by Keith Preston
Michael Moore is not exactly my cup of tea. He is a liberal’s liberal who fits almost perfectly the stereotype lampooned by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. His appearance and rhetoric convey the image of a Joe Sixpack populist when the reality is that of a multi-millionaire member of the literati and cognoscenti, a adherent of Phil Donahue-esque limo-progressivism. In his films, speeches and interviews, Moore frequently comes across as a sanctimonious, know-it-all, a “fat, unshaven, bully” as right-wing pundit and Watergate luminary G. Gordon Liddy describes him.
Much of Moore’s work is little more than a regurgitation of standard liberal cliches. The anti-firearms zealotry expressed in “Bowling for Columbine” is indicative of the phoniness of his pretended populism. And the title of one of his books invokes the silly white-male-bashing that the modern left has transformed into a sacrament. Even those aspects of his work that I tend to admire, for example, his attacks on corporate corruption and tyranny, are never accompanied by any proposed remedies of a creative or insightful sort. Instead, Moore always falls back on the left-wing insistence that the welfare and regulatory state can never be expansive, expensive, intrusive or totalitarian enough. Yet, for having produced “Fahrenheit 911”, I can forgive a lot of ideological or personal weaknesses on Moore’s part.
Critics have characterized the film as an orgy of Bush-bashing and indeed it is. And rightfully so. Contrary to some reports, Moore builds his case against Bush and his regime rather meticulously. He has dug up and included a good deal of obscure, frequently hilarious and often quite revealing footage of Bush and cronies in their more unguarded moments, demonstrating themselves to be the motley assortment of rogues and incompetents that they are. In the months leading up to the 9-11 tragedy, one administration official after another is shown denying any capability for so-called “weapons of mass destruction” on the part of Saddam. A high-ranking FBI official is shown testifying before Congress with regards to John Ashcroft’s contemptuous dismissal of the concerns brought to him by the agency on the matter of terrorism prior to 9-11. Terrorism experts are interviewed about the seeming near-total indifference of the new Bush administration in the early months of 2001, even after intelligence reports revealed al-Qaida was planning a hijacking operation within the US.
Moore provides heavy documentation of the long-standing personal and commercial relationships between the Bush and bin Laden families. The evacuation of members of the bin Laden family and other Saudi elites from the US immediately after 9-11, when all commerical air flights had been grounded, is also discussed. The incompetence displayed by the administration in the buildup to the war in Afganistan raises importance questions about the actual motives behind that war. If the goal was to retaliate against al-Qaida and eliminate bin Laen, then why was bin Laden given a two-month head start before any “hot pursuit” got underway? Would not an almost immediate Special Forces attack have been more appropriate? Military experts discuss the relatively small invasion force sent into Afghanistan as opposed to the much more massive force sent into Iraq. Was the purpose of the Afghan invasion to eliminate al-Qaida and the Taliban (whose dignitaries are shown visiting oil elites in Texas during Bush’s time as governor there-one of the turban wearing barbarians comments on the inablility of American men to control their women) or to make Afghanistan safe for the construction of a long-desired oil pipeline?
Similar questions are raised about the role in the Iraq war of the oil crony-capitalists who surround Bush. The oil industry backgrounds of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice are well-known. Amusing footage is included of a less gray-headed Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, at the height of America’s backing of Saddam’s war against Iran. Also shown are scenes from gatherings of corporate executives where the economic opportunities brought about by the Iraq war are elaborated upon. The scenes of these high-falutin’ war profiteers marveling over the prospective loot are in sharp contrast with the scenes depicting the many, many victims of Bush’s wrong-headed war. It is on these matters that Moore is at his best.
Rank and file enlisted personnel in Iraq are shown to be real world human beings, neither malicious killers nor bravehearted warriors nobly defending the Fatherland. Instead, they are depicted as regular Joes and Janets who signed up for military service because it was the only job available in many of their cases. To his credit, Moore is genuinely bi-racial in his handling of the subject of American troops. Many of the G.I.’s interviewed are authentic, white working-class people, that element so long forgotten by the left in its fascination with caricatured Official Minorities. Yet, the impact of imperialism and empire on real-world minority communities is also shown in dramatic detail. A group of black high school students in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan are shown talking about the reasons so many in their community are attracted to military life. Virtually all of them have a family member in Iraq.
Moore also focuses a bit on the dishonesty and cynicism involved in military recruitment efforts. His cameras follow two young Marine recruiters to a shopping mall where they are shown approaching one young person after another, all of them ordinary, everyday working class kids, whom they attempt to entice into military life with outrageous promises concerning job opportunities, vocational training, educational benefits, enlistment bonuses, travel adventures, opportunities to develop one’s skills at sports and music, one lie or exaggerated claim after another. Much of the latter part of the film focuses on a military family in Flint, a bi-racial family with a black father and white mother, the latter a counselor to the unemployed who proudly flies a US flag outside her home and talks about her family’s military history. Her son was killed in Iraq and she is shown reading his last letter home where Bush is described as “that fool” who got the country into an unnecessary war.
For all the damage done to American families and communities by Bush and his band of sociopaths, the impact on the people of Iraq is predictably much, much worse. Graphic footage is included of destroyed homes and marketplaces, charred, mangled and mutilated bodies, horribly injured children, grieving survivors and raids on the homes of terrified civilians by American soldiers. Enraged Iraqis are shown promising bloody vengeance on the Americans. Bush regime rhetoric about “liberation” is shown to be the sick joke that it is. And despite Moore’s obvious partisanship, the Democratic Congress and liberal media are not let off the hook either. Leading Democrats like Tom Daschle and media icons like Peter Jennings and Dan Rather are shown kowtowing to the emperor and the imperial ambitions of the state. On the question of pro-war bias in the media, Rather remarks, “When my country goes to war, I want to win!”. A reporter from Fox News goes even further saying, “Damn right, I’m biased!”.
“Fahrenheit 9-11” includes many of the predictable weaknesses one would expect from a film made by a left-liberal. In examining the motives behind the Iraq War, Moore focuses almost exclusively on the role of the Bush family and their relationship to Big Oil, armaments manufacturers and other components of the military-industrial complex. This type of focus, while including much of merit in its own right, also indicates the limits of the conventional left-wing orientation towards economic determinism and laying the world’s events at the feet of “the capitalists”. It would have been wonderful if Moore had devoted some scant attention to the other, many fascinating factors concerning the Bush regime’s Middle East policies.
Israel merits not even a single mention in this film. Any competent political scientist will recognize that U.S. Middle East policy cannot be fully understood outside the context of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Moore could have at least included some reference to the potential benefits to Israel likely to accompany the demise of Iraq or the Israel Firsters who occupy many of the upper echelons of the Bush administration. Bush’s parroting, in his own ineloquent way, of the rhetoric of Ariel Sharon on Iraq and on the Palestinian question might have made for some interesting and even comical footage. An examination of the hold of the Israeli lobby over Congress might have shed some light on Congress’ acquiescence over the matter of the Iraq war. Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleishcher, appears several times in the film, yet his Israeli citizenship is never revealed.
Likewise, there is not a single reference to the role of neoconservative or Straussian ideology in the shaping of the Bush’s administrations war plans. A brief segment, say ninety seconds, of Shadia Drury explaining who the Zionazi Leo Strauss actually was and the role played by his intellectual disciples in the Bush regime might have proven quite illuminating. Indeed, a particularly surreal scene in the film involves footage of the Straussian neocon Paul Wolfowitz, leading intellectual architect of the Iraq war, preparing for a television appearance. He is shown licking his comb, trying to keep his slicked-back hairstyle in order. With his beady eyes, pointy nose and Dracula coif, he takes on an eerie, vampirish appearance. Unfortunately, he also looks with perfection the stereotype of the satanic Jew of medieval fables. Professional Jew-haters could have a field day with this.
One would think that a confirmed leftist like Michael Moore would at least include some reference to Bush’s theocratic allies among the Christian Zionist movement, his major grassroots support base. Indeed, Bush himself claims to be a “born again”, and it could have been quite interesting to explore the relationship between Bush’s alliance with the “Left Behind” crowd and his treatment of Palestine and Iraq. Yet there is no mention of any of this in the film. Of course, it would be just as silly to attribute Bush’s aggression in Iraq to “the Jews” or “the Rapturists” as it is to lay all of this at the door of “the capitalists”, “Big Oil” or “the military-industrial complex”. Such simplistic forms of analysis utterly fail to understand the nature of the modern state. And this brings us to the principle flaw in all of Michael Moore’s work, whether “Fahrenheit 9-11”, his other films or his books.
Michael Moore is a statist. He may not like particular individuals within the state at a particular time, like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. He may not like particular actions of the state, like going to war with Iraq. But matters such as these are only peripheral issues when Michael Moore’s entire world view is examined. Ultimately, Moore shares the same fundamental set of presumptions as Bush, Cheney or Wolfowitz. The state is good. The state is an indispensable human institution. The state is a necessary means to a vital end. The state can be a source of human uplifting if only the right people are in control of it, if only it has enough resources at its disposal, if only the people grant it its proper reverence. Yet, these presumptions are fundamentally flawed.
As Franz Oppenheimer demonstrated, the state is founded upon conquest and plunder. Any other claims on behalf of the state are simple matters of evasion and obfuscation. Whether the state plunders Iraq on behalf of George W. Bush’s warfare state or whether the state plunders the product of the labor of working people on behalf of Michael Moore’s beloved welfare state, the basic truth taught by Randolph Bourne, that “war is the health of the state”, remains a truism. The purpose of the state is to monopolize territory, expand its power, and exploit its subjects on behalf of an artificially privileged ruling class. Currently, the American state seeks to expand its imperial power throughout the Middle East, to monopolize that territory, to exploit its subjects (whether they be Americans or Iraqis or Afghanis or, de facto, Palestinians), and to enrich, empower and privilege its ruling class, that baleful coalition of economic, religious, ethnic and ideological interests currently in control of the U.S. regime. Michael Moore could use a good dose of Public Choice economics.
Moore’s obvious political purpose in making this film is to un-elect Bush come November. But what can be expected from a Kerry administration? Kerry is a product of the same elitist fraternity as Bush, Yale’s mysterious Skull and Bones society. At best, a Kerry regime would be a collection of recycled Clintonites, perhaps even including the Dragon Lady, Madaleine Albright, whose suggestion that subjecting hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children to horrible deaths from disease and malnutrition via sanctions and blockades was just wonderful so long as it kept Saddam toeing the line might even qualify her for a job working for Bush should Colin Powell decide to retire.
Obviously, it is the people and not the politicians who must put an end to the insanity going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and, perhaps soon enough, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and, what the hell, maybe even Columbia, North Korea or China. If “global democracy” or some other piety is the battle cry of our overlords, then our only rightful response can be: “Hell, no, we won’t go, we won’t fight for N.W.O.!!”