try to come back another time and finish our visit. But until then I want you to promise me you'll listen to your teacher, work hard in school, and always do your best work. God bless you." I'll bet he could say all that in less than a minute.
AF: Russell Crowe and other red herrings aside, Bush appears to be frozen with indecision, but in order to dampen that uncomfortable reality Hitchens cooks up another criticism of Moore by first jumping to the opposite extreme and invoking images of a crazed president leaping from his chair, then claiming to know what Moore would have said in the event. But then even Moore isn't arguing what should have been, but rather what is.
MH: Again, Hitchens completely misses the point. The point is not about exactly what Bush should have done. Rather, Moore's point is to demonstrate that, in the absence of his handlers and media people, the President of the United States had absolutely know idea of what to do in that situation. And that's a pretty worrying thought for many Americans, not just for what it says about that particular issue, but for what it says about the general competence of the Commander in Chief.
The other half would be saying what they already say—that he knew the attack was coming, was using it to cement himself in power, and couldn't wait to get on with his coup. This is the line taken by Gore Vidal and by a scandalous recent book that also revives the charge of FDR's collusion over Pearl Harbor. At least Moore's film should put the shameful purveyors of that last theory back in their paranoid box.
J9: Bringing up Clinton and Eisenhower and Russell Crowe and Michael Moore and Gore Vidal and FDR and Pearl Harbor has nothing to do with the documented fact that upon learning of the most serious terrorist attack on American soil our president was essentially paralyzed for almost seven minutes.
But it won't because it encourages their half-baked fantasies in so many other ways. We are introduced to Iraq, "a sovereign nation." (In fact, Iraq's "sovereignty" was heavily qualified by international sanctions, however questionable, which reflected its noncompliance with important U.N. resolutions.) In this peaceable kingdom, according to Moore's flabbergasting choice of film shots, children are flying little kites, shoppers are smiling in the sunshine, and the gentle rhythms of life are undisturbed. Then—wham! From the night sky come the terror weapons of American imperialism. Watching the clips Moore uses, and recalling them well, I can recognize various Saddam palaces and military and police centers getting the treatment. But these sites are not identified as such. In fact, I don't think Al Jazeera would, on a bad day, have transmitted anything so utterly propagandistic.
MH: The only possible mitigation I can find for Moore in these scenes is that he was trying to show that, even under an often-brutal authoritarian, many people do in fact live fairly normal, day-to-day lives. Children play, people go to work, families sit around the table and laugh. This is true of just about any dictatorship. Moore was obviously also making the point that those most affected by conflicts such as this are often those, like children, who have done nothing wrong and who have no chance to avoid the carnage. The fact that bombs were falling on Saddam's palaces and military centers, however, is irrelevant. Even the US military agrees that its weapons do not always hit their target and that civilian deaths are an inevitable part of a campaign like this one. Moore never alleged that these civilian deaths were policy, and he also interviewed soldiers who lamented the civilian casualties but who said that they were unavoidable. The film simply pointed out that, whatever the motivations for the invasion or the intentions of the troops, there were some horrific consequences for thousands of Iraqi civilians. If you disagree that this has, in fact, been the case in Iraq, I guess there's nothing that Moore, or I, can say that would change your mind.
AF: Bombs will drift and missiles will go astray whether cameramen are on hand to capture the immediate fallout or not, yet Hitchens is now going for the "out of sight, out of mind" model of argumentation. Outrageous. During the Air War, missiles fired at Iraq instead hit Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. Cruise missiles do not arm until they are relatively close to their intended target area, but who, apart from Hitchens, would seriously doubt that such missiles also missed their mark in Iraq, blasting into adjacent buildings and landmarks? How about the fifty plus "decapitation strikes" that failed to kill a single one of their intended targets, or the destruction of electrical power distribution facilities (initially denied but later confirmed by a senior CENTCOM official), or the attacks on civilian telecommunications facilities, or the ambiguous targeting of farmers, wedding parties, market places, and panic-stricken Iraqis, or the extensive use of weapons of indiscriminate effect that a Human Rights Watch report says has killed and wounded more than one thousand civilians? According to their research, the coalition is believed to have left behind many tens of thousands of cluster munition duds, and so the death toll is expected to rise. And then there was a Ground War where apprehensive soldiers pumped themselves up for the race to capture Baghdad by hooking up a music player to their internal communication system.
J9: Moore's presentation seems to me a quite reasonable representation of what the impact of our attack was like for most Iraqis... One version of the story has been told over and over again. There's no question Saddam was a brutal oppressor. Moore does not owe equal time to the well-known atrocities of the Baathists. His point is that in weighing the costs of this war, particularly the moral ones, it's disingenuous to exclude the impact on the kids flying kites or being tossed mangled and dead into the backs of trucks, or the smiling shoppers, or the keening mothers. In Hitchens' black and white world this might be the "insurgent" side, but out here in the real world it's called the "human" side.
IK: Before the war, kids in Baghdad did ride bikes and fly kites and people did laugh and joke. After the war, formerly innocent playing children and their civilian mothers and fathers were wounded, maimed and killed. On what conceivable theory should a filmmaker who wants to show the horrors of this unnecessary war not juxtapose these images?
BG: You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting an article/op-ed/broadcast in the past two years depicting Iraq as anything but a miserable cesspool where desolate villages are awash in the blood of innocents due to Uday's last disco bash that got out of control. The point is, we all know of Iraq's dictatorship and the atrocities of that government hardly need repeating, especially in a film where the directive is to show your average viewer what doesn't make it to network news. What Moore is trying to do is to put a human face on the local populace of Iraq; the scenes depicted were very brief, and hardly a "Middle Eastern paradise."
Entertainment Weekly: People have problems with your portrayal of kids playing in Baghdad before the bombings. I get what you're going for there, that those positive images were never seen, but Saddam was a bad guy and there's nothing to that effect in the film.
Michael Moore: Who doesn't know that Saddam was a bad guy? The media did a wonderful job hammering that home every day in order to convince the public that they should support the war. For twenty seconds in this film ... I want you to take a look at the human beings that were living in Iraq in 2003. ... In those twenty seconds I show a child in a barbershop, a young boy flying a kite, a couple getting married. People having lunch at a cafe. Anyone who takes that and says that I'm trying to say that Saddam's Iraq was some utopia is just a crackpot.
You would also be led to think that the term "civilian casualty" had not even been in the Iraqi vocabulary until March 2003. I remember asking Moore at Telluride if he was or was not a pacifist. He would not give a straight answer then, and he doesn't now, either. I'll just say that the "insurgent" side is presented in this film as justifiably outraged, whereas the 30-year record of Baathist war crimes and repression and aggression is not mentioned once. (Actually, that's not quite right. It is briefly mentioned but only, and smarmily, because of the bad period when Washington preferred Saddam to the likewise unmentioned Ayatollah Khomeini.)
AG: That "bad period" lasted, in some form or another, from 1959 all the way up to 1990.
GG: Hitchens' hatred for the fat guy who makes more popular films than he does is so consuming that he can't give Moore credit for his point of view on anything. ... Hitchens of course knows that Moore is distinguishing between innocent Iraq and the guilty regime of its tyrant Saddam, but if you can't stand the other guy it doesn't matter what he's really saying, does it?
That this—his pro-American moment—was the worst Moore could possibly say of Saddam's depravity is further suggested by some astonishing falsifications.
AF: This is certainly not the worst he could possibly say of Saddam's depravity. One should understand immediately that Moore is not presenting all sides of the story — only the side he and millions of other people believe has not had equal time in the mainstream media. Viewers are free to go away, test and consider any new information and weigh it against that which they are already aware.
Moore asserts that Iraq under Saddam had never attacked or killed or even threatened (his words) any American.
AF: No, he does not. Moore's narration proceeds exactly as follows:
On March 19, 2003, George W. Bush and the United States military invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq — a nation that had never attacked the United States. A nation that had never threatened to attack the United States. A nation that had never murdered a single American citizen.
Moore did not state what Hitchens erroneously attributes to him. Nevertheless I think Moore has got it slightly wrong. He should have included one or two qualifiers. Something like this: Engagements resulting from the Gulf War and its tangled aftermath aside, Iraq had neither attacked nor threatened to attack the United States, nor had it murdered (kill intentionally and with premeditation) a single American citizen.
Contrary to the many terrifying scenarios White House officials were feigning concern over in 2002 and early 2003, Saddam did not possess any Unmanned Aerial Vehicles capable of spraying U.S. cities with deadly chemicals he did not retain. Saddam had not the means to manufacture a nuclear device with which he could not pass to an international terrorist "mastermind" he had zero affiliation with. And even if Iraq did have these things — even if one-thousand, five-thousand or twenty-thousand now sludge-filled shells are buried deep in the sand somewhere — the case for war rested on yet another huge assumption, and one universally ignored: Saddam would have had to be feeling suicidal to have launched an unprovoked attack on the most powerful nation on this planet. He would have effectively signed his own death warrant, yet he was desperately trying to stave off invasion, not start one.
IK: Hitchens' obtuseness, his bluntness, reaches self-parodying heights in taking on Moore's quite-needing-improvement comments that Iraq never attacked or killed an American. So we get from Hitchens hundreds of words in educating Moore as to Hussein's wretched murderousness and direct and indirect support of terror. Moore's maladroitly made point in about fifteen words or less is clearly that Iraq posed no imminent threat to America, the serious position of many serious people. So, again, rather than grant Moore his entirely reasonable artistic and thematic premise, and evaluate what he does cinematically with it, Hitchens is absurdly literal and cannot contain his own well-justified outrage at Hussein's ghastly horrors so as to deal fairly with what Moore does as filmmaker.
I never quite know whether Moore is as ignorant as he looks, or even if that would be humanly possible. Baghdad was for years the official, undisguised home address of Abu Nidal, then the most-wanted gangster in the world, who had been sentenced to death even by the PLO and had blown up airports in Vienna and Rome.
AF: The period to which Hitchens refers ("then the most-wanted gangster") was actually a time when the United States removed Iraq's name from a list of countries sponsoring terrorism. As Alan Friedman explains:
Secretary of State [Alexander] Haig was especially upset at the fact that the decision had been made at the White House, even though the State Department was responsible for the list. "I was not consulted," he complained. ... "We knew very well that Abu Nidal was based in Baghdad," [Howard] Teicher recalled. ... The removal of Iraq from the list set the tone for Washington's covert policies toward Baghdad. (Alan Friedman, Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq, Bantam Books, 1993)
This association would not deter administrations in the United States and Britain from supporting Saddam Hussein, and for years, despite the embargo disallowing the sale of ordnance and advanced technologies, the White House and Downing Street secretly channeled armaments and high-tech components to Iraq — seldom directly, though extensively through false fronts and friendly third parties such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait — and they quietly encouraged closely guarded arms dealers and other private warriors to do the same. Items that "found" their way to Iraq included gyroscopes; nuclear, biological and chemical weapons technology; artillery shells, cluster bombs and dumb bombs; even Soviet-made arms and equipment, bought on Eastern Europe's flourishing black market to complement Iraq's existing military hardware.
Saddam's depravity did not stop Britain from providing advanced training to many of his top military brass. Most of the Iraqi scientists thought to be involved in the country's biological-weapons programme were educated at American and British universities. Meanwhile, the United States restored full diplomatic ties, offered government-backed loan guarantees and the sharing of highly sensitive intelligence information. A few months later
the first U.S. satellite photographs were passed to Baghdad. ... At times, thanks to the White House's secret backing for the intelligence-sharing, U.S. intelligence officers were actually sent to Baghdad to help interpret the satellite information. As the White House took an increasingly active role in secretly helping Saddam direct his armed forces, the United States even built an expensive high-tech annex in Baghdad to provide a direct down-link receiver for the satellite intelligence and better processing of the information... The American military commitment that had begun with intelligence-sharing expanded rapidly and surreptitiously throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A former White House official explained that "by 1987, our people were actually providing tactical military advice to the Iraqis in the battlefield, and sometimes they would find themselves over the Iranian boarder, alongside Iraqi troops." (Ibid)
Western leaders and policy makers aided and abetted a nation that was for years the undisguised home address of Abu Nidal.
Baghdad was the safe house for the man whose "operation" murdered Leon Klinghoffer.
AF: Only when that very same man, Abu Abbas, wasn't travelling freely around the region negotiating a fair settlement, lunching alongside CIA operatives and being readily interviewed by western journalists!
Although the Israeli Supreme Court declared Abbas immune from prosecution in Israel, the Oslo Peace Accords did not protect him from prosecution elsewhere. (Abu Abbas died in U.S. custody.)
Saddam boasted publicly of his financial sponsorship of suicide bombers in Israel. (Quite a few Americans of all denominations walk the streets of Jerusalem.)
AF: Iraq wasn't alone. A number of states within the region also provide financial assistance to the families of Palestinians — be they murdered under or killed actively opposing Israel's illegal occupation — and they have vowed to keep doing so until Israel recognises their right to meaningfully exist. Bush is arguing backwards when he says Iraq is an obstacle blocking peace in the Middle East. As scholars correctly point out, the "Roadmap to Peace" is premised on the notion that the problem that needs to be solved is resistance to the occupation, and not the illegal occupation itself.
In 1991, a large number of Western hostages were taken by the hideous Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and held in terrible conditions for a long time. After that same invasion was repelled—Saddam having killed quite a few Americans and Egyptians and Syrians and Brits in the meantime and having threatened to kill many more—the Iraqi secret police were caught trying to murder former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait. Never mind whether his son should take that personally. (Though why should he not?) Should you and I not resent any foreign dictatorship that attempts to kill one of our retired chief executives? (President Clinton certainly took it that way: He ordered the destruction by cruise missiles of the Baathist "security" headquarters.)
AF: And in doing so he killed umpteen innocent civilians, including one of Iraq's best-known female artists, Layla al-Altar. Astonishingly, Clinton passed judgment — by way of twenty-three Tomahawk cruise missiles — before the trial of the alleged plotters had even concluded. And that is to say nothing of dubious evidence or of a trial conducted in Kuwait with its abominable justice system.
Iraqi forces fired, every day, for 10 years, on the aircraft that patrolled the no-fly zones and staved off further genocide in the north and south of the country.
AF: Iraqi ground forces fired, unsuccessfully, for ten years, at foreign aircraft patrolling over parts of its territory because "enforcement" of the "no-fly" zones was deemed illegal. Saddam's well-known resistance to the zones is one matter, our lesser-known abuse of them is another. And quite how U.S. aircraft staved off "further genocide" in the country Hitchens doesn't say. The U.S. refused to take advantage of its overwhelming air superiority to assist the uprising of 1991, when it mattered most. Moreover, the U.S.- and UK-driven sanctions quickly crippled Saddam's military capability and much else besides; Iraq soon had no operable air force, while in heavily populated civilian centers there was mass death and decay. The reality is that one possible means of suppressing a population was substituted with another. Death, only this time by sanctions — the very thing Hitchens wrongly thinks the "no-fly" zones sought to prevent.
In 1993, a certain Mr. Yasin helped mix the chemicals for the bomb at the World Trade Center and then skipped to Iraq, where he remained a guest of the state until the overthrow of Saddam.
AF: The FBI questioned Abdul Rahman Yasin, an American-born student of Iraqi descent, characterised him as "very co-operative" and then drove him home. Soon he was wanted for further questioning and agents concluded it was a mistake not holding him in custody. Yasin did indeed make his way to Iraq where, according to Tariq Aziz, he lived freely before being arrested by Iraqi intelligence agents in 1994. Aziz told 60 Minutes that Iraq twice attempted to hand Yasin over to the U.S. authorities — once in 1994 and again shortly after the September 11th attacks:
Tariq Aziz: Twice we asked them to come and take him and twice they refused. Which means that they are not sincere in what they are saying, they are not honest in what they are saying.
Lesley Stahl: How did you get that word [of a more specific offer] to the Americans?
Aziz: Through two parties. Two governments. I am not going to mention names, because they asked us not to mention their names. But the Americans know. [A third country] told the Americans that Yasin is in Iraq and that the Iraqi authorities are ready to deliver him to the American authorities if the American government sends a team to Baghdad. The American government said, no, we are not going to send a team to Baghdad but we are ready to receive him in the capital of that government.
Stahl: Of this third country?
Aziz: Of the third country. We said, okay. We will take the man to the capital of that country and deliver him to the American authorities. But, they should sign a paper that they have received Yasin from the Iraqi authorities in the presence of the third party. They refused to sign the paper and therefore the delivery did not go through.
U.S. authorities wanted Iraq to turn Yasin over unconditionally, but the Iraqi regime feared that various individuals would misrepresent Yasin's role in the attack and try to implicate it in the 1993 bombing, so they insisted on U.S. officials signing a document and having a third party attest to the handover. Egypt was one of the countries approached for this task. Curiously and perhaps tellingly, U.S. authorities only saw fit to add Abdul Yasin to their "most wanted" terrorist list in late September 2001 (not 1993).
In 2001, Saddam's regime was the only one in the region that openly celebrated the attacks on New York and Washington and described them as just the beginning of a larger revenge. Its official media regularly spewed out a stream of anti-Semitic incitement. I think one might describe that as "threatening," even if one was narrow enough to think that anti-Semitism only menaces Jews.
AF: Verbal grandstanding is one thing, actually planning and carrying out attacks against the most powerful nation on the face of the earth is another matter entirely. Saddam's regime also approached the U.S. on more than one occasion with a view to normalising relations.
And it was after, and not before, the 9/11 attacks that Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi moved from Afghanistan to Baghdad and began to plan his now very open and lethal design for a holy and ethnic civil war.
AF: According to Matthew Yglesias, Hitchens attended a publicity event at the American Enterprise Institute in aid of Stephen Hayes and his controversial book, The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Yglesias writes:
During the question-and-answer period, a disheveled Christopher Hitchens rose to suggest that Abu Zarqawi was all the "connection" one needed to make the case. Hitchens' "evidence" is that Zarqawi leads a terrorist group that is in communication with, though not a member of, al-Qaeda and has collaborated to some extent with ex-Baathists after the fall of Hussein. (Similar logic would suggest that Hitchens' former editors at The Nation are, in fact, in league with his newfound neoconservative friends, but never mind.)
Later the same month, Hitchens appeared on CNBC's Topic [A] with Tina Brown and again promoted Hayes' propaganda, saying: "I don't think anyone who hasn't read this or doesn't read it can be taken seriously if they say there's no connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden." The truth? Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi is on record cheering the fall of "the repulsive Ba'thi regime", calling Saddam "a devil" who "killed the innocent". What is more, Ansar al-Islam operated not in Saddam Hussein's sphere of influence but in the Kurdish/U.S.-controlled geographic area of Iraqi Kurdistan, meaning Rumsfeld had more sway over this area than did Saddam. No poisons were ever discovered at the camp and, as former U.S. military intelligence officer Scott Ritter and others set out to explain, Iraq tasked a team of Special Forces operatives to infiltrate, contain and eliminate these unwanted elements:
Iraqi defectors have been talking lately about the training camp at Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. They say there's a Boeing aircraft there. That's not true... They say there are railroad mock-ups, bus mock-ups, buildings, and so on. These are all things you'd find in a hostage rescue training camp, which is what this camp was when it was built in the mid-1980s with British intelligence supervision. In fact, British SAS special operations forces were sent to help train the Iraqis in hostage rescue techniques. Any nation with a national airline and that is under attack from terrorists — and Iraq was, from Iran and Syria at the time — would need this capability. Iraq operated Salman Pak as a hostage rescue training facility up until 1992. In 1992, because Iraq no longer had a functioning airline, and because their railroad system was inoperative, Iraq turned the facility over to the Iraqi Intelligence service, particularly the Department of External Threats. These are documented facts coming out of multiple sources from a variety of different countries. The Department of External Threats was created to deal with Kurdistan, in particular, the infusion of Islamic fundamentalist elements from Iran into Kurdistan. So, rather than being a camp dedicated to train Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, it was a camp dedicated to train Iraq to deal with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. And they did so. Their number one target was the Islamic Kurdish party, which later grew into Al Ansar. ... Iraq, as part of their ongoing war against Islamic fundamentalism, created a unit specifically designed to destroy these people.
Zarqawi may have entered Baghdad at some stage before the U.S.-led invasion. Other well-travelled individuals in and around Iraq may have inadvertently come in to contact with Islamic extremists. If you look at the geography of the region it is not unreasonable to conclude that sympathisers or supporters were/are active in Iraq, but from this it is unreasonable to conclude, without convincing evidence, that the former Iraqi regime was aware of their precise location or that they had any meaningful relationship with them. We also know that Islamic militants operated in the United States — an equivalent leap in logic would therefore be to claim al-Qaeda has ties to the Bush administration merely because of their presence in that country (shall we bomb the U.S. too?)
On Dec. 1, 2003, the New York Times reported—and the David Kay report had established—that Saddam had been secretly negotiating with the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il in a series of secret meetings in Syria, as late as the spring of 2003, to buy a North Korean missile system, and missile-production system, right off the shelf. (This attempt was not uncovered until after the fall of Baghdad, the coalition's presence having meanwhile put an end to the negotiations.)
AF: According to press reports, and at least one investigator with firsthand knowledge of the talks, there is no firm evidence that Iraq intended to take receipt of any missile technology before the lifting of the embargo.
Evidence amassed since the invasion of Iraq indicates the deal was for more than just missiles. "This $10 million was a down payment, and not just a straight purchase for Rodong missiles, but for Rodong technology," said one American official who has read documentation on the deal. "Saddam's intent was to get the expertise from the North Koreans and, potentially, open his own production line." If the American interpretation is right, it is unclear where Mr. Hussein might have built the production line or how it could have avoided detection by American satellites. The exact outlines of the deal remain unclear, the official said, "since the North Koreans ended up stiffing the Iraqis."
One administration official said American intelligence had evidence that "the agents from North Korea flew into Syria — that's where the first meeting took place." Other officials said at least one round of talks was held in North Korea. The final session was held in Syria in February of , just before the war began, officials said. On that trip, according to the Iraqi account of the meeting in Syria, the Iraqis were also seeking night-vision goggles, ammunition and gun barrels — mostly through European middlemen. At that point, a huge American-British force had been built up on Iraq's southern borders, and it was clear that war was coming.
What is also interesting about the shopping list, however, is "what's not on it," said one investigator. "Nothing nuclear, no dual-use items, nothing about weapons of mass destruction."
Thus, in spite of the film's loaded bias against the work of the mind, you can grasp even while watching it that Michael Moore has just said, in so many words, the one thing that no reflective or informed person can possibly believe: that Saddam Hussein was no problem. No problem at all.
JS: Hitchens pretends that Moore is arguing that Saddam Hussein presented "no problem" to America or the world. "No problem at all." (His snide emphasis.) ... Moore isn't arguing that Saddam was a sweetie or that Iraq's most dangerous weapon was a kite. He's saying Saddam is maybe fifth (if we're generous) out of the most threatening people to America, when we take into account not only his actions and his beliefs but also his means to do specific harm to Americans. If Hussein were really as dangerous to America as we've been told, then why the need to cook up this Iraq-Al Qaeda connection? ... If he's really so dangerous, you shouldn't have to fib to make the case for taking him out. The reality is, he never posed an imminent threat to Americans in America, and that made the invasion unwarranted and preemptive. Which I agree with Moore is a very dangerous precedent to set.
Now look again at the facts I have cited above. If these things had been allowed to happen under any other administration, you can be sure that Moore and others would now glibly be accusing the president of ignoring, or of having ignored, some fairly unmistakable "warnings."
J9: Hitchens' speculation about these things being "allowed to happen under any other administration" itself raises the question of whether Hitchens is as ignorant as Moore looks, since they were allowed to happen — and sometimes supported — under several administrations.
The same "let's have it both ways" opportunism infects his treatment of another very serious subject, namely domestic counterterrorist policy. From being accused of overlooking too many warnings—not exactly an original point—the administration is now lavishly taunted for issuing too many. (Would there not have been "fear" if the harbingers of 9/11 had been taken seriously?)
OB: Moore suggests that overlooking a Presidential Daily Briefing, Richard Clarke running around with his head on fire, and other FBI leads was a devastating error on the part of the administration. Another kind of warning, "homeland security warnings," Moore suggests, exist for the purpose of creating a state of fear. He suggests that such warnings are silly. These are different kinds of warnings, Christopher. Moore doesn't stick them together in an over-generality. But you do. And then you criticize him for making an overbroad generalization. One cannot understand the specificity of the two different kinds of warnings here and accuse Moore of a contradiction. But by ignoring the film, and substituting your misgeneralization, you achieve success at criticizing Moore again!
MH: Here Hitchens is just plainly misrepresenting the case. The first problem with Hitchens' critique here is that it fails to take account of the temporal factor (i.e. when these things happened). A key point made by the film is that the administration ignored warnings that it received before 9/11 about the possibility of Al Qaeda attacks, specifically involving commercial airliners. The argument is that, had these warnings been taken more seriously, then maybe 9/11 could have been avoided by increasing appropriate security measures. The assertions about issuing too many security warnings and putting the population under constant fear of attack refer to the period since 9/11, when so many of the "security warnings" have offered nothing more specific than vague and nebulous exhortations to "be alert" or "report any suspicious activity." Hitchens seems unable to formulate the logical position that many Americans have been taking for the past few years, and one that Moore is supporting in his film: Security measures are good if they are actually likely to prevent or uncover a threat, and if they are based on good intelligence. But security measures that do nothing but irritate people and/or infringe on their liberty for no noticeable gain in actual safety should be discouraged.
J9: Here Hitchens seems unable to draw the distinction between overlooking intelligence of a gathering terrorist threat and warnings issued to the population at large. I would hope that our intelligence professionals charged with such matters are smart enough and capable enough to operate covertly to dismantle terrorist plots... So, in answer to his question, ("Would there not have been fear if the harbingers of 9/11 had been taken seriously?") no, taking the harbingers of 9/11 seriously would ideally have led to covert operations so as not to (1) alarm the public, (2) reveal the extent of our intelligence, and (3) provide any sort of moral victory to the enemy for scaring us.
JS: Hitchens criticizes Moore's assertion that Bush overlooked 9/11 warnings as "not exactly an original point." Well, no. It isn't. The 9/11 Commission thought of it first. But this isn't Die Hard. It's not a scripted movie where originality is key. He's just presenting his case. Was Moore supposed to leave out the "Bin Laden Determined To Attack In U.S." memo because it's "been done"? Oh, don't mention the Iraq war, people have already covered that one. What?! If these are the criticisms you're leveling against Fahrenheit 9/11 then it's clear that you just hate it and that's all there is.
We are shown some American civilians who have had absurd encounters with idiotic "security" staff. (Have you ever met anyone who can't tell such a story?) Then we are immediately shown underfunded police departments that don't have the means or the manpower to do any stop-and-search: a power suddenly demanded by Moore on their behalf that we know by definition would at least lead to some ridiculous interrogations. Finally, Moore complains that there isn't enough intrusion and confiscation at airports and says that it is appalling that every air traveler is not forcibly relieved of all matches and lighters. (Cue mood music for sinister influence of Big Tobacco.) So—he wants even more pocket-rummaging by airport officials? Uh, no, not exactly. But by this stage, who's counting? Moore is having it three ways and asserting everything and nothing. Again—simply not serious.
MH: This continues from the last point, but I had to address it specifically because Hitchens completely elides the context. Moore points out that experts believe that, had the shoe bomber Richard Reid has a butane lighter instead of matches, he might well have succeeded in blowing up his plane. Yet people are still allowed to take lighters onto planes, but a woman was forced to drink two ounces of her own breast milk in order to prove that it was okay. Was the latter just an overzealous official? Sure. But the fact remains that, even if you don't have a bomb in your shoe, you could do significantly more damage with a lighter that with many of the things that are not allowed on airplanes. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that lighting a fire in the confined environment of an airplane cabin might cause some real problems. Moore is just pointing out that, in many cases, security measures and resources are not being well directed.
J9: I don't recall any police in the film complaining they didn't have the funding or manpower to perform stop-and-searches. I do recall an Oregon state trooper driving along a stretch of coastal highway he said he was able to patrol something like once a week, and another saying that on a particular night there was something like nine state troopers on duty for the entire state of Oregon. I also don't recall Moore saying anything about wanting more intrusion at the airports. He does point out that four books of matches and two lighters is far more than shoe bomber Richard Reid needed and that Big Tobacco has the clearest incentive and means to influence this policy. Have you ever seen what you can do with a match and a can of hairspray? Instant flame thrower.
CP: By pointing out the ridiculous stories of encounters with overzealous security staff, then pointing out that the State of Oregon only has eight state troopers on duty at certain times through the week, leaving huge swathes of coastline unprotected, then pointing out that three matchbooks and two lighters is a-okay to take on a plane but four matchbooks and two lighters is not (despite the evidence showing that shoebomber Richard Reid would have succeeded in blowing up a civilian flight if he'd had access to a lighter), Moore is making a very salient point. That point is that homeland security is a joke. You can see that, right? Because I saw it clearly. Is it just me?
Circling back to where we began, why did Moore's evil Saudis not join "the Coalition of the Willing"? Why instead did they force the United States to switch its regional military headquarters to Qatar? If the Bush family and the al-Saud dynasty live in each other's pockets, as is alleged in a sort of vulgar sub-Brechtian scene with Arab headdresses replacing top hats, then how come the most reactionary regime in the region has been powerless to stop Bush from demolishing its clone in Kabul and its buffer regime in Baghdad? The Saudis hate, as they did in 1991, the idea that Iraq's recuperated oil industry might challenge their near-monopoly. They fear the liberation of the Shiite Muslims they so despise. To make these elementary points is to collapse the whole pathetic edifice of the film's "theory."
CP: Because, and I'd be surprised if Hitchens truly doesn't know this, the Saudi royals are far from "in control" at home. Their close ties to the US are the subject of much local dissension, and bombings of US buildings in Saudi Arabia are a very regular occurrence. In fact, for many years those bombings were blamed on westerners who the Saudis accused of running "illegal alcohol rings." It was a turf war, they said, and they arrested random Brits and Canadians, holding them in prison for many years (dozens are still there), torturing them and beating them for confessions, all so they could put forth the spin that there was no internal problem in Saudi Arabia. Well, there is. There's a big problem, and had the Saudi leaders allowed America to run its attack on Iraq from that country, chances are you'd have seen open revolt against the house of Saud. That's why they didn't let the US base their forces there... It's also why the US didn't make a bigger deal about the refusal — in essence, they understood the delicacy of the situation and they moved one country downwind.
AF: Again, Moore never seriously suggested that the Saudis are in a position to control U.S. policy. Perhaps it would be more accurate if Hitchens simply were to argue that, occasionally or all too often, Moore's satirical emphasis detracts from the work of serious students of the subject. Moore would obviously disagree: "A lot of political people, especially people on the left, have forgotten the importance of humor as an incredible weapon, and a vehicle through which to affect change." He certainly would have done well to provide his audience with a little historical context (the U.S., for example, has had a policy of protecting Saudi Arabia in exchange for cheap oil since at least 1945). Not that I believe it would have made much difference to Hitchens, who, having packed his suitcase and stomped off to the right, is intent on clinging to the irrational notion of altruistic intentions in the Gulf, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
According to Hitchens, "however compromised and shameful the American starting point was" on the morning of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government suddenly found itself at war with reactionary forces. In a moment of moral clarity, it quickly calculated that it could see off any number of enemies with a series of benign interventions: It could free Afghanistan from the Taliban, overturn Saddam's atrocious regime and recuperate the Iraqi oil industry, thereby breaking the oil monopoly the Saudis now enjoy. Breaking the Saudi monopoly is an important part of the strategy, he says, since "we now know so much how Saudi Arabia is not our friend, but is a particularly deadly, mean, and vicious enemy." And yet, by now, even Hitchens must be vaguely aware that the Bush gang just don't see things entirely his way.
In early 2003, several weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Hitchens had an onstage debate with Mark Danner in Berkeley, California. In the course of that exchange, he expressed the view that one of the things "wrong with the axis-of-evil speech was ... an unwillingness on the part of the president to name the two countries that really were behind Al Qaeda: the Saudi Arabian oligarchy and the Pakistani secret police". And, in a typical exchange, this is what Bush Senior had to say to David Frost on BBC Breakfast with Frost, September 14, 2003:
David Frost: And some people say oil has something to do with, we want in fact Iraqi oil to be available if the Saudi oil becomes unavailable because of an overthrow there. Is that hegemony part of the plan do you think?
George Bush Senior: No, I think in some quarters in our country people seem to want to make an enemy out of Saudi Arabia. Thank God our President doesn't feel that way. He has a wonderful relationship with Crown Prince Abdullah. Now will the Saudis be changing over the years? Probably. Should they? Well you can argue that maybe they should. I'll argue that they've already started some kinds of changes inside. So they're our friends and I don't think that we ought to be saying well we're in Iraq, so that oil will be free to the western world because Saudi oil won't be. I mean, if we'd have let Saudi oil into the hands of Saddam Hussein, and I'm still convinced that that's what, after he went into Kuwait, he wanted to go down into Saudi Arabia. Then we'd have something very different.
What was it Hitchens said? "If the Bush family and the al-Saud dynasty live in each other's pockets," then how is it the Saudis were "powerless to stop Bush from demolishing its buffer regime in Baghdad?" Hmm. A buffer regime that wanted to annex Saudi Arabia! How twisted is that?
The conflict of interest is crystal clear (James Baker's law firm shielding Saudi Royals from the victims of 9/11, the blacked-out information about the Saudis in submitted evidence and final reports, etc). Moore's argument, even sandwiched between belly laughs, is sufficiently clear — yet Hitchens continues to defend many powerful people in Washington by erecting and attacking a straw man Moore.
SH: And what of that broken Saudi oil monopoly and the position that [the] Bush family is sticking it to the House of Saud? ... Again, Hitchens pushes in his chips on the ethical fidelity of the Bush administration, dismissing the fact that toppling Saddam just happened to liberate his oil fields, placing them more or less in American hands and in the hands of Bush/Cheney family friends and campaign contributors. ... When Hitchens tosses such rhetorical bones as calling for "transparency" in the doling out of oil money, it indicates a consciousness of all these things. And yet, in his increasingly loud and bullying rants against the left, he operates as if none of it exists except in the paranoid imagination of Moore and his ilk.
Perhaps Moore prefers the pro-Saudi Kissinger/Scowcroft plan for the Middle East, where stability trumps every other consideration and where one dare not upset the local house of cards, or killing-field of Kurds? This would be a strange position for a purported radical. Then again, perhaps he does not take this conservative line because his real pitch is not to any audience member with a serious interest in foreign policy. It is to the provincial isolationist.
AF: Moore has stated his position many times. He believes genuine change stands an excellent chance of sticking if it comes from within, whereas imposed change has a far greater chance of adverse reaction, particularly when it's enforced by external elements that only support democracy and human rights when it suits their interests.
I have already said that Moore's film has the staunch courage to mock Bush for his verbal infelicity. Yet it's much, much braver than that. From Fahrenheit 9/11 you can glean even more astounding and hidden disclosures, such as the capitalist nature of American society, the existence of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex," and the use of "spin" in the presentation of our politicians. It's high time someone had the nerve to point this out. There's more. Poor people often volunteer to join the army, and some of them are duskier than others. Betcha didn't know that. Back in Flint, Mich., Moore feels on safe ground. There are no martyred rabbits this time. Instead, it's the poor and black who shoulder the packs and rifles and march away. I won't dwell on the fact that black Americans have fought for almost a century and a half, from insisting on their right to join the U.S. Army and fight in the Civil War to the right to have a desegregated Army that set the pace for post-1945 civil rights. I'll merely ask this: In the film, Moore says loudly and repeatedly that not enough troops were sent to garrison Afghanistan and Iraq. (This is now a favorite cleverness of those who were, in the first place, against sending any soldiers at all.)
CP: Uh, no. He doesn't. He says not enough troops were sent to Afghanistan — which is correct, evidenced by the fact that we didn't catch Osama Bin Laden, who killed 3000 of our own. But Moore is not saying there should have been more troops sent to Iraq, he's saying that the US went in underprepared. There's a big difference between the two positions — one says "we should flood the country with our men and get the bastards!" while the other says, "You idiots, you sent our kids in there, in numbers too small to effectively control the place, when you shouldn't have been sending in troops at all!" The latter is Moore's point, and it's a very clear one.
Well, where does he think those needful heroes and heroines would have come from? Does he favor a draft—the most statist and oppressive solution? Does he think that only hapless and gullible proles sign up for the Marines? Does he think—as he seems to suggest—that parents can "send" their children, as he stupidly asks elected members of Congress to do? Would he have abandoned Gettysburg because the Union allowed civilians to pay proxies to serve in their place? Would he have supported the antidraft (and very antiblack) riots against Lincoln in New York? After a point, one realizes that it's a waste of time asking him questions of this sort. It would be too much like taking him seriously. He'll just try anything once and see if it floats or flies or gets a cheer.
MH: Hitchens again conflates two issues and pretends that they can only be considered together as a single one. First he repeats his stupid argument suggesting that it is logically inconsistent to both oppose sending troops, and then to argue that, if troops are going to be sent, then there should be enough to do the job. Hitchens also makes a nod to Moore's argument about class representation in the military without actually appreciating its significance. Moore is making a point about choice and options in America, and noting that, of the politicians who make the decisions to send American troops into combat, [at the time of filming] only one actually had a son or daughter in the service. Actually, the most interesting part of that Hitchens paragraph is his question about the draft. Sure, it is a "statist and oppressive solution," but it's also one that, if fully implemented with no loopholes for the rich, might actually make some people think harder about whether or not to send troops to areas where they don't need to be.
GG: Does Hitchens really think that it's not a valid point to make, that the Congressmen who sent Americans where they were mostly unwanted, into Iraq, have none (well one only, was Moore's claim) of their own children in harm's way there? ... Is he seriously suggesting that Moore has no serious point in asking that question of bovine congressmen who fell into line behind Bush, and sent duped poor kids off to fight in Iraq against the monster of Baghdad who was responsible for 9/11 (according to the flagrantly lying, still in 2004, Dick Cheney)?
J9: Since Hitchens won't dwell on blacks soldiering for about the last 150 years, let us not dwell on blacks being at the bottom of the economic ladder for those very same 150 years... As to Hitchens' draft question, he really should consider a fencing career, for he once again sidesteps Moore's point brilliantly. In plain English, by saying that not enough troops were sent doesn't mean we don't have enough troops, it means not enough were sent. The draft question belongs to Hitchens, not Moore. As for who signs up, Moore clearly points out that recruiting is a sales job and that the prospects are not evenly distributed.
Indeed, Moore's affected and ostentatious concern for black America is one of the most suspect ingredients of his pitch package. In a recent interview, he yelled that if the hijacked civilians of 9/11 had been black, they would have fought back, unlike the stupid and presumably cowardly white men and women (and children). Never mind for now how many black passengers were on those planes—we happen to know what Moore does not care to mention: that Todd Beamer and a few of his co-passengers, shouting "Let's roll," rammed the hijackers with a trolley, fought them tooth and nail, and helped bring down a United Airlines plane, in Pennsylvania, that was speeding toward either the White House or the Capitol. There are no words for real, impromptu bravery like that, which helped save our republic from worse than actually befell. The Pennsylvania drama also reminds one of the self-evident fact that this war is not fought only "overseas" or in uniform, but is being brought to our cities. Yet Moore is a silly and shady man who does not recognize courage of any sort even when he sees it because he cannot summon it in himself. To him, easy applause, in front of credulous audiences, is everything.
MH: If Moore indeed says what Hitchens attributes to him in the second sentence, then it was a really stupid thing to say. But I don't believe that Moore demonstrated an "affected and ostentatious concern for black America" in this film. In fact, if I had to name the social category most prominent in this film, it would probably be "class," not race. So, is this film biased? Sure it is. Moore would happily agree. Moreover, like his other films, it does have some very problematic sections, which I have referred to in this post. But much of Hitchens' critique contains the same lack of objectivity, and the same selective use of summary and quotation, of which he accuses Moore. Most importantly, in his attempts to smear Moore, Hitchens either conveniently misses or intentionally obscures many of the films most salient points.
Moore has announced that he won't even appear on TV shows where he might face hostile questioning. I notice from the New York Times of June 20 that he has pompously established a rapid response team, and a fact-checking staff, and some tough lawyers, to bulwark himself against attack. He'll sue, Moore says, if anyone insults him or his pet. Some right-wing hack groups, I gather, are planning to bring pressure on their local movie theaters to drop the film. How dumb or thuggish do you have to be in order to counter one form of stupidity and cowardice with another? By all means go and see this terrible film, and take your friends, and if the fools in the audience strike up one cry, in favor of surrender or defeat, feel free to join in the conversation. However, I think we can agree that the film is so flat-out phony that "fact-checking" is beside the point.
CP: Excuse me? What did he just say? "Fact-checking is beside the point"? No sir, fact checking is the point when you accuse someone of lying. And you, sir, have not proved one single lie here, only a bunch of inferences that exist in your head and nowhere else. Hitchens is saying that Fahrenheit 9/11 is an awful movie simply because it doesn't take his perspective on things. He claims lies have been told, but can only find one statement that could even be inferred as untrue — and even that's a stretch. As for the rest, he seems to think if he can smear a little doody on Michael Moore's reputation at the top of the article, he doesn't have to prove it in the bottom.
And as for the scary lawyers—get a life, or maybe see me in court. But I offer this, to Moore and to his rapid response rabble. Any time, Michael my boy. Let's redo Telluride. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Let's see what you're made of.
NM: Moore is not as articulate and well presented as Hitchens in public, and therefore the impetus for Hitchens challenging Moore to a debate is already a loaded contest. I'm sure that Hitchens would slay someone like me in a debate also. Hitchens happens to be well composed and well spoken on camera, and his inventory of facts on numerous issues would surely be a daunting edifice to confront. Moore is a bit like a diesel truck and he takes time to warm up and get his points moving. It does not matter what Moore is made of. We are not a bunch of gangsters sizing each other up. We're not kids on the playground drawing lines in the dirt.
Some people soothingly say that one should relax about all this. It's only a movie. No biggie. It's no worse than the tomfoolery of Oliver Stone. It's kick-ass entertainment. It might even help get out "the youth vote." Yeah, well, I have myself written and presented about a dozen low-budget made-for-TV documentaries, on subjects as various as Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton and the Cyprus crisis, and I also helped produce a slightly more polished one on Henry Kissinger that was shown in movie theaters. So I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a "POV" or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your "narrative" a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft.
MJ: Moore has said that his film has the character of an op-ed piece. He's right. Furthermore, Moore leaves out scores of pertinent facts and perspectives that are essential to a full understanding why George W. Bush and the foreign policy of his administration are a disaster for the United States. I scarcely know how to characterize the quantity of material that he could have included, but did not. As for historical facts that Moore could have included but didn't, here are just a few, in no particular order: Bush's spurning of the U.N. to make war on Iraq, in violation of the U.N. Charter; Bush's trampling of traditional American alliances; the stimulus Bush has provided to global anti-Americanism; Bush's embrace of the Likud Party in the Israel-Palestine conflict; Bush's gargantuan pandering to the military-industrial complex through vastly increased 'defense' budgets. As for analytical perspectives Moore could have brought in but didn't, here are just a few: the neoconservative hijacking of U.S. foreign policy in the Bush presidency by the Project for a New American Century crowd, not even mentioned by the film; the rejection by the U.S. of international law and the issue of war crimes; Bush's religious zealotry; Bush's scorn for the United States Constitution and U.S. law; Bush's embrace of militarism; the avoidance of military service by Bush and others in his administration (alluded to in the film, but scarcely developed).
If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised.
J9: I suppose we are to assume therefore Hitchens despises Bush, since I can think of a State of the Union or two, not to mention a few other speeches and documents spawned under our current administration, that seem to be missing a few dot-dot-dots.
At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer.
J9: No, Moore doesn't attempt to be objective and he doesn't pass up cheap shots. But the fact is, neither do the people he attacks. I see no reason for Moore to abide by Hitchens' double standard. Get over it.
He pitilessly focuses his camera, for minutes after he should have turned it off, on a distraught and bereaved mother whose grief we have already shared.
AF: As reported in The Michigan Daily, Moore immediately gave Lila Lipscomb the option to withdraw any part of the film that featured herself and her family: "In response to critics who have accused Moore of manipulating her, Lipscomb said the filmmaker offered to remove any scenes that she felt uncomfortable with." Perhaps we should also ban news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings so facilitators like Hitchens can feel somewhat less distracted.
(But then, this is the guy who thought it so clever and amusing to catch Charlton Heston, in Bowling for Columbine, at the onset of his senile dementia.) Such courage.
AF: More silliness. Charlton Heston, anticipating Michael Moore's arrival, was suffering the after-effects of hip-replacement surgery and walked with obvious fragility when he faced him in mid-2001. Bowling for Columbine had its world premier at the 55th Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2002. Heston announced he was "suffering symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease" on August 9, 2002, more than a year after Moore confronted him. Bowling for Columbine subsequently made its North American premier at the 29th Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2002, shortly after Heston made his public statement, prompting some film critics to sympathise with him and determined detractors to falsely charge Moore with intentionally exploiting his misfortune. Charlton Heston continued to serve as President of the National Rifle Association well into 2003.
Perhaps vaguely aware that his movie so completely lacks gravitas, Moore concludes with a sonorous reading of some words from George Orwell. The words are taken from 1984 and consist of a third-person analysis of a hypothetical, endless, and contrived war between three superpowers. The clear intention, as clumsily excerpted like this (...) is to suggest that there is no moral distinction between the United States, the Taliban, and the Baath Party and that the war against jihad is about nothing. If Moore had studied a bit more, or at all, he could have read Orwell really saying, and in his own voice, the following:
The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writing of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States ...
And that's just from Orwell's Notes on Nationalism in May 1945.
KW: Hitchens responds to Moore's quote by counter-quoting Orwell's famous article where he claims "pacifism is objectively pro-fascist". Hitchens accuses Moore of leaving out uncomfortable facts, but here again Hitchens is omitting a boatload of facts himself. At the time Orwell wrote that, he was a revolutionary socialist — and at least part of his motivation for that article was to say that if the British proletariat weren't roused to join World War II, then they would be missing out on a fantastic opportunity to violently overthrow the capitalist system. In order to win the war against the Hun, "the London gutters will have to run with blood" of the capitalists, said Orwell. Furthermore, it's pretty well-documented that Orwell recanted this stance later in life, allowing that
he had been driven to use language he regretted by "the lunatic atmosphere of war," and later that year specifically rejected the use of the phrase "objectively pro-Fascist" to smear people who are not fascists at all, but who do things which others believe are helpful to fascism. ... In point of fact, toward the end of his life [Orwell] became close friends with Julian Symons and George Woodcock, two of the pacifists he had originally denounced.
Orwell changed his mind about pacifism after the war was over. However, it's worth noting that Orwell never did retract his book 1984, which was about the usefulness of war hysteria in order to crush dissent and freedom.
J9: Last paragraphs. Hitchens again tries to fit Moore with the pacifist, relativist collar. Again he fails. The Orwell quotation reads "In accordance with the principles of double-think it does not matter if the war is not real. For when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous." Moore's point is that this war is not about what Bush says it's about. Bush has sold us a war with an invisible enemy that is everywhere and nowhere, posing an imminent yet gathering threat... Yet to view Moore as a pacifist — even a practically omnipotent one — is to completely misread both him and the phenomenon of his movie. He clearly states at the end of the film that the people who are willing to put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us deserve one thing above all else, and that is not to be put in harm's way on false pretenses. The movie's message isn't that war is wrong, it's that Bush is wrong. Wrong for the country. Wrong for the world. Wrong for the present. Wrong for the future. Alas, honorable or not, so is Hitchens.
AF: For all of Hitchens' pimping of Orwell — in his unabashed alliance with the Bush administration and refusal to promote a better prosecution of the war effort by taking on some of its most absurd aspects — it is he who has unwittingly betrayed his craft.
A short word of advice: In general, it's highly unwise to quote Orwell if you are already way out of your depth on the question of moral equivalence. It's also incautious to remind people of Orwell if you are engaged in a sophomoric celluloid rewriting of recent history.
KW: The "moral relativism" argument holds zero weight with me. I'm not trying to say that America is as bad as the Taliban, and neither is Moore, I suspect. Another distortion by the dualists (either we're a despicable villain, or we're Prince Gallahad). What we are saying is, that we are not responsible for the sins of the terrorists, but we as American citizens are responsible for the carnage inflicted on innocents by our own country. There has to be another way.
If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed.
KW: No, Mr. Hitchens, no, no, and I take offense when you say that. Once again you are looking into a dimestore crystal ball and then passing off naked speculation as if it were fact. Neither I, Michael Moore, nor virtually any other anti-war protester approved of the reign of Saddam (or the Taliban, or Milosevic, etc) That was not part of our rhetoric nor intent. I, Michael Moore, and virtually every other anti-war protester rejoice with relief that Saddam and the others are gone. Our position was only that an invasion was not an appropriate way to accomplish it. Removing Saddam is a major step forward. But the damage which accompanied the war is an even more major step backwards. Killing 3,000 Afghan civilians; the deaths of upwards of 8,000 Iraqi civilians; killing probably fifty thousand arguably innocent conscript soldiers (the real Iraqi villains escaped to the hills and sent peasants as cannon fodder against our smart bombs); inflaming sentiment against us throughout the Arab world, and increasing al-Qaida recruitment; the devolution of America's reputation and her treatment of civil rights at home and abroad — these are hugely negative consequences that threaten America far more than Saddam ever did, and these were all easily predicted consequences. Of course, we did predict these things, but the pro-war crowd simply brushed off our concerns with talk of Iraqis throwing roses. Because the real-life situation has conformed so closely with our predictions, and not theirs, the only way the pro-war crowd can criticize us is to ignore what we said and engage in speculation.