The biggest lie in Fahrenheit 9/11 is the picture of pre-war Iraq. Michael Moore shows a happy collage of smiling Iraqis in a beautifully tranquil country — a kid getting his hair cut in a barber shop, a couple getting married, children flying kites. There’s no picture of a gassed Kurd, no picture of the acid baths or eye gouging in Saddam’s torture chambers, no picture of anyone being slowly lowered into an industrial shredder, no picture of Iraqi troops tossing premature babies out of incubators in Kuwait, no hint of why millions of Iraqis fled their homeland after Saddam came to power, no picture of how hard it is to fly a kite without hands.
Defending his film in an interview with ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, Moore paints a picture of an Iraq that never did anything to the United States. Says Tapper, “You declare in the film that Hussein’s regime had never killed an American.” Moore responds, “That isn’t what I said. Quote the movie directly.” Asks Tapper, “What is the quote exactly?” Moore answers, “‘Murdered.’ The government of Iraq did not commit a premeditated murder on an American citizen.”
In other words, there’s nothing in Fahrenheit 9/11 about Mohammed Abbas. On October 7, 1985, four members of the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro as it left Egypt for Israel. Before it was over, the hijackers shot to death Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger from the United States, and dumped his body overboard. The hijacking mastermind, Mohammed Abbas, ended up in Iraq where he reportedly became the chief bag man for Saddam Hussein’s $25,000 cash bonuses to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. On April 15, 2003, Abbas was captured by American forces during a raid on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Moore might argue that Klinghoffer’s killing wasn’t “premeditated,” just something that happens when terrorists get too keyed up during an operation, and that we can’t connect any dots to Iraq, except afterwards, and even then the killings of Americans in Israel by Iraqi-paid suicide bombers are totally inadvertent, not anything “premeditated.” The five Americans killed by the lunchtime bomb blast in the cafeteria at Hebrew University in Jerusalem just happened to be at the wrong table at the wrong time.
Also not counted in Moore’s “Iraq did not commit a premeditated murder on an American citizen” analysis is the attempted assassination of former President George Bush during his April 1993 visit to Kuwait. That high-end murder was ” premeditated,” but unsuccessful, so there’s no photo in Fahrenheit 9/11 of the Toyota Landcruiser in Kuwait stuffed with explosives, no mention in the movie that Ra’d Al-Asadi and Wali Al-Ghazali, two of the captured terrorists, admitted that they had participated in the assassination plot at the direction of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
On war strategy, Moore argues in Fahrenheit 9/11 that Bush went into Afghanistan too light and too late, giving Osama bin Laden a 60-day head start, and then left too early to go into Iraq. That’s exactly the opposite of what Moore was preaching a year after the attacks of September 11, as related by Christopher Hitchens. “In late 2002, almost a year after the al-Qaeda assault on American society, I had an onstage debate with Michael Moore at the Telluride Film Festival,” writes Hitchens. “In the course of this exchange, he stated his view that Osama bin Laden should be considered innocent until proven guilty. This was, he said, the American way. The intervention in Afghanistan, he maintained, had been at least to that extent unjustified.”
Back then, Moore denounced the American intervention in Afghanistan as too quick and too strong. Today, he condemns the same intervention as too slow and too weak. What’s consistent in Moore’s worldview is that America is always wrong. Before a crowd in Britain, Moore explained how bad it is to be associated with America: “You’re stuck with being connected to this country of mine, which is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe.” He didn’t explain how America’s central role in the defeat of Marxism and Nazism had expanded the world’s “sadness and misery.”
In an open letter to the German people, Moore asked, “Should such an ignorant people lead the world,” referring to Americans. A better question, “Should such an ignorant filmmaker have a box office hit?”
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.