Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Friday, July 02, 2004
Fahrenheit 9-11 Review/Cultivate Life
Cultivate Life is a bi-monthly newsletter started in part by a very good friend of mine who transplanted from Chicago to San Diego. The publication is dedicated to the cultural, film, and music scene of southern California. In essence they cover the indie bands, electronics music artists and films that you won't hear talked about on Good Morning America. Be sure and check out their reviews for Winter Music Conference and Coachella. As they say:
The newsletter is completely free - we stand by our promise that it will contain absolutely no advertising or sponsorship of any kind. Our goal is to create a genuine community of people who attend and participate in events for the cause - not the scene.So for Fahrenheit 9/11 they decided that, rather than do a run of the mill, tap-dance around the subject review, that they would get two partisan opinions. Yours truly was asked to represent one side, and I am absolutely honored to do so, especially since their publication has many more readers than this blog. Due to space considerations and my longwindedness my reaction to the film had to be shortened, but the full length version is below, plus a plethora of F9/11 related links. Thank you Cultivate for the opportunity, read on!
Fahrenheit 9/11 Review
If there is one thing I do appreciate about Michael Moore it is that he is (in practice, if not in rhetoric) a full fledged capitalist. He may not admit this, but judge a man by his actions, not his words. Despite the fact that Disney informed him over a year ago that they would not be distributing his film, he waited until just before Cannes to charge censorship. Some call that lying for profits, I call it splendid marketing! And he is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to helping him market, in fact he has accepted help from the terrorist organization Hezbollah. As his distributor, Front Row has explained, "We can't go against these organizations as they could strongly boycott the film in Lebanon and Syria."
Of course, Moore wouldn't want to rebuff these people because he may lose out on the huge box office receipts of a first run film in third world Lebanon... and why are they so eager to help Moore anyway? Because his film helps advance their radical Islamic cause of course. Oh, but Michael Moore is not anti-American, he's just anti-Bush. Right. That explains these sentiments he posted to his website in April cheerleading for the Iraqi insurgency.
"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."
These so called revolutionaries are targeting members of the new governing council, sabotaging infrastructure, beheading civilians, suicide bombing massive Shi'ite holy gatherings and attacking U.S. soldiers while using civilians as shields. Last week saw the massacre of another 100+ Iraqi civilians at the hands of 'the revolution.' The terrorist goal is not a peaceful democratic Iraq, but a chaotic one, where the bloody status quo of the Middle East continues. And Michael Moore is cheering for them. He is cheering against himself. But that's not new, it is merely his cognitive dissonance on full display. He made his name and fortune espousing the evils of capitalism and declares the American Dream a Pipe Dream. Yet he himself has lived the American dream that his movies insist is a farce. He didn't grow up with money, but he took a risk and sold his house to finish "Roger and Me," because of that he is a multi-millionaire living in some of the most prime real estate in Manhattan while sending his children to top private schools. Still though, he manages to rail against the capitalist system that has provided him so much material wealth and a platform (steel reinforced I hope) to spout from. Thanks to the ingenuity of Michael Moore, anti-capitalism has gone commercial!
In the interest of full disclosure I wrote the above before seeing Fahrenheit 9/11. Those are my Moore biases, he has a deserved reputation of playing loose with the facts (SpinSanity - a bipartisan media watchdog - has documented many of these) so I am expecting more of that. I am expecting to leave angry and offended as well, but I will do my best to enjoy it with an open mind. Here goes.
Well, I didn't leave offended and I wasn't really angry. I left the movie kind of confused. That was it? Was that really a documentary? (Loosely, I think of a documentary as the camera comes on and the reality unfolds...?) I don't know how I expected to feel but it wasn't like this. Fahrenheit 911 was a disjointed mix of clips taken out context (who knows what context though?) and cut and pasted in who knows what order. The movie was full of what could be best described as garden variety ad hominems. We see Wolfowitz, Bush, Cheney, et al caught in awkward off camera moments, having make-up applied and trying to keep their eyebrows looking neat. There are absolutely harrowing scenes of war carnage juxtaposed with a laughing George Bush at a fundraising dinner. But there is nothing uniquely George Bush about those images, all political figures attend fundraisers and they all wear make-up when they speak on television and anyone will look awkward in those pre-camera moments if given enough chances.
To my surprise I was not struck by any glaring factual inaccuracies, but, for example, the Bush on vacation 42% of the time reflects a bit of an exaggeration. (When you factor in weekends, which are 29% of the week, and consider that many trips to Camp David etc are working vacations, the number drops to roughly 14-18%. Admittedly too high, but not 42%) Perhaps the most relevant contributor to his lack of factual inaccuracies is that he never really posits any substantial arguments. It is just a weak attempt to construct one conspiracy theory after another based on the most circumstantial of evidence and perhaps an occasional well placed exaggeration.
One of the more well received scenes is that famous footage of President Bush reading to school children on the morning of 9/11. Moore notes that Bush was told beforehand that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, but that he "went on with the photo-op anyway" (again implying that political photo-ops are somehow unique to Bush's presidency). What he did not remind us was that in the confusion of 9/11 the initial reports were that a small private plane had hit WTC. When the second plane hit and what was happening became clear, we see footage of Bush being told that we are under attack. Camera zooms in and stays fixed on the Presidents face. I recalled as best I could the emotions in my head that morning. Confusion, shock, horror, all pulling in different directions, and I wasn't the president. I saw those same things on George Bush's face and I don't see what was supposed to be so negative about it. 9/11 was a traumatic morning, it shattered a lot of paradigms and a lot of lives of a lot of people. I am willing to give the President some slack on the facial expressions he made in the immediate aftermath of learning of such a tragedy.
Instead though, Moore assigns him the thoughts of (I'm paraphrasing) "uh-oh, I shouldn't have been friends with those Saudis" and feels that Bush should have what? Jumped from his seat pulled out the six shooters, and explained to the children that at this very moment some religious fanatics are slaughtering Americans by the thousands on the streets of Manhattan and he is going to have to go kick some ass just now? If you believe other parts of Moore's cowboy characterizations of Bush, you'll be wondering why he didn't do just that.
But the overarching suggestion of the film is clearly the corrupt nature of the relationships between the Bush Family, Oil Business, and by extension the House of Saud. The Bush family is in the oil business you see, and if you are in the oil business you are definitely going to do business with the Saudis. And if you're family does business with the Saudis then you are therefore corrupted by them and must begin examination of every policy from the perspective of "what would benefit the Saudis." So goes the implication.
The film rails against the decision to fly some members of the bin-Laden family and Saudi nationals out of the country on September 13 (which was AFTER the flight ban was lifted, Ricky Martin could have flown on this day). (Correction: they were flown out on Sept. 14, after the flight ban was lifted - Paul) He suggests that they were not questioned properly, (an assertion that the 9/11 Commission report wholly rejects). Nevermind that the Saudis revoked bin-Laden's citizenship years ago and never mind that Osama was one of 50 children sired by his father. He is part of a HUGE family, much of it disconnected. They were questioned by the FBI, none of them knew the address of the cave Osama was in, so they were sent home. It is far from clear how much say Bush had in the decision anyway. In his most recent interview, Richard Clarke, a critic of the Bush administration, says the decision went no higher than him.
Moore takes care to point out that 12 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, bin-Laden is a Saudi national, therefore Saudis must have been complicit in 9/11 (though for what it is worth the 9/11 commission also disputes this). I am no fan of the Saudi government, but it goes without saying that foreign policy is a precarious endeavour. This relationship precedes both of the Bush presidencies and the unfortunate reality is that the harm the Saudi government can do is greater than the harm they have already done. To complicate matters, the House of Saud has a tenuous grip on power, if they were to fall, the country would fall under Islamic Militant rule. That's worse than what is there now, an important consideration to make. Not all of our allies will be perfect, the lesser of all evils is sometimes the best choice. We alligned with Stalin to defeat Hitler, and yes in the 80's, we alligned with Hussein against a country that just took a bunch of Americans hostage. Without a doubt the U.S. is too close to the Saudis, all recent administrations have been guilty of that. Does that mean that there is a secret alliance between the Bush administration and the Saudi royal family to protect the mass murderers of Al-Qaeda so that Bush and his friends can make money? Moore doesn't come close to proving this.
So we move to Afghanistan, which at the time, Moore was against going into. I'm not sure what he thinks now. He suggests that the real reason we went there was because Unocal wanted to build a pipeline to transport natural gas across the region. He points to a visit by a delegation from the Taliban in 1997 to explore this, and the visit did indeed happen but they (Taliban) did not meet with Bush as the film strongly implies. As a matter of fact the delegation met with Clinton administration officials. What's more is that Unocal gave up on their plans for the pipeline in 1998 deeming it too risky. But we dodged a fight with the real perpetrators of 9/11 (Saudis) in order to invade and then build a pipeline (that no one wants to build) through Afghanistan? That's the suggestion.
So he opposed the action. But then Moore goes on to lament that we didn't go into Afghanistan fast enough or with enough ruthlessness. He says that most of Al-Qaeda got away (which is not true - the evidence offered is footage of a bunch of armed Arabs in a pick-up truck driving away) and that we gave bin-Laden a two month head start. Which is it though? Are the terrorists a serious threat or is it the government that is crying wolf? Moore mocks Bush for not doing enough to prevent 9/11, but what could he have done? A preemptive strike on Afghanistan? Imagine in August 2001 Bush calls a press conference to and announces "I am ordering the invasion the "sovereign" nation of Afghanistan because there is a bunch of guys living in caves, and though they have no biological or chemical weapons, they do have box cutters and are planning an attack on American soil that could kill up to 50,000 people or more." Sure Michael Moore would have gotten right on that, after he bellowed "NATURAL GAS PIPELINE!!!" And those that today yell, "What about North Korea, What about Saudi Arabia!" Would begin the chorus of "What about Iraq - Saddam has WMD's!!"
So, we move to Iraq. This is perhaps the most absurdly misleading part of the film. The portrayal of Iraq as a happy shining city on a hill where kids fly kites in the sun all day could not be more innapropriate. This is a country where torture and rape were institutionalized, a country where those that fill the mass graves are rewarded. It was a country where unimagineable fear ruled the day. Moore then refers to the invasion of what he calls a "sovereign" Iraq, but Saddam Hussein came to power via the barrel of a gun and maintained it through torture and massacre. What possible moral claim to sovereignty does he have? Moore says Hussein never killed a U.S. citizen. Right he only shot at the planes patrolling the no fly zone every day for ten years, and only provided support and sanctuary for terrorists that have. And Al Capone only evaded taxes.
There are of course, the clips of Powell, Bush, Cheney, et al asserting that Saddam was in possession of WMD's. Again I could show you just as many clips of Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac, Madeline Albright, and John Kerry asserting the exact same thing. It was conventional wisdom for the last 10 years. What does it prove? Were they all liars? Are we to believe that they were all part of the Bush conspiracy as far back as 1998? Conspicuously absent again is any mention of Husseins countless U.N. security council violations, no mention of a unanimous vote that required Saddam Hussein to comply with the rules or face "serious consequences" no mention of the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly authorizing President Bush to use force on Saddam Hussein. No mention that, in a post 9/11 world, it is an intolerable risk to take Saddam's word for it when it comes to chemical and biological weapons. No mention that there was a tremendous lack of serious alternatives for dealing with the problem.
Given that Moore fancies himself as somewhat of a sleuth and given his penchant to look for the corrupting power of the oil business in everything, it is almost incomprehensible to me that he has yet to pick up on the U.N. oil for food scam. Where a patchwork of politicians and businessmen around the world benefited from the lack of oversight of the U.N. oil for food program. The idea was to aid the citizens of Iraq that were suffering more under sanctions than Saddam, but all it did was, through a system of bribes and kickbacks, help keep Saddam in power while providing cheap oil to countries such as France and Russia. It is they who were trading (Iraqi) blood for oil. Could it be that this was left out for fear that it would imperil his Palme d'Or?
If there was one redeeming quality of this film it is that it showed the very terrible costs of going to war. Dead babies, mothers wailing, angry men cursing America. The devastation felt by Mrs. Lipscomb, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, as she struggles to rationalize the death of her son was a tear jerker, one of the few scenes that didn't appear dishonestly packaged for effect, as were the graphic pictures of the dead and wounded. But in supporting this war, I had already considered those costs, I knew that because of a policy that I support, innocent children, civilians, and soldiers would die, some of them horrifically. It is a sad thing to be sure, but the reality is that the standard is not perfection, it is the alternative. Once again, the alternative is much much worse. You can watch this video of Saddam era torture and decide for yourself. I warn you it is very graphic, it will peel the enamel right off your teeth. That is the real Iraq is one littered with mass graves, the one with no hope for a future until we did something. View the pictures of mass graves here and you'll see 300,000 Mr. Lipscomb's. If Michael Moore wants to engage in the cold calculus of body count he will come up on the very short end. Saddam was responsible for killing at least 20,000 people a year. Think ten years forward and do the math. Unless Moore want to make the argument that a random American life is worth more than a random Iraqi life, he doesn't have a leg to stand on.
By the end of the film, I was having trouble taking it seriously. It was loaded with bluster and innuendo. Frozen head shots of Bush with Michael Moore voiceover suggesting what Bush "might" be thinking. Mocking (and deservedly so) of the silly individuals trying to market parachutes to jump out of sky scrapers, one person guarding hundreds of miles in an Oregon border working part time, woeful encounters with airport security that we've all witnessed, including the inexplicable allowing of matches on board a plane (he makes the suggestion that airport security is lax on this issue because the tobacco companies have paid off Bush, I swear). Alternating clips of Bush saying "Iraq" in one speech then "Al Qaeda" in another, repeat five times, speed up for effect. U.S. soldiers portrayed alternatively as buffoonish killing machines in one scene and naive exploited kids in another. This is the profound Michael Moore? It sounds like something one would here from those cackling hens on "The View."
And of course there was the "speaking truth to power" scene where Congressmen were asked if they would sign up their children to fight in Iraq, dramatically putting the chickenhawk argument to film. Of course when Moore crossed Congressman Kennedy who did have family serving overseas, he edited out his side of the conversation. But even if Moore was not, once again, misleading, it is still an intellectual shortcut, for the value of a policy is not dependant on the qualifications of the person who proposed it. The arguments made for deposing Saddam Hussein should be considered on their own merits, not the character of the person who proposed it. And even if the reasons for invading Iraq are not compelling, it does not prove that Bush launched the war to obscure his ties with the Saudis or that the war was immoral. It all comes across as rather glib, and lacking any sort of intellectual depth, nothing new is offered to the political discourse of the day.
In various interviews, Michael Moore has called his film a comedy, an op-ed piece, and even had the audacity to say it wasn't political. Maybe he is simply a savvy businessman. He seized on the insatiable need for anti-Americanism in France and parlayed it into Palme d'Or he and has carried that momentum to the American screen. Want to talk about war-profiteering? Exploiting the Iraq invasion and American political distress to the tune of a $22 million is just that, at least by Moore's standards. Oh and Ralph Nader calling you a sellout doesn't help. And how bad can the country really be when it makes its harshest dissidents multi-millionaires?
Forget the petty politics of the moment though as history will be the final judge on the veracity of Moore's characterization of events. If 10 years from now Iraq is a mess that we are still trying to get out of then he may be vindicated. On the other hand, if 10 years from now (what would have been about year 5 of those charming sons Uday and Qusay's rule in Moore's world) we leave Iraq a free and prosperouse society (as we left Japan and Germany), Moore will have landed squarely on the wrong side of history.
Here's Jeff Jarvis's review it's probably the best one I read, yeah, even better than Chris Hitchens.
Jeff Jarvis, who is not a Bush supporter also offers these refreshing thoughts.
Andrew Sullivan notes some parallels between The Passion and F9/11 and here is an interesting comparison of reviews for the two films.
Lies, Lies, and Moore Lies
Hmmm, Michael Moore has ties to the Carlyle group I guess that means if you see his film you are funding terrorism.... according to his standards.
via Andrew Sullivan three more lies from F9/11, one, two, three
I'm sure we will see more of these as time goes on, keep an eye on these sites.
Bowling for Truth
UPDATE - Spinsanity discusses the the temperature at which Michael Moore's pants burn. It is thorough link-filled piece, a must read.
And the latest issue of Cultivate Life can be found here.
UPDATE II - Dave Kopel documents 59 (and counting) deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11.
And click here to see what a ghoul Michael Moore really is.