“I am pleased to be with an impressive crowd of haves and have more.”
That is what President Bush told an elite group of wealthy business people and contributors at a very formal white-tie banquet. The statement, recorded for posterity in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” captures the essence of Michael Moore’s critique of Bush and his administration.
The filmmaker issues a wakeup cry on behalf of the little guy, the powerless and the working stiff. Excesses of power and arrogant wealth are the twin targets in this very cleverly constructed film using a boatload of news gathered from who knows where. It often uses clips showing George W. Bush at his worst.
It is painful to see our president sit puzzled and paralyzed for seven minutes while the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. Moore’s voice raises nasty questions speculating about Bush’s thoughts, if he had any. Bush had been on vacation for most of the preceding month and for nearly half the time since taking office in January 2001, a fact that did not elude Moore. Bush would not interrupt his pleasures in Crawford, Texas, even though the CIA hand delivered a report titled “Osama Bin Laden About to Launch Mainland Attacks Against The U.S.” Later, Condoleezza Rice would recite the title, shrug her shoulders and dismissively say the report was “vague.” (Why do we pay her a big salary?)
Moore devotes much of his film to Big Oil, and for good reason, as oil is the world’s most needed commodity. According to Fortune magazine, six of the 15 largest companies in the world are oil companies, with sales of $1 trillion. Nearly all the earth’s population heats, cools, lights, powers and moves by using oil. Those who can control oil can control the world. And don’t you forget that!
The Bush family has been involved with oil for 80 years and they have many oil friends around the world. Their most important friends come from the Saudi royal family, who own the world’s largest oil reserves. Prince Bandar, a close Bush confidant and Saudi ambassador to the United States, often dines at the White House, and, according to Moore, he is nicknamed “Bandar Bush.”
Another rich oil family is the bin Ladens (remember brother, Osama). That family, as Moore shows, also has financial and personal involvement with the Bushes, most notably in the Carlyle Group, a privately (and secretly?) owned multinational investment company with large investments in U.S. military contracts. The former President Bush was attending a Carlyle meeting with a bin Laden family member on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 at a hotel near the White House. Mr. Bush was a Carlyle “consultant” (talk about connections!).
Oil pipelines are critically important to the industry, and Moore highlights a significant and suspicious deal about a pipeline through an Afghanistan dominated by the ruthless Islamic fanatics, the Taliban. Yes, the same Taliban that gave comfort, aid and protection to Al Qaeda. High-level Taliban officials negotiated with Big Oil in Texas in 1997 when George Bush was governor, and he met with an official from a central Asian country that would profit from the pipeline. These negotiations ceased in 1998 when Bill Clinton bombed Al Qaeda sites and Big Oil lost millions in planning money. (No wonder Big Oil hated Clinton.)
When Bush became a presidential candidate in early 2000, negotiations resumed in Houston between the Taliban and Unocal Corp. In February 2001, shortly after Bush’s inauguration, Taliban representatives visited the White House and then the State Department to discuss the Unocal pipeline. Negotiations continued. Records show that in April 2001, five months before Sept. 11, Secretary of State Colin Powel announced a grant of nearly 50 million U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Taliban government of Afghanistan, reportedly for destroying the opium crop. Nothing to do with a pipeline? Oh sure, tell me another good one, Colin.
In response to 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, drove off the Taliban and Al Qaeda, installed our handpicked president, Hamid Karzai, set up Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan national as U.S. ambassador. Both Karzai and Khalilzad were formerly on Unocal’s payroll. Soon after the Karzai government was created, the pipeline deal between Afghanistan and Unocal was signed. Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s old company, was named the prime contractor to build the pipeline. So much for the Afghan War on Terror. And now onto Iraq!
Moore effectively shows how the 9/11 attack was the springboard to whip up a public frenzy for a war against Iraq. Repeatedly, high government officials implied that Saddam Hussein was a partner in the 9/11 attacks and if he were not destroyed his WMDs would bring “a mushroom cloud over New York.”
The movie is full of threatening, obnoxious and puzzling abuses of power: the Patriot Act being used by the FBI to question ordinary, harmless citizens who protest and complain about the actions of government; a failure to fund and support local law enforcement for homeland security; the widespread use of unfounded threats to stimulate extreme fear and airline security regulations that disallow milk for babies but allows four matchbooks and two lighters on board the aircraft.
Moore weaves images of the wounded, maimed and dying with footage of American businessmen and Iraqi expatriates promising grand opportunities for enormous profits in reconstructing the ruins of Iraq. Moore achieves significant shock value, based on truth, with this technique. Coupled with the human suffering, we see one of our soldiers turned into a brutal, heartless killer as he gleefully sings “Burn mother [expletive], burn.” Can he readjust to civilized normal life?
Moore raises the frightening specter of a Bush Administration employing overwhelming military power to promote the growth and power of the petroleum industry. Moore, throughout the movie, is concerned for the future of the American working class falling victim to a government dedicated only to the increase of wealth and power in the hands of an uncaring elite. He expresses his views in this documentary to bring an end to the Bush Presidency in order to protect the personal and economic freedom of the American people. In his words, he now sees the emergence of a “hierarchical society based on poverty and ignorance” and a “ruling group against its subjects.”
In a larger historic sense, Moore’s position brings up the basic, ongoing American debate between a strong centralized political and financial government versus localized decision-making, begun by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Moore might be asking, “Is it too late for the pendulum to swing back?” Every administration should have at least one Michael Moore to continue this debate for the common good.
Ralph Erickson is the president of the Malibu Democratic Club.