Book Review from the January 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
Michael Moore is a phenomenon. His book Stupid White Men has become a bestseller, having sold well over half a million copies in the UK, and he is a massively popular film-maker (Bowling for Columbine), as well as a stage and TV comedian-cum-political critic and activist (see the January 2003 Socialist Standard for some Socialist comments on him). His new book Dude, Where's My Country? (published by Allen Lane) is a further example of his talent for invective.
Dude really lays into President George 'Dubya' Bush, attacking him as mendacious, cowardly and corrupt, plus other less pleasant attributes. While much of what is said in the first chapter is in the form of questions rather than outright accusations, it does at the very least present some interesting points. For instance, the Bush family have had, and still have, close business links with that wealthy Saudi family the bin Ladens (who have by no means broken off relations with their 'black sheep' member Osama). The Bushes also have business connections to the Saudi royal family, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship featuring arbitrary arrest, with no political parties or trade unions. Of course the US benefits from massive amounts of Saudi oil and Saudi investments, which is why Dubya and Blair have been in no hurry to “defend freedom” by invading it.
Were the 11 September attacks really organised by some dissident faction of the Saudi royal family? Of greater general significance perhaps is Moore's claim that Dubya's campaign for the presidency was partly financed by companies like Enron and Unocal. They wanted a president who would let them get their hands on Afghanistan's oil and gas. They were considerably helped in this by Dubya's appointment of a Unocal consultant as US ambassador to Afghanistan and installation of a former Unocal employee as the new Afghan leader. And – guess what – an agreement to build a new pipeline to export Afghan gas was signed just three and a half months after 11 September, which provided an excuse for getting rid of the uncooperative Taliban. And did Dubya really run scared on the morning of 11 September? It hardly matters, though I suppose it would be nice to think he is a coward as well as a bloodthirsty bully.
Then we are introduced to even more of Dubya's lies, most especially his confident pronouncement that Iraq had nuclear weapons. This is followed by similar exposure of claims about Saddam Hussein having biological and chemical weapons: he certainly did have them in the 1980s, when he used them against the Kurds, having obtained them from US companies in the first place. Moore is almost apoplectic on this count:
“Weapons of mass destruction? Oh yeah, he had them at one time. All we had to do was check the receipts and count the profits as they rolled into the bank account of the campaign backers of Reagan and Bush.”
As for the view that Saddam was the world's most evil man, there have been plenty of rivals for this crown, many of them aided by the USA. Even apart from Saudi Arabia (see above), the cases of the murderous Mobutu of Zaire and the genocidal Suharto of Indonesia spring to mind.
What, next, of the supposed campaign to oppose terrorism? Moore sees the best way to stop terrorism as being . . . to stop acting as terrorists. But this campaign has had primarily domestic uses:
“Perhaps the biggest success in the War on Terror has been its ability to distract the nation from the Corporate War on Us. In the two years since the attacks of 9/11, American businesses have been on a punch-drunk rampage that has left millions of average Americans with their savings gone, their pensions looted, their hopes for a comfortable future for their families diminished or extinguished”
So we are told about executives who pocket millions while their companies' share prices fall through the floor, of other companies that take out life insurance policies on their employees but name the company as the beneficiary, of cutbacks on pensions and other benefits. Also of the thirteen thousand families who make up the top 0.01% of the American population but control as much wealth as the poorest twenty million.
All this is not only instructive but presented in a heartfelt and amusing way. Moore's breathless style can grate after a while, but Dude is never dull or heavy-going. And yet, and yet, and yet: it is ultimately plain unsatisfactory, with little real understanding of what drives present-day society or what needs to be done to replace it. Part of the problem is that Dubya, with his mangling of the English language, his evident ignorance of the world, and his inability to present his thoughts coherently, is such a soft target. The last chapter proclaims that “There is probably no greater imperative facing the nation than the defeat of George W. Bush in the 2004 election”, notes how useless the Democrats are, and then settles on a suitable anti-Bush candidate – none other than Oprah Winfrey! And if she refuses (and she has said she won't stand), his next choice is General Wesley Clark, formerly Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. It's as if one were to read a devastating description of the predations of some criminal gang, and then be told that the crucial task was to give them a new name.
Sadly, Moore fails to see that Dubya's lies and corruption are not causes of the problem but symptoms, brought about by the same factors which result in wars and poverty and inequality. No matter who is in nominal charge of capitalism, whether in the US or anywhere else, it will remain the same rapacious animal, attacking ordinary people both at home and abroad. This will only finish when workers get rid, not just of Dubya, but of the whole gang of politicians, of capitalist parasites, and indeed of the capitalist system itself. We must hope that some of the many who will read this book will draw more radical conclusions than its author.