Sunday, July 11, 2004

Moore and His Friends

by Jonah Goldberg
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is the biggest-selling documentary in movie history. Compared with normal Hollywood fare, that may be like being the best team in Canadian football. But it would be foolish to underestimate the film's potential impact. Moore has created a new form of media, the attack movie, which follows blogs, talk radio, and cable TV among recent arrivals.
Like remoras following a shark, Moore's critics have been cleaning up his errors and distortions. They have a busy task. Moore says the Bush family is enmeshed with the Saudis, having received over a billion dollars of Saudi business. This refers to a Saudi purchase in the mid-'90s from BDM, a defense contractor owned by the Carlyle Group, on one of whose advisory boards George H. W. Bush sat. But the Carlyle Group sold BDM five months before the elder Bush joined its board. Moore says that George W. Bush went to war in Afghanistan to ice a deal for a natural-gas pipeline with Unocal, a Texas company. But Unocal had dropped its pipeline idea in 1998. Moore shows a pre-invasion Iraq of happy children flying kites. Yes, and Germany hosted an exuberant Olympics in 1936 (filmed, come to think of it, by Leni Riefenstahl).
The real response to Moore and the mindset he addresses is not fact-checking, but questioning. If American ties to the Saudi regime have been too close, and they have, what is the remedy? Pulling out American bases (which the Bush administration has now done)? Should there be other pressures? What kind? If it was a failure to have let Osama bin Laden escape in Tora Bora, then should the United States have committed more troops? If we should not have sent any troops at all to Iraq, then what should be our policy toward rogue states with sophisticated armies, who are also sponsors of terror? Mothers bewail the deaths of their sons in battle, as Lila Lipscomb does in Fahrenheit 9/11. But so do they in all wars. Is pacifism the answer?
Michael Moore can dismiss or evade these questions, because he considers them unimportant. He wishes only to accomplish his goal, which is to have the United States withdraw from the world (and perhaps hope that the world withdraws from us). But they are also questions for his mainstream well-wishers. Sen. Tom Daschle voted for the Iraq war, but attended the Washington opening of Fahrenheit 9/11, and reportedly sucked up to the filmmaker. Former Clinton operatives Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani are running Moore's "war room," responding to his critics. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, told NR's Byron York that he "believes" Moore's pipeline theory about Afghanistan. The sometimes-sensible William Raspberry and the rabid Paul Krugman have written columns admitting Moore's mistakes and irresponsibility, but saying that they are justified in the greater cause of running down Bush. After taking power with such allies and under such auspices, how do liberals propose to govern?