Here is the second segment of an occasional series comparing what Michael Moore presented in the movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” versus what critics said he said, or what people might have actually said. It's my particular way of yelling at the heedless talking heads on television.
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough launched a withering attack on Michael Moore, starting on June 22nd, and lasting for two weeks solid. I caught a portion of the attack on June 28th, just minutes after having watched “Fahrenheit 9/11”, and I thought Scarborough's remarks were at sharp odds with what I had just seen. Here I compare portions of MSNBC transcripts of "Scarborough Country" (an example), together with Moore's narration, plus my own comments, to try to understand just where the Truth might lie.
The focus in this post will be on some of Moore's most controversial comments, regarding the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the origins of the war against the Taliban. Where I'm unable to understand my tape recording of the movie's soundtrack, I place dots (...).
(Moore) The United States began bombing Afghanistan just 4 weeks after 911. Mr. Bush said he was doing so because the Taliban government of Afghanistan, had been harboring bin Laden.
(George W. Bush) We will smoke them out of their holes. We’re going smoke him out. Smoke ‘em out. Smoke him out of his cave.
(old Western outtake) Let’s rush him and smoke ‘em out!
(Moore) All this tough talk, Bush, really, didn’t do much.
(Richard Clarke) But what they did was slow, and small. We put only 11,000 troops into Afghanistan. There are more police here in Manhattan, more police here in Manhattan, than there are U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Basically the President botched the response to 911. We should have gone right after bin Laden. The U.S. Special Forces didn’t get into the area where bin Laden was for two months.
(Moore) Two months? A mass murderer who attacked the United States was given a two month head start? Who in their right mind would do that?
(George W. Bush on a golf course) Anybody say nice shot?
(Responses from companions) Nice shot! Helluva shot!
(Moore) But was the war in Afghanistan really about something else? Perhaps the answer, was in Houston, Texas.
In 1997, while George W. Bush was Governor of Texas, a delegation of Taliban leaders from Afghanistan, flew to Houston, to meet with UNOCAL executives, to discuss the building of a pipeline through Afghanistan, bringing natural gas from the Caspian Sea.
Who got a Caspian Sea drilling contract the same day UNOCAL signed the pipeline deal? A company headed by a man named, Dick Cheney: Halliburton.
(woman commentator) From the point of the U.S. government, this was kind of a magic, pipeline, um, because it could serve so many purposes.
(Moore) And who else stood to benefit from the pipeline? Bush’s number one campaign contributor, Kenneth Lay, and the good people of Enron.
Only the British press covered this trip.
Then, in 2001, just 5 ½ months before 911, the Bush Administration welcomed a special Taliban envoy, to tour the United States, to help improve the image of the Taliban government.
(woman reporter fussing with a burqa: sounds like Helen Thomas) You have imprisoned the women. It’s a horror, let me tell you!
(Taliban envoy) I’m really sorry to your husband. He must have a very difficult time with you.
(Moore) Here is the Taliban delegation visiting our State Department, to meet with U.S. officials.
Why on Earth did the Bush Administration allow a Taliban leader to visit the United States, knowing that the Taliban were harboring the man who bombed the USS Cole, and our African embassies? Well, I guess 911 put a stop to that.
When the invasion of Afghanistan was complete, we installed its new president, Hamid Karzai. Who was Hamid Karzai? He was a former advisor, to UNOCAL.
Bush also appointed, as our envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was also a former Unocal advisor. I think you can probably see where this is leading. Faster than you can say black gold, Texas Tea, Afghanistan signed an agreement with their neighboring countries to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, carrying natural gas from the Caspian Sea.
Oh, and the Taliban? Uh, they mostly got away. As did Osama bin Laden and most of Al Qaeda.
(George W. Bush) Terror…. And, uh, he’s, he’s, he’s just a person who’s now been marginalized, so I don’t know where he is. Nor, I don’t spend much time on him, really, to be honest with you.
(Moore) Didn’t spend much time on him? What kind of president was he?
(George W. Bush) I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office, uh, in foreign policy matters, with war on my mind.
(Moore) With the war on Afghanistan over, and bin Laden forgotten, the war president had a new target: the American people.
Scarborough Country - June 29th
(Scarborough's guest was Democratic pollster Margie Omero, President of Momentum Analysis.)
SCARBOROUGH: I called you on here because I have got great respect for you. And I just want Democrats to come out and start saying, you know what, this is entertainment, but it‘s not the facts.
Here‘s the third claim. He claims that America went to war in Afghanistan not to get rid of the Taliban, which, of course, supported Osama bin Laden, but he is claiming we actually went to war in Afghanistan so an oil company could build a pipeline under Afghanistan. It didn‘t have anything to do with capturing the Taliban or al Qaeda. Is that true?
OMERO: I don‘t think he said that we went to war for this reason. He pointed out this connection that people may not have known about.
He did not say—I just saw the movie today. He did not say, this is why we went to war, and it‘s the only reason we went to war. We went to war for no other reason aside from this. He did not say that.
SCARBOROUGH: Once again, he is leaving an impression in viewers‘ minds. That‘s exactly the impression he was leaving in viewers‘ minds, just like he was leaving the impression in viewers‘ minds that George Bush let Osama bin Laden‘s family get out of the country, while others, including Ricky Martin, were grounded.
They come back, say, well, no, no, we didn‘t say that. Yes, but they‘re certainly leaving these impressions in people‘s minds.
(Marc: Well, what do you think? My impression is Omero is exactly correct, that Moore is pointing out connections the viewers might not have suspected, and leaving the cynical judgment whether we went to war over the pipeline up to the viewer. Myself, I don't believe it, but remember, a staunch Republican Congressman like California's Dana Rohrabacher went to great lengths to curry favor with the Taliban. Moore does a great public service highlighting these awkward connections.)
Scarborough Country - June 30th
(Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens was Scarborough's guest. Hitchens is a well-known writer, a former Socialist, and wrote a recent biography of George Orwell, among other things.)
[Marc - Hitchens is in a very anomalous position in the intellectual world, rather like that of the neo-conservative: former leftist, now waging battles with Islamic jihadists, and a staunch defender of Ahmad Chalabi. Recent events in Iraq have not been kind to him.]
SCARBOROUGH: What was the most fraudulent claim that Michael Moore made in this movie?
HITCHENS: Well, that‘s a very tough question, but I think I would phrase it like this.
He says, if you think Americans are fighting in Afghanistan to protect Afghanistan and America from the Taliban and al Qaeda and hold an election in Afghanistan, the first one in its history, and to defend it from barbarism, Moore says, you are totally wrong. The whole war is about Bush family private business and a pipeline, a natural gas pipeline. I think he suggested an oil pipeline, built by Unocal.
Now, I know and anyone who knows anything about it knows, that deal was canceled in 1998, when Bush was still governor of Texas, as a result of Mr. Clinton bombing the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The theory isn‘t even worth arguing about. It‘s a whole-cloth fabrication, as well as a terrifying insult to Americans in Afghanistan who are fighting on the front line against barbarism. So that‘s one enormously important lie.
[Marc: The UNOCAL pipeline was cancelled in 1998, but the recent 911 Commission Report states that the pipeline idea was used afterwards as a carrot by the U.S. State Department to encourage the Taliban and other warring groups in Afghanistan to sit down and negotiate their differences in a non-judgmental way.
In the State Department, concerns about India-Pakistan tensions often crowded out attention to Afghanistan or Bin Ladin. Aware of instability and growing Islamic extremism in Pakistan, State Department officials worried most about an arms race and possible war between Pakistan and India. After May 1998, when both countries surprised the United States by testing nuclear weapons, these dangers became daily first-order concerns of the State Department.
In Afghanistan, the State Department tried to end the civil war that had continued since the Soviets’ withdrawal. The South Asia bureau believed it might have a carrot for Afghanistan’s warring factions in a project by the Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) to build a pipeline across the country. While there was probably never much chance of the pipeline actually being built, the Afghan desk hoped that the prospect of shared pipeline profits might lure faction leaders to a conference table. U.S. diplomats did not favor the Taliban over the rival factions. Despite growing concerns, U.S. diplomats were willing at the time, as one official said, to “give the Taliban a chance.”
Though Secretary Albright made no secret of thinking the Taliban “despicable,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, led a delegation to South Asia—including Afghanistan—in April 1998. No U.S. official of such rank had been to Kabul in decades. Ambassador Richardson went primarily to urge negotiations to end the civil war. In view of Bin Ladin’s recent public call for all Muslims to kill Americans, Richardson asked the Taliban to expel Bin Ladin. They answered that they did not know his whereabouts. In any case, the Taliban said, Bin Ladin was not a threat to the United States.
Big infrastructure project ideas like pipelines have a way of lingering for decades, and pass through the hands of several prime contractors, even before construction starts. State Department concerns likely affected the Taliban's 2001 visit as well, despite the 2001 change of Administration.
Mr. Moore's theory regarding the role of the pipeline is tenuous, given the chaos in the region, but can't be rejected out of hand, like Mr. Hitchens does. Condemning Moore, rather than debating him, seems to be Hitchen's preference. Hitchens seems to feel that Moore is a slimy trogolodyte of some sort, and argument with him his pointless. This is arrogance on Hitchen's part.]
HITCHENS: And then he says the Saudi Arabia control all of American foreign policy through private interests. And then you wonder, well, why does President Bush, who is their puppet, continue to knock over regimes that Saudis are in favor of, like the Saddam Hussein regime or the Taliban one? The Saudis so much hated regime change in Iraq, they made American bases move to Qatar, out of Saudi territory.
You could go on and on. He says that the White House at high level let the bin Laden family fly out of the country in a secret, surreptitious, sinister manner. And he had interviewed Richard Clarke months before. And Clarke says straight out, I made that call. Richard Clarke is the moral hero of the film. Michael Moore had the chance to ask the man who knew. Either he didn‘t ask Clarke, who authorized those flights, or Clarke told him it was me and only me, and he didn‘t think it was good enough to use.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, Christopher, you...
HITCHENS: Either way, that‘s below the level of trash TV, trash journalism.
SCARBOROUGH: You brought a tape of yourself debating Michael Moore in September 2002 at the Telluride Film Festival. And here‘s what he said about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Let‘s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER/AUTHOR: It seems as if he and his group were the ones who did this, then they should be tracked down, captured, and brought to justice.
HITCHENS: Do you mind if I break in and say...
HITCHENS: Ask you, what is the “if” doing in that last sentence?
MOORE: What is the who?
HITCHENS: What is the “if” doing in that last sentence of yours?
MOORE: Well, all people are innocent until proven guilty in this country.
HITCHENS: So you have no...
MOORE: Even the worst piece of scum.
HITCHENS: I feel I have to press you on that. You regard it as an open question, the responsibility of Osama bin Laden?
MOORE: Until anyone is convicted of any crime, no matter how horrific the crime, they are innocent until proven guilty. And as Americans...
HITCHENS: No, that‘s all I asked you.
MOORE: Never leave that position.
HITCHENS: I‘m sorry. So bin Laden‘s claims of responsibility strike you as the ravings of a clowns, say?
HITCHENS: OK. Fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HITCHENS: And doesn‘t he look gorgeous?
SCARBOROUGH: He does. This is a year after 9/11.
HITCHENS: And so smart and so clever at catching people saying something dumb in the street. Can you imagine what he would have said or Terry McAuliffe, this fatuous chairman of the DNC, would have said if President Bush a year after 9/11 had said, well, I think the jury is still out on Osama bin Laden, we can‘t do a thing, and also referred to him as if he was a well placed citizen of Rapid City or somewhere, an American citizen with all the protections of the Constitution? It‘s beyond farce.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Christopher, though, let me expand on this tape a little bit, though, because, as you know, you have seen the movie. I have seen the movie. Here you have Michael Moore saying a year after 3,000 Americans are killed...
HITCHENS: Murdered. Murdered. Murdered.
SCARBOROUGH: Murdered, murdered—that Osama bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty, and yet, in this movie, at the very beginning, he criticizes George Bush for not assuming the bin Laden family is somehow guilty, then letting them out of the country. Complete hypocrisy.
[Marc: And yet Moore DID say that IF Osama bin Laden "and his group were the ones who did this, then they should be tracked down, captured, and brought to justice." That hardly excuses Osama bin Laden. But Hitchens is too impatient to debate.]
HITCHENS: That‘s why I looked to see if I still had the tape, because I thought, now, a guy who was 100 percent opposed to the war in Afghanistan at the time—that‘s Michael Moore—he thought it was a war for oil, a war for pipelines, an unjust war—why is he suddenly saying he is against the Iraq war because it‘s the distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden? You follow my point here?
SCARBOROUGH: Of course.
[Marc: I wonder if the transcript is quite correct in the next paragraph, because the nature of the Hitchen's bait-and-switch is somewhat unclear. What seems to aggravate Hitchens is that Moore has shifted position since 2002, and what is more despicable, after all, than a moving target? Moore's concerns regarding oil money seem rather feeble in a wilderness like Afghanistan, but they are quite pertinent in Iraq, which possesses some of the greatest oil reserves on Earth.
In 2001, the empty-headed response of the American Left to September 11th nearly drove me crazy: the Left had trouble getting past no-longer-relevant Vietnam experiences, like anger at use of patriotic symbols, but, boy, times have changed! Moore's bait-and-switch, or evolution, is a prime example of the Left's increasing pertinence in today's world.]
HITCHENS: Why does someone who thought that Osama was innocent and Afghanistan was no problem suddenly switch in this way? Because unless he says that he was dead wrong all along and Osama Laden was innocent and wronged, he can‘t say that everything else is a distraction from the hunt for Osama.
So it‘s bait and switch. It‘s the work of a moral cretin and a political idiot. And it‘s up to the Democratic National Committee to say, do they want to continue being photographed with this man as we go into a very important election, not just in the United States, I might add, but first Democratic elections to be held in Iraq and in Afghanistan?
[Marc: Well, Moore didn't actually say he thought Osama was innocent, just that Osama should be considered innocent until proven guilty, which as Moore says, can be accorded even to scum. Moore is trying to look at some of the politico/economic factors that may be at work in the recent war, an understanding of which, as a former leftist, Hitchens can well appreciate.]
HITCHENS: In a few months, we will know the outcome of all these. In all three cases, Michael Moore says that the enemy is George Bush and Saddam Hussein and Mr. Zarqawi and Mr. Bin Laden are no problem. Indeed, they are—what a wonderful way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend, by the way. Indeed, they are the Minutemen. They‘re the staunch American revolutionaries.
Does he tell this to the widows that he goes and exploits?
[Marc: Presumably Hitchens is referring to Lila Lipscomb in "Fahrenheit 911." As Lila Lipscomb said in an MSNBC interview with Deborah Norville, she doesn't feel she is being exploited by Moore:
NORVILLE: Given that you are going through such a difficult personal time, is there any concern that you might be being used as a pawn...
LIPSCOMB: Not at all.
NORVILLE: ... in this story?
LIPSCOMB: Not at all.
NORVILLE: You can see where people would be concerned for you in that way.
LIPSCOMB: They have a right to feel that. That‘s OK. But I also have a right to believe what I believe, and I don‘t feel like a pawn or manipulated in any way.]
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Christopher....
HITCHENS: Does he say to them, I love the people who killed your son or your husband or your father?
SCARBOROUGH: They are the Minutemen.
HITCHENS: Does he dare do that? If he does do that once and film himself, I will say he is courageous.
Let me read you a couple of quotes here. And I put these quotes in here because I wanted you to respond and actually tell me what it meant about the Democratic Party that you have got Terry McAuliffe and other people embracing this man.
Here‘s what Michael Moore had to say on the people killing America‘s troops in Iraq, and it‘s a follow-up on what you are saying: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not insurgents or terrorists or the enemy. They are the revolution, the Minutemen. And their numbers will grow. And they will win.”
And here‘s more, Christopher. He said on the same day: “The majority of Americans supported this war once it began. And, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe—just maybe—God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.”
And, of course, there, Michael Moore is saying he doesn‘t want the United Nations or other countries‘ troops to go into Iraq because he believes more Americans need to die there, or, as he says, their blood needs to be let.
SCARBOROUGH: So, correspondent for “Vanity Fair.”
HITCHENS: Don‘t step over where he says, God and Iraqi people won‘t forgive.
You are effectively, with the Michael Moore presentation, you are looking straight down the gun barrel of an al Qaeda video. God and the Iraqi people won‘t forgive? He is talking the language of jihad. This guy is on the other side in the most essential war that this country or society or culture has fought in a generation.
HITCHENS: Against Islamic totalitarianism.
Why is he against it? If you want my personal opinion, as someone who has observed Mr. Moore down the years, I don‘t think he has any principles at all. He will do anything to get applause, as you can see from the little clip you just showed. He likes applause from stupid crowds and he punches the applause button.
I would like to know, and I wish you would ask—and perhaps Mr. Lehane could be made to answer this question—who is distributing this film in the Middle East? I would like to know that now. How much money does Mr. Moore expect to make, since he is so interested in money making from Middle Eastern sources? How much does he expect to make when the film is shown in Beirut and Algeria and Cairo?
He must already know who his distributors are and how much he expects from the revenue. He is going to show this film that applauds the murder of Americans, Iraqis, British and Kurdish people all over the Middle East. He expects to do very well out of it. Well, I would like to know where he thinks the money is coming from and if he thinks it‘s worth it.
And I hope he can relax and enjoy that money.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, well, we are going to look into that, Christopher. Thank you for being with us.
[Marc: Mr Hitchen's bile, character assassination, and innuendo disturb me. He reads Orwell, and writes about him, but I wonder if he understands Orwell's dedication to accuracy?]
[Marc: There are some interesting questions that arise about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. First, why did the U.S. take two months to get over there? I accept the standard argument that the delay was caused by the sheer logistical difficulty of waging war in remote Central Asia, in hostile country. The U.S. is not as much of a superpower as it sometimes pretends. It's a wonder that our defense doctrine still relies on being able to wage two wars at once.
Still, why weren't we able to get Osama bin Laden? Despite the delay in reaching the battlefield, we were still too hasty, relying on unreliable Afghan allies to close battlefield exits. Why still don't we have bin Laden? Because we are relying on Pakistan to do the hard work, and their interest is not in provoking a showdown with Al Qaeda, at least at this time. Al Qaeda has too many allies for comfort in Pakistan.]
Scarborough Country - July 2nd
(Patrick Buchanan, sitting in for Joe Scarborough, uses Michael Isikoff from Newsweek to hammer away at the cancelled pipeline theme again.)
ISIKOFF: Well, I don‘t know. People have to judge for themselves.
All I‘m trying to do—and what I‘ve tried to do in two pieces now—is just say, look. There are some claims in there where some things are thrown together and, you know, in some perhaps disingenuous way. As I gave you one example before about this 1.4 billion.
There‘s another suggestion in the movie at one point that early Bush administration policy towards the Taliban was influenced by its interest in promoting a pipeline deal for an American oil company.
BUCHANAN: The Unocal ...
ISIKOFF: The problem with that is that Unocal, the Unocal pipeline deal essentially collapsed in 1998, ...
BUCHANAN: All right, all right ...
ISIKOFF: ... when Unocal pulled out of the project. And it wasn‘t on the cards when the Bush administration took office.
BUCHANAN: All right. Before I go to Flavia—all right, before I go to Flavia, let me—or let me go to Flavia with this.
Look. What Michael Isikoff is saying is, that charge is flat out false. The Bush administration had nothing to do with the Unocal pipeline that the previous administration was looking at for legitimate reasons, moving through Afghanistan.
So this is untrue.
[Marc: As I pointed out above, in 2001, the U.S. State Department did not consider UNOCAL's 1998 pipeline cancellation to mean the pipeline project was dead, just that someone else would eventually do it. So, what is the current status of the proposed natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan, to the Indian Ocean? The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed a protocol on the pipeline on December 9, 2003, but no Western backers have yet appeared. Still, the idea is still very much alive.]
[Marc: Once again, Michael Moore, to me, seems to be a great simplifier and propagandist, but the simplifications can reach the level where real content gets lost. Still, I disagree with Christopher Hitchen's characterization of Moore as a 'moral cretin'.]