Politics & Policy

Democrats and The Fahrenheit 9/11 Trap

Do they endorse Michael Moore's kookiness?

Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says he believes radical filmmaker Michael Moore’s assertion that the United States went to war in Afghanistan not to avenge the terrorist attacks of September 11 but instead to assure that the Unocal Corporation could build a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan for the financial benefit of Vice President Dick Cheney and former Enron chief Kenneth Lay.

McAuliffe and a number of other prominent Democrats attended a screening of Moore’s new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, at the Uptown Theatre in Washington Wednesday night. McAuliffe called the film “very powerful, much more powerful than I thought it would be.” When asked by National Review Online if he believed Moore’s account of the war in Afghanistan, McAuliffe said, ” I believe it after seeing that.” The DNC chairman added that he had not heard of the idea before seeing the movie, but said he would “check it out myself and look at it, but there are a lot of interesting facts that he [Moore] brought out today that none of us knew about.”

A short time later, McAuliffe was asked by CNN, “Do you think the movie was essentially fair and factually based?” “I do,” McAuliffe said. “I think anyone who goes to see this movie will come out en masse and vote for John Kerry. Clearly the movie makes it clear that George Bush is not fit to be president of this country.”

Fahrenheit 9/11 devotes a significant amount of time to a fantastical theory that the war in Afghanistan was not part of a wide-ranging U.S. retaliation for the terrorist attacks of September 11, but was in fact undertaken for the financial benefit of Texas oil interests, specifically the vice president and Kenneth Lay. Narrating the movie, Moore briefly considers the administration’s stated reason for the war and then asks,

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. And 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. And who else stood to benefit from the pipeline? Bush’s number one campaign contributor, Kenneth Lay, and the good people of Enron.

That was not all, Moore says in the film. “When the invasion of Afghanistan was complete, we installed its new president, Hamid Karzai,” the narration continues. “Who was Hamid Karzai? He was a former adviser to Unocal.”

The Afghan pipeline scenario has bounced around among conspiracy theorists of the fringe Left, but Fahrenheit 9/11 is the first expression of the idea likely to reach millions of Americans. For the record, Unocal was involved in bidding for a pipeline in the mid-1990s but dropped the project in late 1998. According to an Associated Press report from the time, “Unocal Corp. withdrew from a consortium planning to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, saying low oil prices and turmoil in the Central Asian nation have made the project too risky.”

The Afghanistan segment of the film is one of a grab bag of anti-Bush themes in Fahrenheit 9/11. To name a few: The film suggests that when the president was a young man, his (failed) oil-exploration company was supported by the family of Osama bin Laden. The film attacks the president’s sale of stock in Harken Energy, it attacks his Air National Guard record, it attacks his conduct during the Florida recount, it attacks his vacation habits, it attacks his immediate reaction to the September 11 attacks, it attacks his long-term reaction to the September 11 attacks, and, of course, it attacks the war in Iraq, which Moore suggests was undertaken for the financial benefit of the Halliburton Corporation. When the father of a soldier killed in Iraq speaks of his son’s death, he asks plaintively, “And for what?” At that point, the movie quickly cuts to a clip from a promotional film for Halliburton.

The Washington screening was filled with Democratic politicians and activists. In remarks before the film, Miramax Pictures head Harvey Weinstein praised former Clinton White House social secretary Capricia Marshall, who organized the screening, for doing “an incredible job of, you know, bringing together such a bipartisan audience.” When the audience laughed, Weinstein joked that the film would provide the crowd a “truly interactive experience while watching the movie trying to guess which person in your row is the undercover member of the RNC.”

In addition to McAuliffe, other Democrats at the Washington screening included Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Montana Sen. Max Baucus, South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, New York Rep. Charles Rangel, Washington Rep. Jim McDermott, and others. Harkin told the Associated Press that all Americans should see the film. “It’s important for the American people to understand what has gone on before, what led us to this point, and to see it sort of in this unvarnished presentation by Michael Moore.”

Since Fahrenheit 9/11 is so heavily identified with Democratic causes, it seems likely that a number of Democratic leaders, possibly including presidential candidate John Kerry, will be asked whether they endorse the conclusions of the movie. That could present a dilemma. To do so would mean associating with some of the least credible theories of the radical Left, while declining to do so would tend to undermine Moore’s status as an anti-Bush hero.

Meanwhile, Moore himself, who has often claimed that he had no political motive in making the film, seems to be changing his position. In May, when he spoke to reporters after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Moore said, “I did not set out to make a political film…. The art of this, the cinema, comes before the politics.” Last night, however, speaking to a crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside the Uptown Theatre after the showing, Moore appeared to have another message. “We’re all in the same boat and we all have a job to do,” he told fans. “And if we do it, this country will be back in the hands of the majority.”

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