• Random Quote

    I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.

    — Mark Twain

Triumph of the Shrill – Christopher Hitchens vs. Michael Moore on 9/11

Hitchens defends Bush’s epoch-spanning vacations by pointing out that Blair, now much distrusted in England thanks to his role in the bloody Iraq fraud, appeared at the ranch. However, the Washington Post notes that Bush had taken 250 days off by August 2003—roughly 27% of his presidency. Chris Parry points out that Bush Jr. took more vacation days in 2/3 of a term than Jimmy Carter and Clinton did in 12 years! Bush loafed and Americans died.2

Hitchens writes, “Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not.” Read that sentence again and think about the peculiar logical dichotomy. As neither option describes political reality, it is simply a fallacious trick. First, F. 9/11 never claims that the Saudis exercise absolute control over U.S. policy. Secondly, consider other versions of this logical absolutism: either trial lawyers control the Democratic Party or they do not; either trade unions control the Democratic Party or they do not. Republicans often complain about the unsavory influence of both these groups on Democrats. What if there is a conflict of interest between the two groups? If the Democrats push legislation, such as NAFTA, as Clinton did quite vigorously, against the wishes of trade unions, would the Republicans conclude that trade unions have no influence whatsoever with the Democrats?

This is a typical Hitchens’ false dilemma, a neat debating trick that is useless in understanding influence in society or politics. Would Hitchens really insist that either the Saudis have absolute control over American foreign policy or they have no influence whatsoever? A far savvier political analyst writes, “But for the moment, the Bush Administration seems a hostage to the Pakistani and Saudi clients who are the sponsors and ‘harborers’ the President claims publicly to be looking for!”3 This writer decries the Bush Administration held “hostage” by countries who sponsor and harbor terrorists. Sounds a lot like Michael Moore, I suppose, so it must be one of his liberal ‘soft on fascism’ pals. Why no, it is none other than the frisky Christopher Hitchens banging on again about sinister influences. We should pit him in a debate against himself—that could be quite entertaining.

Moore simply asks cui bono? He sees a strong prima facie case that the bin Ladens and other rich Saudis have far too much influence over the Bush family in particular, and U.S. policies in general. Otherwise, noticing, as we were told, that 15 zealous Saudis (out of 19 miscreants) conducted these suicide flights with nary an Iraqi or Afghan on board, and seeing that the puppet-master, Osama, is himself a jolly rich royal Saudi, why didn’t we bomb Saudi Arabia into sandy spume? The Saudis, however, are far from alone at the levers of influence in Washington. Many of the neo-cons are veritable Likud Party functionaries, and Israel in general exercises a numbing influence on both parties. Moore fails even to mention the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the attendant violence, and yet this conflict is a ‘black hole’ that distorts the orbit of every geopolitical object in its gravitational field.

Can we recall other examples of troubling Saudi influence on the Bush Administration? Moore cites the censored 28 pages on Saudi Arabia from the Congressional investigation of 9/11. It would seem the Bushites have much to hide from the American public. An even more disturbing example concerns John O’Neill, former head of FBI counter-terrorism and perhaps bin Laden’s most dedicated foe.4 When the Bush Administration entered office, they shut down his FBI investigations of Saudi ties to bin Laden and al Qaeda, a major shift in policy from the Clinton years. Partly in frustration to this blockade, O’Neill left the FBI to become head of security at the World Trade Center shortly before 9/11. Tragically, and ironically, he died on duty, apparently a victim of his old nemesis.

Senator Bob Graham, on the Senate Intelligence Committee, makes a number of stunning accusations in his new book.5 He argues that Bush has refused to hold certain nations who aided the terrorists accountable. It emerges that the FBI had an informer, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had important information linking the Saudi government to financing two of the 9/11 hijackers while they lived in San Diego. The FBI, at the behest of the Bush Administration, however, refused a subpoena for the man. Graham writes, “It was as if the president’s loyalty lay more with Saudi Arabia than with America’s safety.” Now why would the Bush Administration block Congressional and FBI investigations into Saudi terrorism links? It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the Bush family fortune built on Saudi oil and capital, now could it?

“I don’t think Al Jazeera would, on a bad day, have transmitted anything so utterly propagandistic. You would also be led to think that the term “civilian casualty” had not even been in the Iraqi vocabulary until March 2003. I remember asking Moore at Telluride if he was or was not a pacifist. He would not give a straight answer then, and he doesn’t now, either. I’ll just say that the “insurgent” side is presented in this film as justifiably outraged, whereas the 30-year record of Baathist war crimes and repression and aggression is not mentioned once. (Actually, that’s not quite right. It is briefly mentioned but only, and smarmily, because of the bad period when Washington preferred Saddam to the likewise unmentioned Ayatollah Khomeini.)”

Hitchens complains that Moore doesn’t detail Saddam’s litany of crimes in the movie. Is it possible that someone, perhaps a visitor from Betelgeuse, has not heard that Saddam was a roguish fellow? The movie, however, is a critique of the Bush Administration’s lies, derring-do propaganda, crony capitalism, and the exploitation of 9/11 to invade a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.

For Hitchens, the lives lost on American soil are sacrosanct but the thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan and the tens of thousands slaughtered in Iraq are of little consequence. With Hitchens as your Virgil, one might get the foggy notion that Washington had a brief “bad period” when Saddam was their chosen spear-carrier.


Inspired by Starship Enterprise? Photo by author October 1992

Futuristic Monument to Baathist Iraq

The intimate partnership between the U.S. and Saddam is a venerable one.  We have to take the way back time machine all the way to…1959. The Coasters had a hit with Poison Ivy, Chuck Berry was rockin’ with Back in the USA, and Elvis gave us One Night/I Got Stung. Saddam—signed, sealed, and delivered by the CIA—was part of a six-man hit squad picked to assassinate Prime Minister General Abd al-Karim Qasim. Saddam’s CIA handler was an Iraqi dentist.


Seated with delegates to an Afro-Asian Solidarity Meeting

Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim, Baghdad 1958

Qasim had sinned by buying weapons from the Soviets and being soft on communists. The assassination was botched, perhaps by Saddam getting a twitchy trigger-finger, and Qasim was only wounded. Saddam, nicked by a bullet, made his way to Beirut where the CIA paid for his apartment and continued to train him. Their boy’s future was so bright he had to wear shades.6

One fascinating aspect of the Qasim photo is the casual attire of the women delegates. This could have been a scene from a 1950s Parisian cafe with only the military uniform warranting a second glance. When I visited Baghdad in 1992, the dress of many of the women in the city was Western and professional. They were encouraged to attend school and to enter challenging professions such as medicine. This era is clearly over.  The chaos and violence of the U.S. occupation has been the perfect breeding ground for religious fundamentalism and extremism.


Photo by the author -- taken from a video interview.

Iraqi Schoolgirl 1992

In 1963, Qasim was killed in a Baathist coup. The CIA supplied the Iraqi National Guard with long lists of alleged communists, most of them doctors, teachers, students, intellectuals, writers, and artists. They were arrested, interrogated, and then slaughtered. Washington purred. Saddam, on his upward arc, became head of al-Jihaz a-Khas, the secret intelligence apparatus of the Baath Party. When Saddam attacked Iran in 1980, his relationship with CIA/Defense Intelligence grew rosy. They supplied him with satellite photos, strategic tips, and occasionally jammed Iranian radar for him. Of course, they sometimes gave satellite intelligence to the Iranians, too! (All in the interest of human rights and democracy, naturally.) In 1990, when Saddam appears to have misunderstood the muffled hints of benign disinterest coming from American Ambassador April Glaspie and the first Bush bunch, he invaded Kuwait, and bid adieu to his golden friendship with Washington.7


Colossal Saddam Statue -- photo by author

Saddam Welcomes You to Baghdad


“However, I think we can agree that the film is so flat-out phony that “fact-checking” is beside the point.

Hitchens accuses Moore of propaganda, lack of objectivity, cowardice, moral frivolity, and lying—just about everything except halitosis and gouging the eyes out of puppies. Nevertheless, despite his claims, he fails to demonstrate any lies, and then brazenly trumpets that he cannot be bothered with fact-checking. Fact-checking the Bush Administration, in contrast, quickly yields a portfolio of fabrications the bulk of a Manhattan phone book. Hitchens’ arguments, in addition, quickly veer off into a ditch. He depends on ad hominem and personal invective, omissions and falsifications, and repeatedly misrepresents Moore’s views in F. 9/11—including misquoting him. He also springs a range of false logical traps including non sequiturs, attacking positions the film does not promote, and the ‘false dilemma’, a specious trick dear to Hitchens’ heart.

“Does he think—as he seems to suggest—that parents can “send” their children, as he stupidly asks elected members of Congress to do”

Hitchens, a self-proclaimed expert on sarcasm and irony (“He [Moore] prefers leaden sarcasm to irony and, indeed, may not appreciate the distinction.”), fails to recognize simple parody. We can’t expect Hitchens to laugh while foaming at the mouth & gnawing on theater upholstery, but apparently he didn’t even get it. Moore is mocking the War Party over their reluctance to send their own. People laughed heartily at the sequence when I saw it—so it didn’t go over everybody’s head.

“There’s more. Poor people often volunteer to join the army, and some of them are duskier than others. Betcha didn’t know that. Back in Flint, Mich., Moore feels on safe ground. There are no martyred rabbits this time. Instead, it’s the poor and black who shoulder the packs and rifles and march away…. Indeed, Moore’s affected and ostentatious concern for black America is one of the most suspect ingredients of his pitch package.”

Without evidence, Hitchens brands Moore, who often showcases African-American perspectives, a phony. However, F. 9/11 offers a forum to a number of blacks to discuss their concerns over education, poor career prospects, and their anxieties in facing combat overseas. Moore follows Marine recruiters who target the black and the poor. He interviews Lila Lipscomb, gainfully employed, part of a multiracial family, confessing that she encouraged her children to enter military service because she cannot pay for their college education. All of this Hitchens dismisses jeeringly as if it is of absolutely no consequence that hard-working Americans cannot finance a future for their children in the richest country in the history of the world.

When not outraged by Moore’s film, Hitchens is flippant and disdainful. From his vista of erudition, Hitchens asserts that Moore merely points out the obvious: politicians lie; the military-industrial complex grips the country; capitalists profit obscenely from war; and we live in a class society. Apparently, no one contests any of this. The left, no doubt through its control of the corporate media, has saturated the nation with these truisms, so why bother bringing it up yet again?

Hitchens will be shocked to learn that a lot of people do not think that Bush is a liar, that weapons industries distort our economy and drain our taxes, that war means bountiful profits for the President’s family and cronies, that the poor fight and die—and the rich do not. Hitchens spun into a tizzy, recall, when Moore failed to remind us, yet again and ad infinitum, that Saddam is a thug, but now he is disgusted that Moore should thump on the dead horse of race, class, and war profiteering—which, of course, we all hear about every evening on CNN and NBC News.

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