Many have offered either intensely negative criticisms of Fahrenheit 9/11, while those with an opposing agenda provide glowing, endearing reviews of Michael Moore’s latest film. I will do neither, but rather, provide a respectfully critical view of the film: where it hits, and what it misses.
For the most part, I was happy with Fahrenheit 9/11, which relays many a fact known to Internet researchers but not to the general public. The film’s most important revelation — the appearance of James R. Bath’s name on one of Bush’s service records — has gone almost without comment. Bath later functioned as the go-between linking the Bushes, the Bin Ladens, and the Saudis.
This link tends to buttress some of the more controversial allegations made by Daniel Hopsicker, who alleges that W, during the famed “missing period” of his National Guard service, actually went on a mission for the CIA. Bath, claims this writer, did likewise:
For answers we turned to the story of an important ‘player’ in the saga of George W Bush in the National Guard, James Bath. Bath was mustered out of the Texas National Guard — and allegedly into the CIA — exactly one month from when George W Bush allegedly goes through the same process. Bath’s story is entwined with George W’s for the next twenty years, almost as if they worked for the same company…from the Texas Guard to BCCI to Saudi money allegedly funneled into George W. Bush’s first fledgling oil venture, Arbusto, and then later into Bush’s failing Harken Energy, from people who increasingly are being fingered as having participated in the attack on America September 11, 2001.
Hopsicker here operates in a speculative (arguably too speculative) mode here. Still, one fact gnaws at me: Why was Bath’s name redacted from the document? Given the current enmity between the Agency and the neo-cons, maybe a further leak or two will clear up these mysteries.
Speaking of the neo-cons, I was a little bothered that Michael Moore did not. Speak of them, that is. How can someone make a feature-length critique of Bush’s foreign policy without once mentioning “neo-conservatism”? I suspect that the audience would have been shocked by some of the riper quotations offered by the Machiavellian worthies of PNAC, whose rantings helped father the current debacle. The well-known neo-con prophecy about a new “Pearl Harbor” surely rated a mention.
Moore’s odd silence on this topic is the foundation of Bob Dreyfuss’ over-the-top denunciation published by the Tom Paine website. Dreyfuss represents a viewpoint which damns Moore’s emphasis on the Bush/Saudi relationship.
In my view, that relationship does deserve scrutiny — Moore’s “Who’s your daddy?” crack is priceless — but any discussion of the topic requires greater context. The film should have noted that the neo-cons also view Saudi Arabia as a target for destabilization, and that Osama Bin Laden unwittingly functions in accordance with their grand scheme.
Osama’s ultimate goal — which many on both the left and the right tend to forget — is dynasty change in the Islamic holy land. This simple, all-important fact undermines the oft-heard charge that Saudi Arabia funded the 9/11 terrorists — a misperception which may afflict some of Moore’s viewers.
True, it has been established that the leaders of Saudi Arabia gave Osama Bin Laden “go play somewhere else” money. No one should doubt that factions within that country share Al-Qaeda’s vision of a change in rulers; history teaches us that plotters against the throne skulk within every monarchy. So far, though, I’ve seen no evidence that the rulers of Saudi Arabia viewed the World Trade Center attacks with anything other than horror. Moreover, Saudi Arabia offered strong cautions against Bush’s Iraq adventure — a fact unmentioned by Michael Moore.
However, he does discuss the massive Saudi investment in the United States. That fact alone will give the public good reason to mistrust those voices who consider Saudi Arabia the real enemy, and who call for “democratization” of that nation. War and turmoil in that land probably will not create democracy — more likely, Saudi assets (representing a huge chunk of our economy) will fall into the hands of Salafist religious maniacs.
The film’s odd reluctance to address the issue of neo-conservatism affects its coverage of the drumbeat for war. The film offers not a word about the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, the Office of Strategic Influence, the Redon Group, or the little shop of liars run by Ahmed Chalabi. (For more on these topics, see here.) Neither, if memory serves, does Moore see fit to mention the Plame scandal or the Niger uranium lie.
Israel and Ariel Sharon rate nary a mention. Had Moore breathed a word about the convergence of Likudnik aspirations and the neo-conservatives’ grand visions — well, one can easily guess the response.
Toward the end of the film, Moore offers his thesis statement. Memory does not allow a precise quote, but here’s the gist: “Our soldiers are mostly poor and working class. They represent America at her finest. All they ask is that we not go to war unless absolutely necessary.”
A very admirable sentiment. Although the reactionary pundits will try to convince you otherwise, Moore takes a very pro-military stance. He is at his best when he details Bush’s budget-cutting disservices to our men and women in uniform.
Unfortunately, in his understandable and laudatory zeal to salute the grunts, he turns away, for the most part, from the prisoner abuse scandals. (The film does contain some video of open-air prisoner mistreatment. I wasn’t shocked by this footage; the worse images we’ve all seen may have had a desensitizing influence.) I suspect Moore did not want to portray ground-level military men in a poor light. In an odd sense, Moore’s sympathy for the servicemen, and his closeness to the mother of a fallen soldier, may have transformed him into something akin to an embedded journalist.
Moore shows the hideous fate of American contractors in Fallujah, but neglects to detail the vicious American response, which killed many civilians but managed to leave Al Zarqawi and his ilk unharmed. Also unmentioned is the fact that American forces withdrew from the city, now controlled by the insurgency. In essence, we lost the battle. Moore’s coverage of these events does not differ much from the view one might find on FOX News.
I expected some discussion of the lies surrounding the actual invasion. For example, on April 2, 2003, the public heard reports of a grand battle in which the Third Infantry Division took out two Iraqi Republican Guard divisions — a battle which never took place. In fact, the much-vaunted Republican Guard seems to have bowed out of the fight entirely, perhaps because its leaders (wisely) took a pay-off. We were told — falsely — that Syria had supplied Saddam with night vision goggles. The pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue was a public relations scam using imported cheering “Iraqis,” who were actually Chalabi’s goons. One can list many similar deceptions.
I’m not sure why Moore shied away from these fabrications. He may have feared that bringing these matters up might have made our fighting men and women look unheroic.
Moore implies — correctly — that the primary motive for the war was to seize the oil fields. He does not discuss “peak oil” theory, which — if valid — does much to explain why Bush viewed this seizure as a necessity. I suppose the time is not yet ripe for public debate over peak oil. (Although one wonders when the right time will come. Perhaps after we’ve all reverted to horse-drawn carriages?)
I hope these criticisms will not dissuade anyone from seeing the film. It is a remarkable, effective document. Moore’s editing is sharp, and his commentary has real bite. Jeff Gibbs provides a terrific score with a discernable Philip Glass influence. (Few documentaries generate soundtrack albums; Mondo Cane and The Thin Blue Line come to mind. Fahrenheit 9/11 should join their ranks.) The responses of the reactionaries — who have resorted to their usual tactics of distortion, character assassination, and the trumpeting of opinion as fact — only underscore the power of Moore’s argument.
Perhaps some future filmmaker will take that argument into deeper realms.
Joseph Cannon is a writer and graphic designer in Los Angeles, California. He runs the Cannonfire weblog.