Juan Cole: Michael Moore's Mistakes About Saudi Arabia and Bush
Juan Cole, in his blog, commenting on Michael Moore's film, Farenheit 9-11:
[A viewer] asked me if it were true that the Saudis own 7% of the US economy, which was the impression the person brought away from the film. I'm not sure that is what Moore asserted, but it in any case cannot possibly be true. I think he said they had invested $700 billion in the US. Actually, total Saudi investments worldwide are about $700 bn., with about 60% in the US, or $420 bn. It is a nice chunk of change (and helps keep the US economy from collapsing from unwise US policies like running $500 bn. deficits--but note that one year of Bush deficits equals the whole value of all Saudi investment!). But even just the goods and services produced every year in the US amount to about $11 trillion. Moore seems to have started out by claiming that the Saudi investment equals 7% of the New York Stock Exchange. But NYSE investments amount to $15 trillion. My back of the envelope calculation is that Saudi investments are actually about 2.8 percent of that. Then Moore truncated that to"7% of the US economy." But the latter is not what he really meant to say. To get that, you'd have to know how much all existing property in the US is worth, and figure the proportion of it represented by $420 bn. The Saudis don't own more than a tiny proportion of the privately held wealth in the US. They are not even the major foreign investor in the US-- The British, Dutch, and Japanese top them.
Moreover, if it is true that the Saudis have so much invested in this country, then it makes no sense for wealthy Saudi entrepreneurs and governing figures to wish the US harm. Can you imagine the bath Saudi investments took here after 9/11? The Saudi royals and the Bin Ladens lounging about in places like Orlando, who were airlifted out lest they be massacred after the attacks, didn't know anything about the apocalyptic plots hatched in dusty Qandahar, and if they had they would have blown the whistle on them with the US so as to avoid losing everything they had.
The Saudi bashing in the Moore film makes no sense. It is true that some of the hijackers were Saudis, but that is only because Bin Laden hand-picked some Saudi muscle at the last minute to help the brains of the operation, who were Egyptians, Lebanese, Yemenis, etc. Bin Laden did that deliberately, in hopes of souring US/Saudi relations so that he could the better overthrow the Saudi government.
The implication one often hears from Democrats that the US should have invaded Saudi Arabia and Pakistan after the Afghan war rather than Iraq is just another kind of warmongering and illogical. There is no evidence that either the Saudi or the Pakistani government was complicit in 9/11.
The story Moore tells about the Turkmenistan gas pipeline project through Afghanistan and Pakistan also makes no sense. First, why would it be bad for the Turkmenistanis to be able to export their natural gas? What is wicked about all that? It is true that some forces wanted the pipeline so badly that they even were willing to deal with the Taliban, but this was before Bin Laden started serious operations against the US from Afghan soil, beginning in 1998 with the East Africa embassy bombings.
In any case, if Bush had been supporting the Taliban, why did he then overthrow them? If it was because they turned out not to be a Mussolini type of government that made the trains run on time, but rather to be supporters of international terrorism, then wasn't it logical for Bush to turn against them? The mid-90s temptation to support the Taliban, who seemed to be bringing order to Afghanistan (albeit the order of the mass grave) was bipartisan. Moore says Afghan president Karzai had been involved in the earlier pipeline plan, and now is president. I still cannot understand why the pipeline is evil. Afghanistans would collect $2 bn. a year on tolls, and the Turkmen would be lifted out of poverty, and Pakistan and India might have a new reason to cooperate rather than fighting. I personally wish it could be built immediately. It doesn't explain the US Afghan war (one thing cannot explain both the temptation to coddle the Taliban and the determination to get rid of them). The US only intervened to overthrow the Taliban reluctantly, and because it was the only way to get at al-Qaeda, which needed to be rooted out.
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Michael Harrington Weems - 10/18/2004
Mr. Moore's genius is not in the factual presentation of the truth, but in warping the truth to produce propaganda to support his supposed causes. At this he is quite good, but by doing so he loses credibility and the opportunity to do some real good. At this point, he just wants to keep being a star, and the money coming in.
Just like many Washington politicians, he has compromised away any true authority he might have had.