I had a swell time at Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s documentary about George Bush’s dubious progress from Florida to Iraq. It’s his best movie–funny, heartbreaking, outraged and outrageous–and deserves its huge success. When did you last see a muckraking exposé of events that are still unfolding? The film should make the media blush for its torpor and fake judiciousness and embedment with the Administration. Moore displays footage never before seen of events most Americans know nothing about, unless they read The Nation, because the media haven’t told them. Did you know, for example, that the Congressional Black Caucus could not get a single Democratic senator to lend the required signature to its formal protest of the certification of Bush’s victory in 2000? Did you know Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, dined with Bush on September 13, 2001, the day before flights began that would carry more than a hundred Saudis out of the country, including dozens of members of the extended bin Laden family? Have you seen wounded and dead Iraqis on TV, or interviews with mutilated soldiers, disillusioned soldiers–or with parents of dead GIs? If Joe Darby hadn’t jump-started the Abu Ghraib scandal with those photos, you might well be seeing the brutalization of Iraqi prisoners for the first time in a brief scene in Fahrenheit 9/11.
Moore keeps his impish-blimpish on-screen presence down, but there are some hilarious bits–learning that Congress hadn’t read the Patriot Act before passing it, he drives around the Capitol in an ice cream truck blasting it through the sound system. The best comedy, as always with Moore, is the found kind: He interviews Craig Unger (House of Bush, House of Saud) across the street from the Saudi Embassy and is immediately accosted by a Secret Service agent (“I’ll take that as a yes,” he replies genially when the agent won’t comment when Moore asks if it’s unusual for the Secret Service to guard foreign embassies). He tags along with two oleaginous Marine recruiters on the prowl in a down-market Flint, Michigan, shopping mall and films them as they swoop down on one young black man and practically offer him a recording contract on the spot when he mentions he’s interested in music.
The odd thing is, I found the movie immensely cheering and energizing, even though I don’t agree with its main thesis, drawn from Unger, that Bush’s oil-business interests, particularly his close financial and personal connections with the Saudis, drove his post-9/11 decisions to go easy on Saudi Arabia and invade Afghanistan and Iraq. I think President Gore might well have invaded Afghanistan too–although, who knows, maybe the Republicans would have thwarted him out of spite. I also think that key promoters of the war in Iraq–Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld–were motivated by a sincere, if deranged, belief that overthrowing Saddam would usher in US- and Israel-friendly capitalist democracies all over the Middle East. They had, after all, been pushing for regime change for years. Like all Moore’s movies, Fahrenheit 9/11 is somewhat muddled and self-contradictory. Just as Bowling for Columbine excoriated the NRA while arguing that guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people, Fahrenheit 9/11 simultaneously argues that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong and unnecessary and that we need to send more troops; that the Bush Administration does too much and too little to protect the country from another terrorist attack; that Bush is an idiot and a lightweight and that he is a master of calculation. Actually, come to think of it, that’s not such a contradiction–but I wish Moore had acknowledged Bush’s obvious political skills. It’s not easy to fool 40 percent of the people 100 percent of the time.