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Honey, he trashed the Bushes!
Dude, Where's My Country? by Michael Moore

Reviewed by Chanakya Sen

Michael Moore burst into world consciousness with the Oscar-winning documentary film Bowling for Columbine (2002), a critical look at the United States's violent gun culture and racism. Slipping into the shoes of a political humorist, Moore then authored the record-selling non-fiction book of that year, Stupid White Men, nailing American woes to a narrow elite of exploitative conservative males. Carrying forward in the same self-critical and satirical style, his latest book, Dude, Where's My Country?, hinges on the seminal choice facing the world's most powerful nation: will the 2004 presidential elections return to power George W Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and all their right-wing cronies, or does a fairer dispensation exist for which Americans are wise enough to vote?

As behooves a quintessential Moore parody, the opening page features a fictitious warning by Tom Ridge, Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. "If you have purchased this book we are required to notify you per Section 29A of the USA Patriot Act that your name has been entered into a database of potential suspects. It's too late! You don't have any rights! You no longer exist!"

From the beginning, Moore touches on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington - the subject of his next movie - writing in his introduction that they were used by Bush as a "convenient cover, justification, for permanently altering our American way of life". Moore repeats this theme throughout the book, going on to add that Bush's "band of deceivers", as he dubs them, used the attacks as the excuse for every wrongful act the American state has committed over the past two years. "It is the manna from heaven the right has always prayed for," (p 113) Moore writes.

And it doesn't stop there. Aiming to conceal unanswered puzzles, the Bush administration stonewalled the special commission investigating the September 11 attacks from collecting evidence. Within days of the twin tower tragedies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation mysteriously whisked Osama bin Laden's Saudi relatives to a "secret assembly point in Texas", and thence out of the United States. Bush and his ex-president father have known the bin Laden family since the late 1970s. A 5-percent equity of Bush junior's first oil company, Arbusto, was owned by Osama's brother, Salem bin Laden. The Carlyle Group, the US's largest defense contractor, for which Bush senior acted as "consultant", received a minimum of US$2 million from the same bin Laden family.

When the US Congress released its own investigation into the attacks on September 11, Bush censored 28 pages that revealed a Saudi hand in the attacks. "Like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia [would find bin Laden's arrest] highly embarrassing, exposing his continuing relationship with sympathetic members of the ruling elites and intelligence services of both countries" (p 18). On September 15, 2001, Bush promised his friend Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, to "hand over" al-Qaeda operatives caught by the US. Affectionately known in the president's circle as "Bandar Bush", the ambassador also succeeded in getting Bush loyalist James Baker to represent the House of Saud in a lawsuit filed by victims of the terror strikes.

On page 19 a perplexed Moore addresses Bush: "Why have you and your father chosen to align yourselves with a country that is among the worst and most brutal dictatorships in the world? Why are you so busy protecting the Saudis when you should be protecting us?"

Later, Moore addresses the issue of protection in reference to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who despite attacking several constitutional rights after September 11, has since stuck his neck out to defend the holy cow Second Amendment right to bear arms. Moore writes: "When it comes to guns, rights count for something" (p 25). Such bogus rights, he argues, must be juxtaposed with the fact that 94 percent of Americans want federal safety regulations on the manufacture and use of all handguns.

But lets get back to Bush. As governor of Texas in 1997, Bush rolled out the red carpet to the Taliban, who were negotiating Unocal's natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. Just days before September 11, 2001, US administration officials again met with Taliban figures. As soon as the war in Afghanistan had ended, Bush appointed a Unocal consultant, Zalmay Khalilzad, as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Afghanistan's American-installed president, Hamid Karzai, also has a Unocal background. In logical succession, Afghanistan signed the $5 billion pipeline deal within weeks of the Taliban's fall. Moore chides Bush for his hypocrisy: "Go straight for the oil and cut out the bullshit about nation building or democracy" (p 125).

In the propaganda blitz before the Iraq war began, Bush proved the aphorism that "if you tell a lie long enough and often enough, it becomes the truth" (p 42). Though British claims that Iraq tried to buy "yellow cake uranium" proved false, the White House kept the hoax alive, showing documents that carried the signature of the non-existent Niger foreign minister. The alleged aluminum tubes "discovery" that could have lead to nuclear centrifuges under Iraq's former leader, Saddam Hussein, was also negated after clarification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Secretary of State Colin Powell's tall talk of "intelligence" about Iraq's seven "mobile factories" and of biological agents "enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets" also fell flat when the occupying US forces found none. As one commander on the ground admitted, "they're simply not there".

Along this line, Moore goes on to list all the chemical agents US corporations sold to Iraq between 1985 and 1998. Delinquents include American Type Culture Collection, Alcolac International, Matrix-Churchill Corporation, Sullaire Corporation, Pure Aire and Gorman-Rupp. While delivered toxins include Anthrax, Botulinum, Capsulatum, Melitensis, Perfringens, Escherichia Coli - a cause of food-borne illness, etc. In addition, American companies such as Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Bechtel, Caterpillar, DuPont, Kodak and Hughes Helicopter gave Iraq dual-use technologies for two decades. Many of these companies happened to be campaign backers of Reagan and the both Bushes. If Saddam was a devil, "the devil was actually our devil", cries Moore.

The evidence continues. Bush indulged in a "continuous loop of lying" by insinuating a make-believe Saddam-bin Laden connection when it was known that the al-Qaeda chief considered the Iraqi dictator an apostate. The rhetoric of "freeing the people of Iraq" has also been punctured, as now the US prepares to "give the country over to some rabid fundamentalist". Accusing the French of being an "axis of weasels" was "done to distract the American public from the real rats who were in Washington" (p 63). While the so-called "coalition of the willing" was in reality the "coalition of the coerced", with citizens of all the pro-war countries opposing their governmental imprimaturs. Moore also reminds his readers that in the US itself, a simple reality is often forgotten that before the Iraq war began, a majority of Americans were against an invasion without allied participation and UN approval.

Regarding action and death tolls in Iraq, Moore writes that Pentagon sound bytes on Lockheed Martin rocket carriers and their "perfect guidance systems" were pure shams, as a British-American research group calculated civilian deaths during the Iraq war to be between 6,806 and 7,797. "When they kill civilians we call it terrorism. But we drop bombs [and] then apologize [for] the collateral damage spill over" (p 124). Thanks to the "Fox News effect", the supposedly liberal American media covered up what Iraqi civilians went through during the bombing. American television viewers were "25 times more likely to see a pro-war US source than someone with an anti-war point of view".

Moore tries to make common sense mincemeat of the exaggerated terrorist threat Bush has used as a pretext to curtail American freedoms. Even in the fateful year 2001, "your chance as an American of dying in an act of terrorism in this country was 1 in 100,000" (p 96). Mass psychosis and irrational fear were indoctrinated by the US government for ulterior ends. Neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Crystal and Richard Perle had been planning an endless war for long, and "to maintain an endless war, they need endless fear" (p 103). The USA Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness and Policy Analysis Market were some of the neo-con pet projects ostensibly created to "protect" Americans. But if the neo-cons had a genuine interest in protecting Americans, Moore asks, why did they ignore the 19 percent increase in homelessness and hunger in the US from 2001 to 2002. "The war on terror," he writes, "should be a war on our own dark impulses" (p 127).

After all, this terrorism was the red herring behind which "business bandits" wrecked the US economy. Moore blames the seductive Horatio Alger myth of rags-to-riches that prevented chief executive officers from being punished for robbing millions of small savers from their life earnings during the stock market boom (covered more empirically in economist Joseph Stiglitz's new book, The Roaring Nineties). The great "American Dream" was a "ruse concocted by the corporate powers-that-be who never had any intention of letting you into their club" (p 141). Those "Republicans never want to make their tent any bigger so that there's room for you". (p 200)

Between 1999 and 2002, it was these corporate power and the ultra-rich who knew the economic downturn was coming and quietly sold off their stocks. Meanwhile, average investors were cajoled into staying the course for the "long run". So "before you knew it, your money was gone, gone, gone" (p 143). Some of the robber barons were George W Bush's bosom buddies. Enron chairman Kenneth Lay, pet-named "Kenny Boy" by the president, has given $736,800 to the Bushes since 1993 and allowed Bush junior to use his corporate jet during the 1999 presidential campaign. Lay was repaid by Bush by planting his appointees in the energy department and by being allowed to draft the US "energy policy" that unveiled its fangs at Kyoto. Thus it seems that "one of the greatest corporate scandals in the history of the United States was committed by one of the president's closest friends" (p 150).

Perhaps he was thinking of these friends when Bush proposed his most recent $350 billion tax cut, which provides for "millionaires getting back so many millions", but says absolutely nothing for poor, low-income Americans. Those who paid 10-15 percent taxes still pay 10-15 percent. Twelve million children whose parents made between $10,000 and $26,000 a year have been excluded from Bush's so-called present to the wealthy.

Moore concludes by calling on the American people to overthrow the Republican presidency this November. Democrats have "basically written off 2004. They see little chance of defeating George W Bush" (p 204). But if they can get women of all colors, as well as black men and Hispanic men to vote against Bush, they would have a powerful winning combination. Moore believes Americans are liberal at heart, and they are ready for a female president or a black president. Television icon Oprah Winfrey could beat Bush, Moore says. More realistically, Moore is willing to back any Democratic candidate who is capable of ousting Bush. However, nothing should be left to the Democrats who lost after winning in 2000. "This election will require the active participation of all of us to get out there and snatch our country back" (p 213).

Moore's rib-tickling, comedic call-to-action uses colloquial American phrases and references that foreign readers might not easily vibe with, but the case for Bush's removal is compelling and unarguable. If you're an American unsure about who to vote for, or even if you will vote this November, this savage comedy is especially packaged for you.

Dude, Where's My Country? by Michael Moore (Warner Books, New York, October 2003). ISBN: 0-446-69262-X; 249 pages. Price: US$24.95.

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Feb 28, 2004


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