I was a senior in college when Al Franken’s book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot came out. As a 21 year old flaming lefty, I loved it. Why, I wondered, wasn’t there a lefty answer to Limbaugh – someone who could magnetize the left and marshal young footsoldiers like myself into a talking-point equipped political force?
Twenty years later, Franken is a senator, Limbaugh has been replaced in the mainstream by Bill O’Reilly, and the left has Rachel Maddow. I’ve learned that I should be careful what I wish for. I have friends who really like her, presumably because her Whole Foods hair and enthusiastic gesticulation remind them of their favorite TA in Intro to American Government. I think she makes it hard for me, as a smug lefty, to argue that it’s the conservatives who have mistaken their own spin and talking points for reality, and who alternate between riding high horses and beating dead ones. And where’s the fun of being an ivory tower liberal if I can’t feel morally and intellectually superior to conservatives?
I thought of all this because Maddow recently released a “documentary” on the Iraq War, Why We Did It. Maddow’s in depth, thorough, exhaustive forty-four minute documentary concludes that the US went to war for our own oil interests. I kept waiting for something bigger, but that was it: the US went to war for oil.
I remember doing lectures on the Iraq War, and some repentant Nader voter in the room would smugly say “well, we only invaded Iraq for the oil.” To which I would say this: OF COURSE we invaded Iraq for the oil. And not just for Iraq’s oil, but for the security of oil production in the Middle East. Why is that a bad idea? Our economy runs on petroleum and petroleum products. And this was more than a decade ago, before we decided to go frack ourselves in North Dakota. What would be a better reason to go to war? Because we suspect a ship was blown up in Havana harbor? Because we were worried that countries were like dominoes that would fall to the Soviet Union? Because we really wanted Texas? Or because it was our mission to rescue a princess from Bowser, leader of the Koopa? Those are, in order, the causes of the Spanish-American, Vietnam and Mexican-American Wars, as well as the plot to the original Super Mario Brothers. I threw it in there because it’s the most noble of all of them.
Why We Did It puts forth the black-and-white argument that the Bush Administration said the war was about weapons of mass destruction, but it was secretly about American interests in Iraqi oil fields. This is giving Bush short shrift. He made a lot of other lousy arguments about going to war with Iraq: violation of Security Council resolutions, human rights abuses, support for terrorism, as well as threats to the world oil supply. If you were paying attention at the time, you would know this. In 2003, you might have noticed that Halliburton was given the contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields. In 2007, you could have read Alan Greenspan’s book. Unless you were paying attention to cable news, which has to keep it simple between commercials for cash for gold outfits and personal injury lawyers. Luckily, Maddow has made up for being simple minded in the past by being simple minded in the present.
Why is Rachel Maddow doing a documentary on the Iraq War in 2014? Why We Did It relies heavily on talking head quotes from Ron Suskind and information from Paul O’Neill, who were beating this drum TEN YEARS AGO. The left long ago concluded that Iraq was a disastrous war, started under false pretenses, and executed by bumbling incompetent ideologues. They’re not wrong, but what does Maddow’s documentary accomplish? I mean, aside from generating ratings – and therefore ad dollars – for the moribund MSNBC, which justifies the project by noting that Maddow’s previous hard hitting forty-four minute “documentary” on Iraq was the channel’s highest rated documentary in a decade.
As near as I can tell, Rachel Maddow has very little audience that isn’t ideologically aligned with her, just like every other empty talking head on cable news. Given that Iraq has become a symbol for all that the left hated about the Bush Administration and by extension Republicans, releasing a wholly unnecessary documentary in an election year can only be to chum the water for her lefty base. Maddow can also simultaneously position herself as hero and flatter her audience by revealing that the “conspiracy” they suspected all along is actually true. Even though there was no conspiracy, none of the information is new, and Bush has been out of office for five years.
If you had all of the resources, production staff, and researchers to make any documentary for a guaranteed audience of lefties, what would you do? Assuming you wanted to throw your fans more chum, you could spend at least forty-four minutes on how Bush ignored the pro-Western president of Georgia and allowed Russia to occupy part of the country. You might also investigate Bush’s treatment of countries that violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and how he undermined the whole thing by agreeing to support India’s civilian nuclear program even as it flagrantly violated the NPT. Both of those issues would seem to impact current foreign policy concerns more than than the umpteenth rehash of the lead up to the Iraq War.
The documentary might just be a piece of escapism. Surely, one of the reasons that Maddow’s blowhard counterparts on Fox so vehemently attack Obama is to provide a cover of unity as the Republicans pull themselves apart. Is Maddow doing the same thing? In 2008 and 2012, her core audience elected and re-elected a president that has deported illegal immigrants, resorted to extra-judicial executions, and persecuted leakers at rates far higher than his predecessor. Where’s the documentary on that? I can suggest a title: Why We Did It.