Wednesday, July 07, 2004

More on F9/11

I'm seeing more and more nonsense marshalled against Michael Moore's film. Almost everyone I hear on the radio, or see in print or on the Internet, accuses him of promulgating ill-informed or absurd conspiracy theories. However, I've yet to see an accurate argument explaining why the major hypotheses Moore advances are absurd and wrong. For example, M. Yglesias writes:

The fact that an uninformed viewer may leave Fahrenheit 9-11 thinking that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build a pipleine is regrettable. I hope that few people who did not already believes this have been caused to believe it by the film.

Not to pick on Yglesias, who often has thoughtful and interesting things to say (and therefore is head and shoulders above most journalists), but why is it implausible that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build a pipeline?

Is it because America had a legitimate reason to invade Afghanistan? Well, sure we did: the Taliban, which provided direct and undeniable support to Al Qaeda, was running Afghanistan. But that's no counterargument: two people can agree to take common action without agreeing on the reason for that action. Regardless of our reasons, Bush could still have invaded Afghanistan to build a pipeline. And, indeed, he probably did. If Bush were seriously trying to fight terrorism, would he not have taken steps to capture or kill the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Would he not have made serious postwar efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, thereby preventing a resurgence of warlordism and Islamic extremism? As it is --- and as Moore's film accurately and cogently points out --- the Taliban and Al Qaeda mostly got away, and Afghanistan is a mess, but the oil gas pipeline deal was inked posthaste. If a person's actions reveal their priorities, then what conclusion would a reasonable observer draw about Bush?

Moore's argument is not terribly complicated, although it requires roughly a paragraph to explain. The Bush administration saw that we had a good reason to invade Afghanistan. However, what they wanted to do was invade Iraq. Therefore, they decided to get the Afghanistan war out of the way as quickly as possible. While they were at it, they opportunistically noted that there was money to be made from an oil gas pipeline, and they made sure that deal was near the top of their list of priorities. As a consequence, they let the Taliban and Al Qaeda slip down to the bottom of their list of priorities.

Any sensible viewer of Moore's film should come away with this narrative. A good one-sentence summary of this narrative would be: "The Bush administration didn't invade Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but rather to build an oil a gas pipeline." There is nothing absurd about this narrative. It is completely consistent with the facts and with everything we know about the Bush administration's modus operandi: politics over policy, appearance over substance, ideology over competence, handouts for their cronies over serving the American people.

So why the hell is it so difficult for journalists to swallow? Why is a collective fiction emerging that Moore's a ridiculous conspiracy theorist? I don't know. Maybe it's because a paragraph exceeds the 2-second sound-bite attention span of some journalists. Or maybe it's because there's a certain unwillingness among Americans to admit just how bad the Bush administration is.

Or maybe journalists feel guilty and defensive about having let Bush hoodwink them for so long. After all, it should not have taken the distemper of a shaggy schlub like Moore to get this story out in the open. If our press had been functioning properly, journalists would have broken this story and asked these questions. If Moore's right --- and, looking at the big picture, he is --- then a huge number of journalists have been derelict in duty for the past three and a half years. That's a truth that many journalists don't want to face.

UPDATE (13 July): I should clarify that the last two paragraphs of this post are about the journalistic consensus in general, and not Yglesias in particular. Yglesias, though initially a war supporter, has --- like the rest of the staff at The American Prospect --- obviously been deeply skeptical of Bush throughout. I won't speculate on this blog as to his motivations for disagreeing with Moore. The more interesting and broader question is why journalists are nearly unanimous in denouncing Moore as a conspiracy theorist, but provide only vague information at best to justify that statement. (For example, if Moore's hypothesis about our war in Afghanistan is incorrect, then I would love to hear a precise debunking. I have not read any such thing.)

UPDATE 2007-08-27: Sorry, I mangled my hydrocarbons. s/oil/gas/ throughout. Also, since writing this I have been pointed to this article by Ken Silverstein, which is a fairly convincing rebuttal, although not in my opinion an ironclad one.

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