[News] The Problem is Bigger than the Bushes

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Fri Jul 2 11:33:54 EDT 2004

Subject: The Problem is Bigger than the Bushes--ZNet

The Problem is Bigger than the Bushes
Reviewing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11
by Stephen Rosenthal and Junaid Ahmad; July 01, 2004

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 opened this past weekend (June 25) to 
record crowds and box office receipts across the United States.  Moore is 
the author of the bestselling book Stupid White Men and producer of the 
award winning documentary Bowling for Columbine.  The U.S. opening of 
Fahrenheit 9/11 was preceded by considerable excitement and political 
controversy.  Released earlier in Europe to enthusiastic audiences opposed 
to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, it received the prestigious 
Palme D'Or (golden palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival.  The internet 
based Democratic Party fundraising machine MoveOn.org, to celebrate the 
film opening, organized over 3000 "house parties" on June 28 where its 
supporters heard Michael Moore on closed circuit television urge viewers to 
"take back the White House" this November.

After Disney refused to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11 in the U.S., the 
Independent Film Channel (IFC), which is owned by Cablevision and financed 
by JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, took over distribution and promotion of 
the film.  This struggle over the distribution of the film, along with the 
film's obvious role in the 2004 election battle between the Republican and 
Democratic Parties, reflects the deep division Bush's debacle in Iraq has 
generated within the U.S. ruling class.

The large enthusiastic audiences in theaters throughout the U.S. and at the 
MoveOn.org house parties suggest that opposition to the Bush administration 
and to the war in Iraq has been growing considerably during the past 
several months.  The absence of Iraqi WMDs and any connection between Iraq 
and Al Qaeda, the massive Iraqi insurgency against the occupation, the 
growing U.S. casualties, the ballooning costs of the war and the shaky 
economy have evidently had a cumulative effect in undermining mass support 
for the war.

Viewers who have suffered through the nightmare four years of the Bush 
administration and marched against the horrendous invasion and occupation 
of Iraq are understandably hopeful that Fahrenheit 9/11 will help produce 
"regime change" in the U.S. this fall.  That may prove to be the case, but 
will putting Democrat John Kerry in the White House lead to withdrawal of 
U.S. troops, military bases, and profiteering corporations from Iraq, 
repeal of the Patriot Act, or a reorientation of U.S. foreign policy away 
from its drive for imperialist hegemony?  And, if replacing Bush with Kerry 
does not deliver any of these results, does Fahrenheit 9/11 at least 
provide its viewers with the information and analysis they will need to 
understand why the leadership of the Democratic Party has betrayed their 
hopes and needs?  We will attempt to answer these questions after first 
summarizing Michael Moore's indictment of George W. Bush.

Michael Moore begins the film by defining George W. Bush as an illegitimate 
President who stole the 2000 presidential election.  He traces the family, 
business, and political connections of the key players who made sure that 
Bush won Florida's electoral votes.  He shows us Al Gore, presiding over 
the Senate in his last act as vice-president, using his gavel to silence 
African American members of the House of Representatives, whose protest 
against certifying the election results cannot go forward because not one 
member of the all white U.S. Senate will sign their appeal against the 
massive racist disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida.

Moore depicts Bush as an incompetent leader who spent 42% of the first 
eight months of his presidency up to 9/11 on vacation.  He cites findings 
of the 9/11 commission confirming that the Bush administration virtually 
ignored the threat of an Al Qaeda attack on the U.S.  He then devotes a 
significant part of the film to analyzing the intricate network of oil, 
banking, and investment relationships between the Bush family and the 
rulers of Saudi Arabia, including the Bin Laden family.  He informs us that 
George Bush senior is a major figure in the Carlyle Group, which has major 
investments in several of the biggest corporate military contractors.  He 
describes how the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan were invited to Texas in an 
effort to negotiate the building of a natural gas pipeline through 
Afghanistan from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean.

Moore emphasizes how members of the Bin Laden family and other influential 
Saudis were allowed to fly out of the U.S. after 9/11 at a time when U.S. 
air space was otherwise shut down.  Although Moore never explicitly states 
why he is telling this fairly detailed story, it seems pretty clear that he 
is trying to demonstrate that family business interests made Bush 
determined to invade first Afghanistan and then Iraq, rather than go after 
the country from which most of the 9/11 hijackers came.  In other words, 
Moore is suggesting that Bush and his cronies put their personal interests 
above the national security of the United States.

Moore then devotes most of the rest of the film to the U.S. war on 
Iraq.  He satirizes Bush's "coalition of the willing" by listing some of 
the militarily insignificant countries that did agree to join the coalition 
of invaders of Iraq.  He briefly reviews the now thoroughly exposed lies 
Bush and his pals presented to gain support for invading Iraq.  He 
dramatizes the human consequences of the war for the tortured and bombed 
Iraqis, for the American military soldiers who are fighting and dying in 
this preemptive war, and for the families, both Iraqi and American, who are 
devastated by the war's deadly destruction.   He provides footage of 
meetings where corporate leaders eagerly discuss the profits they expect to 
reap from the exploitation and reconstruction of Iraq.

Most poignant is the story told by Lila Lipscomb, mother of Michael 
Pederson, killed in Iraq after Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and 
declared victory in Iraq.  Lipscomb lives in Moore's hometown, Flint, 
Michigan.    Lipscomb describes herself as a "conservative Democrat," who 
used to despise anti-war demonstrators.  A white woman married to a black 
man, she has fought to survive amidst the economic wreckage left behind in 
Flint by General Motors in its search for cheaper labor and higher 
profits.  She encouraged her daughter and son to enlist in the army, and 
she reads from her son's final letter home, in which he says of Bush, "He 
got us out here for nothing."  At the end of the film, she visits 
Washington, gets as close to the White House as she can, and pours out her 
anger at its occupant.  Her obviously authentic testimony is perhaps 
Moore's most potent ammunition in Fahrenheit 9/11.

In stark juxtaposition to Lila Lipscomb are the Congresspersons who scurry 
away from Moore when he tries to urge them to persuade their sons and 
daughters to enlist in the armed forces, and the fat cats attending one of 
Bush's fundraisers whom Bush calls his "base."  By the end of the film, we 
see the immense contrast between the Bush crowd, who have launched a war to 
increase their wealth, and the ordinary working class people, who, as Moore 
observes, always make the biggest sacrifices in wars.

In his speech to the more than thirty thousand people attending MoveOn.org 
house parties last night (June 28), Michael Moore stated his disappointment 
that Kerry had supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  He suggested that 
Kerry may lose the election unless he responds to growing popular 
opposition to the war.  He hopes Kerry, if elected, will withdraw U.S. 
troops from Iraq during the first 100 days of his administration.  Let's 
examine Moore's analysis of the Bush Administration, the war, and the 
Democratic Party.

The Theft of 2000 Election.  Fahrenheit 9/11 begins with an implicit 
indictment of both Republicans and Democrats and ends with an implicit 
indictment of the system of inequality in the U.S.  But in between, the 
film concentrates virtually all of its fire on the Bush crowd and the 
Republican Party.

Republicans stole the 2000 election with the spineless complicity of the 
Democrats.  Not one Democratic Senator is willing to sign the appeal 
demanded by African American members of the House of Representatives. But 
why did the Democrats passively accept the massive disenfranchisement of 
Black voters in Florida (and other states) in 2000?  Moore does not attempt 
to explain the Democrat's spinelessness.  The answer lies in the fact that 
the Democrats colluded extensively in Black disenfranchisement.  Democratic 
majorities in Congress and the Democratic president Bill Clinton repeatedly 
proposed and voted for legislation that resulted in the massive 
criminalization of African Americans.  Christian Parenti wrote in an 
'New' Criminal Justice System: State Repression from 1968 to 2001," Monthly 
Review, July 2001:

During his presidency, Clinton signed the 1994 Violent Crime Control And 
Law Enforcement Act, which offered up a cop's cornucopia of $30.2 billion 
in federal cash from which we got Clinton's one hundred thousand new police 
officers, scores of new prisons, and SWAT teams in even small New England 
towns...(In 1996) Clinton gave us the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death 
Penalty Act, which massively expanded the use of the death penalty and 
eviscerated federal habeas corpus The sad election year of 1996 also 
delivered the ideologically named "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant 
Responsibility Act," which eliminated the undocumented person's right to 
due process and helped bring Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) 
funding up to four billion annually. These were the Clinton 
administration's demolition devices, strategically placed to take out what 
little remained for prisoners in the Bill of Rights.

These acts contributed to the continuing rapid expansion of the prison 
system, to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans, and to 
their disenfranchisement as convicted felons.  Whites make up over 
three-fourths of the violators of drug laws, but the criminal justice 
system has, for the past three decades, under both Republican and 
Democratic administrations, imprisoned millions of African 
Americans.  Moreover, those prisoners have increasingly been subjected to 
the same kinds of torture that took place at Abu Ghraib, sometimes even by 
the very same guards!  Neither Al Gore nor the 100 white 
Senators-Republicans as well as Democrats-who themselves supported this 
repressive racist legislation, were going to put their signature on the 
appeal of black Representatives.  The Democrats were spineless because they 
were as guilty as the Republicans.

The U.S./Saudi Connection.  This cozy relationship is much bigger than the 
family and business ties between the Bushes and the Bin Ladens that Michael 
Moore describes.  Before the end of World War II, Democratic President 
Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. establishment as a whole decided that 
U.S. control of Saudi oil and U.S. protection of the Saudi royal family 
would be the essential linchpin of U.S. global hegemony in the post-war 
world (Michael Klare, 
"<http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20011105&s=klare>The Geopolitics of 
War," The Nation, 10/18/01 ).  This strategic alliance did not begin with 
Vice President Cheney's secretive 2001 energy commission.  It has been the 
unwavering policy of every Democratic and Republican President for sixty 
years.  That helps to explain why the entire U.S. Government, including 
both houses of Congress, both political parties, and the corporate media 
signed on to Bush's plan for invading and occupying Iraq.  Now that the 
policy has become a disaster, politicians and the media are quick to 
proclaim that they were misled by Bush's lies, but they knew the truth from 
the beginning.

The Bush/Bin Laden Terrorist Alliance.  Like the U.S./Saudi alliance, the 
alliance between the U.S. and the international terrorist brigades now 
dubbed Al Qaeda has also been more than the corrupt money grab by Bush and 
his oil business cronies, as described in Fahrenheit 9/11.  It too has been 
a bi-partisan strategy of the U.S. ruling class.  It was begun by 
Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1979 as a way to draw the Soviet Union 
into a quagmire in Afghanistan.  The CIA and its Pakistani counterpart 
trained tens of thousands of Islamic terrorists to invade and overthrow the 
pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan.  Even before that, the U.S., under 
both Republican and Democratic Administrations during the 1970s, had 
undertaken the same strategy in Southern Africa.  The U.S., together with 
its ally the apartheid government of South Africa, organized, trained, 
armed, and financed terrorist groups in Angola (UNITA) and Mozambique 
(RENAMO) to attack civilian populations and undermine unfriendly 
governments.  And, during the 1980s, the U.S. did the same thing in Central 
America with the Nicaraguan Contras.  In Central America and in 
Afghanistan, the U.S. partly financed these terrorist operations with 
profits from drug cartels run by the CIA's terrorist proxy forces. (Mahmood 
Mamdani, "<http://www.ssrc.org/sept11/essays/mamdani.htm>Good Muslim, Bad 
Muslim: An African Perspective.").  Thus, it was not only Bush and his 
cronies but the entire U.S. establishment that created terrorist proxies as 
instruments of U.S. foreign policy during the past three decades.  John 
Kerry knows all this quite well.  He was on a Senate committee during the 
1980s that investigated it.

Between the Bushes:  Cinton's Iraq policies.  It is also a fact that Bill 
Clinton's policies toward Iraq, which Fahrenheit 9/11 never discusses, were 
as murderous as those of George W. Bush.  The Clinton Administration 
enforced the UN sanctions for eight years, which prevented Iraq from 
repairing its infrastructure that was destroyed by the US during the first 
Iraq war (1990-1991).  Unable to repair its electrical power and water 
purification system, unable to import medicines and hospital supplies, Iraq 
became a death zone for its civilian population, especially its children 
and the elderly.  UN studies found that approximately 5000 children were 
dying every month throughout the 1990s as a result of these sanctions.  By 
the end of the decade, an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis died as a 
consequence of the U.S./British enforced sanctions.  When Clinton's 
secretary of state Madeleine Albright was asked on television whether the 
death of half a million Iraqi children was too high a price to pay for U.S. 
opposition to the regime of Saddam Hussein, Albright replied that "the 
price was worth it."  A Pentagon study early in the 1990s projected mass 
civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of the sanctions, so these genocidal 
results were foreseen and deliberate.  Denying Iraqi civilians access to 
clean water was a form of biological and chemical warfare, a weapon of mass 
destruction unleashed against the Iraqi population under the imprimatur of 
the United Nations and enforced by regular bombing raids carried out by 
U.S. and British forces.  Why didn't Michael Moore mention any of this in 
Fahrenheit 9/11?  It certainly might help to explain why Iraqis did not 
welcome the U.S. as liberators, no matter how much they despised Saddam 
Hussein's regime.  But it would also lead the audience to recognize that 
both Republicans and Democrats have pursued obscenely immoral policies 
toward Iraq.

A War for Empire, not just Bush's war.  If Democrats signed on to the war 
not because they were spineless or misinformed, and if the war was fought 
in the collective interests of the entire U.S. establishment, not just the 
private interests of the Bush family and their friends, then what was 
really behind the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq?

Addressing this question could obviously require a very lengthy essay, but 
we will try to summarize the central points.  Numerous well informed 
critics of the war have written many excellent articles and books on this 
subject during the past year and one half.  (We suggest 
<http://www.rupe-india.org/34/contents.html>Behind the Invasion of Iraq, by 
the Research Unit on Political Economy, from Mumbai, India, published by 
Monthly Review Press, as one of the best analyses of this 
subject.)  Distilling what they have said, we come to the following analysis.

First, we define wars for imperial domination as wars undertaken as part of 
the profit driven struggle by capitalist ruling classes for control of raw 
materials, cheap labor, and markets.  The U.S. seeks to consolidate its 
hold on the Middle East because that region is strategically the most 
important of all in U.S. efforts to maintain world domination in a period 
of global economic crisis and intensifying rivalry amongst the leading 
world powers.  The Middle East contains two-thirds of all known petroleum 
supplies.  Oil is the lifeblood of all advanced industrial economies and is 
crucial for the exercise of military power.  Not only is the U.S. importing 
an increasing percentage of its oil (currently about 55%).  More 
importantly, the economies of the European Union and Asia are increasingly 
dependent on oil imports from the Middle East.  U.S. control over Middle 
East oil provides crucial leverage and influence over its competitors such 
as Germany, France, China, and Japan, who have very limited domestic 
supplies of oil and must import oil from the Middle East.

During the past three decades, the U.S. has declined economically relative 
to its major competitors.  With neo-liberalism now being fully embraced by 
Russia and China, there are more competitors, and there is no communist 
enemy against whom the increasingly shaky trans-Atlantic alliance can 
unite.  Thus, a declining U.S. hegemony faces increasing competition from 
its rivals in Europe and Asia.  Most of the rest of the world more or less 
sees current global conflicts in this way, and thus they view the U.S. 
attempt to seize Iraq as an aggressive attempt by the U.S. to solve its 
worsening economic problems through military aggression.  The U.S. attempt 
to prevent its competitors from gaining a foothold in the Iraqi oil 
business was clearly not in the interests of the French, German, Russian, 
Chinese, or Japanese, which explains why the U.S. could not get those 
governments to sign on to the U.S. seizure of Iraq, no matter how much 
bribery and intimidation the U.S. tried to apply.

The struggle to gain hegemony in the world capitalist system was at the 
root of the two world wars of the 20th century.  The U.S. invasion and 
occupation of Iraq is a war not only for the maintenance of U.S. hegemony, 
but for the strengthening and enlarging of an Empire.  That is something 
much bigger than the corrupt war profiteering of Halliburton or the sleazy 
relationships between the Saudi ruling class and the Bush family.  It is 
much bigger than the ideological fantasies of the clique of 
neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration.  Michael Moore has revealed a 
limited aspect of a much larger problem.  The Bush clique exemplifies the 
true character of capitalism in this period, but the problem is the system 
as a whole, not just a few arrogant corrupt liars.

Israel:  Unmentioned in Fahrenheit 9/11.  Michael Moore has spoken out 
against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and dedicated his most 
recent book to Rachel Corrie, the young American woman who was crushed to 
death last year by an Israeli bulldozer, or rather an American bulldozer 
driven by an Israeli, as she attempted to prevent the destruction of 
Palestinian homes and olive orchards.  A film on U.S. policy in the Middle 
East, the war on terror, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq cannot 
give its audience an understanding of what is going on in the world without 
discussing the U.S./Israeli alliance.

Since the 1960s Israel has played a strategic role in helping the U.S. 
dominate the Middle East and protect the undemocratic Arab regimes in Saudi 
Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab countries.  The U.S. provides Israel 
with billions of dollars of assistance annually and defends Israel against 
all criticisms and threats.  Israel has a massive arsenal of weapons of 
mass destruction, including several hundred nuclear weapons.  Israel 
occupies the territory of neighboring countries in defiance of numerous 
United Nations resolutions.  Israel is currently working extensively in 
Iraq with the Kurdish minority in the northern part of the country.  Much 
Arab anger at the U.S. is a result of U.S. policy toward Israel.  The U.S., 
in its brutal occupation of Iraq, has in many ways emulated Israeli tactics 
toward Palestinians.  The barbarism inherent in the twin occupations of the 
Middle East, Israel of Palestine and the U.S. of Iraq, is the source of 
"terrorism" in and from that region.

Both Bush and Kerry and the rest of the leadership of both parties support 
the cruelest Israeli policies against the Palestinians, including Israel's 
current efforts to build an apartheid style wall to imprison millions of 
Palestinians within shrinking impoverished ghettos.  Michael Moore may have 
felt that the inclusion of any criticism of U.S. policy toward Israel would 
have been a kiss of death for Fahrenheit 9/11 and his efforts to defeat 
George W. Bush.  However, the exclusion of this subject helps sustain the 
broader injustice of U.S. policies throughout the Middle East and paves the 
way for a Kerry Administration to continue the policies of all U.S. 
Administrations toward Israel.

Now that we have laid out these criticisms of Fahrenheit 9/11, the reader 
may object that a two hour documentary could not possibly have educated its 
audience on all of the issues we have raised in this review.  That is a 
fair comment.  But Michael Moore could have made a much better attempt to 
expose the role of both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. invasion and 
occupation of Iraq.  It does a disservice to the anti-war movement in the 
U.S. and around the world to misdirect our anger away from the system as a 
whole onto a single ruling class family or one political faction of the 
ruling class.  It particularly does a disservice to the tens of millions of 
oppressed people around the world who will continue to be assaulted by the 
U.S. bid for global domination under a Democratic Kerry Administration.  It 
encourages us to devote too much energy to getting out the vote on one day, 
instead of building a mass movement that fights every day against the 
Empire and its horrors.

Finally, it could be objected that, if Michael Moore had made the 
documentary film we wanted, it would not be showing in movie houses all 
over the United States.  We readily agree.  And that tells us a lot about 
the way the American establishment limits the range of acceptable political 
criticism in the U.S. and funnels protest into the corporate-controlled 
Republican and Democratic Parties.

Steven Rosenthal is a professor of Sociology at Hampton University and 
lives in Norfolk, VA.  He can be reached 
at:  <mailto:steve-rosenthal at cox.net>steve-rosenthal at cox.net.  Junaid Ahmad 
is a member of the Progressive Muslims Network and works with the Center 
for Progressive Islam.  He can be reached 
at:  <mailto:Junaid.ahmad at cox.net>Junaid.ahmad at cox.net.

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