I know we've been "free" of the Iraq War for two weeks now and our minds have turned to the new football season and Fashion Week in New York. And how exciting that the new fall TV season is just days away!
But before we get too far away from something we would all just like to forget, will you please allow me to just say something plain and blunt and necessary:
We invaded Iraq because most Americans -- including good liberals like Al Franken, Nicholas Kristof & Bill Keller of the New York Times, David Remnick of the New Yorker, the editors of the Atlantic and the New Republic, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and John Kerry -- wanted to.
Of course the actual blame for the war goes to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz because they ordered the "precision" bombing, the invasion, the occupation and the theft of our national treasury. I have no doubt that history will record that they committed the undisputed Crime of the (young) Century.
But how did they get away with it, considering they'd lost the presidential election by 543,895 votes? They also knew that the majority of the country probably wouldn't back them in such a war (a Newsweek poll in October 2002 showed 61% thought it was "very important" for Bush to get formal approval from the United Nations for war -- but that never happened). So how did they pull it off?
They did it by getting liberal voices to support their war. They did it by creating the look of bipartisanship. And they convinced other countries' leaders like Tony Blair to get on board and make it look like it wasn't just our intelligence agencies cooking the evidence.
But most importantly, they made this war (and its public support) happen because Bush & Co. had brilliantly conned the New York Times into running a bunch of phony front-page stories about how Saddam Hussein had all these "weapons of mass destruction." The administration gleefully fed this false information not to FOX News or the Washington Times. They gave it to America's leading liberal newspaper. They must have had a laugh riot each morning when they'd pick up the New York Times and read the nearly word-for-word scenarios and talking points that they had concocted in the Vice-President's office.
I blame the New York Times more for this war than Bush. I expected Bush and Cheney to try and get away with what they did. But the Times -- and the rest of the press -- was supposed to STOP them by doing their job: Be a relentless watchdog of government and business -- and then inform the public so we can take action.
Instead, the New York Times gave the Bush administration the cover they needed. They could -- and did -- say, 'Hey, look, even the Times says Saddam has WMD!'
With this groundwork laid, the Bush crowd ended up convincing a whopping 70% of the public to support the war -- a public that had given him less than 48% of its vote in 2000.
Early liberal support for this war was the key ingredient in selling it to a majority of the public. I realize this is something that no one in the media -- nor most of us -- really wants to discuss. Who among us wants to feel the pain of having to remember that liberals, by joining with Bush, made this war happen?
Please, before our collective memory fades, I just want us to be honest with ourselves and present an unsanitized version of how they pulled off this war. I can guarantee you the revisionists will make sure the real truth will not enter the history books.
Children born when the war began started second grade this month.
Kids who were eleven in 2003 are now old enough to join up and get killed in Iraq in a "non-combat capacity."
They'll never understand how we got here if we don't.
So let me state this clearly: This war was aided and abetted by a) liberals who were afraid to stick their necks out and thus remained silent; and b) liberals who actually said they believed Colin Powell's cartoon presentation at the UN and then went against their better judgment by publicly offering their support for the invasion of Iraq.
First, there were those 29 (turncoat) Democratic senators who voted for the war. Then there was the embarrassing display of reporters who couldn't wait to be "embedded" and go for a joy ride on a Bradley tank.
But my real despair lies with the people I counted on for strong opposition to this madness -- but who left the rest of us alone, out on a limb, as we tried to stop the war.
In March of 2003, to be a public figure speaking out against the war was considered instant career suicide. Take the Dixie Chicks as Exhibit A. Their lead singer, Natalie Maines, uttered just one sentence of criticism -- and their career was effectively dead and buried at that moment. Bruce Springsteen spoke out in their defense, and a Colorado DJ was fired for refusing to not play their songs. That was about it. Crickets everywhere else.
Then MSNBC fired the only nightly critic of the war -- the television legend, Phil Donahue. No one at the network -- or any network -- spoke up on his behalf. There would never again be a Phil Donahue show. (Little did GE know that, when they soon filled that 8 p.m. hour with a sports guy by the name of Keith Olbermann, they would end up with the war's most brilliant and fiercest critic, night after night after night.) There were a few others -- Bill Maher, Janeane Garofalo, Tim Robbins and Seymour Hersh -- who weren't afraid to speak the truth. But where was everyone else? Where were all those supposed liberal voices in the media?
Instead, this is what we were treated to back in 2003 and 2004:
** Al Franken, who said he "reluctantly" was "a supporter of the war against Saddam." And six months into the war Al was still saying, "There were reasons to go to war against Iraq... I was very ambivalent about it but I still don't know if it was necessarily wrong (to go to war)." [CNBC News, September 10, 2003]
** Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, who attacked me and wrote a column comparing me to the nutty right-wingers who claimed Hillary had Vince Foster killed. He said people like me were "polarizing the political cesspool," and he chastised anyone who dared call Bush's reasons for going to war in Iraq "lies."
** Howell Raines, editor-in-chief of the "liberal" New York Times, who was, according to former Times editor Doug Frantz, "eager to have articles that supported the war-mongering out of Washington... He discouraged pieces that were at odds with the administration's position on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged links of al Qaeda." The book Hard News reported that "according to half a dozen sources within the Times, Raines wanted to prove once and for all that he wasn't editing the paper in a way that betrayed his liberal beliefs... "
** Bill Keller, at the time a New York Times columnist, who wrote: "We reluctant hawks may disagree among ourselves about the most compelling logic for war -- protecting America, relieving oppressed Iraqis or reforming the Middle East -- but we generally agree that the logic for standing pat does not hold... we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking."
(The New York Times is so left-wing that when Raines retired, they replaced him with... Keller.)
** The New Yorker, the magazine for really smart liberals, found its editor-in-chief, David Remnick, supporting the war on its pages: "History will not easily excuse us if, by deciding not to decide, we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them... a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all." (To cover its ass, the New Yorker had another editor, Rick Hertzberg, write an anti-war editorial as a rebuttal.)
Some of the above have recanted their early support of the war. The Times fired its WMD correspondent and apologized to its readers. Al Franken has been a great Senator. Kristof now writes nice columns (check out last Sunday's).
But the support of the war by these leading liberals and the majority of the Democrats in the Senate made it safe for the Right to let loose a vicious and unchecked tirade of hate and threats on anyone (including myself) who dared to step out of line. It was not uncommon to hear the media describe me as "un-American," "anti-American," "aiding the terrorists" and being a "traitor."
Here are just a couple of examples of what was said about me over the airwaves by two of the nation's leading conservative commentators:
Let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong? I stopped wearing my "What Would Jesus Do" band, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, "Yeah, I'd kill Michael Moore," and then I'd see the little band: "What Would Jesus Do?" And then I'd realize, "Oh, you wouldn't kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn't choke him to death." And you know, well, I'm not sure. (Glenn Beck)
"Well, I want to kill Michael Moore. Is that all right? All right. And I don't believe in capital punishment. That's just a joke on Moore." (Bill O'Reilly)
(Ironically, O'Reilly made his threat/joke the night after Janet Jackson's breast was bared at the Super Bowl -- which got CBS fined more than half a million dollars because, you know, nipples are far more frightening than death threats.)
So that's how I'll personally remember the early war years: living with a real and present danger caused by the hate whipped up by right-wing radio and TV. (I've been advised not to recount certain specific incidents that happened to me, as it would only encourage other crazy people.)
So I dealt with it. And I'm still here. And I know many of you went through your own crap, standing up against the war at school, or work, or at Thanksgiving dinner, taking your own blows for simply saying what was the truth.
But how much easier it would have been for all of us if the liberal establishment had stood with us? We didn't own a daily newspaper, or a magazine with a circulation in the millions. We didn't have our own TV show or network. We weren't invited on shows like Meet the Press because they simply could not allow our voice to be heard.
The media watchdog group FAIR reported that in the three weeks after the war started, the CBS Evening News allowed only one anti-war voice on its show -- and that was on one night in one soundbite (and that was four seconds of me in a line from my Oscar speech) -- even though in March of 2003 our anti-war numbers were in the millions (remember the huge demonstrations in hundreds of cities?). We were around 30% of the country according to most polls (that's nearly 100 million Americans!) and yet we had no way to communicate with each other aside from through the Nation and a few websites like CommonDreams.org and Truth-Out.org.
But that was no way to build a huge mass movement of middle Americans to oppose the war. Unless you had just lucked out and been handed an Oscar on live television in front of a gazillion people where you had 45 seconds to say something before they cut you off and booed you off the stage (hahahaha), you had no public platform. (Jeez, I sure did get booed a lot that year: simply walking through an airport, or eating dinner in a restaurant, or sitting at a Laker game where they suddenly put me up on the Jumbotron and the place went so angry-crazy that Larry David, who was sitting next to me, felt that maybe for his own safety he should perhaps slide a few seats down or go get us a couple of wieners. Instead, he stuck by my side -- and his skillful ninja moves got us out of there alive after the game.)
Too bad for the bastards, those days are over.
The next time around, it won't be so easy to shut up a country girl band or try to silence someone while he accepts his little gold statue -- or completely ignore the millions of citizens in the streets.
So now we can hope that one of our wars is over. Too bad we lost. I hate to lose, don't you? But the fact is, we lost the very day we invaded a sovereign nation that posed absolutely no threat to us and had nothing to do with 9/11. We lost lives (more than 4,400 of ours, hundreds of thousands of theirs), we lost limbs (a total of 35,000 troops came back with various wounds and disabilities and God knows how many more with mental problems). We lost the money our grandchildren were supposed to live on.
And we lost our soul, who we were, what we stood for as a once-great country -- lost it all. Can we now ask for redemption -- for forgiveness? Can we be... "America" again?
I guess we'll see. The vast majority of the country eventually came around to the Dixie Chicks' position. And we elected an anti-Iraq-war guy by the name of Barack Hussein Obama.
But, please, promise yourselves never to forget how our country went crazy seven-and-a-half years ago -- even though, to many people at the time, it seemed completely normal. And I'm here to tell you, no matter how much better it's gotten, no matter how normal you may think things are now, we're still halfway nuts. Just listen to the new batch of "sensible pundits" as they start to beat the drums about what we should do to Iran. One war down, one (or two or three) to go.
C'mon, Mr. President, not one more kid needs to die overseas wearing a uniform with our flag on it. We can't win like this. Let's dig a few thousand wells in Afghanistan, build a few free mosques, leave behind some food and clothing, fix their electrical grid, issue an apology and set up a Facebook page so they can stay in touch with us -- and then let's get the hell out. Your own National Security Adviser and your CIA Director have told you there are less than 100 al Qaeda fighters in the entire country. 100???
100,000 U.S. troops going after 100 al Qaeda? Is this a Looney Tunes presentation? "A-ba-dee-a-ba-dee-a-ba-dee -- That's All Folks!" Let's get real. I'm glad one war is "over." But I know how we got there -- and I'm willing now to fight just as hard to stop these other wars if you won't, Mr. Obama.
P.S. Just a thought, Mr. President. Can I ask that you go back and watch this movie I made -- Fahrenheit 9/11. There might be some answers there. I give you my permission to download it for free by going to this site: TorrentHound.com. Don't tell the studio I said it was OK! They've only made a half a billion on it so far.
P.P.S. To everyone on my list: Thanks to your thousands of generous donations, we've raised more than $60,000 for the Muslim community center near Ground Zero. This has made news around the world, that there are Americans who believe in our stated American principles.
The second part of Mike's interview with Wolf Blitzer will air today on CNN's The Situation Room (5-7 p.m. ET).
Also: Bill Maher has asked Mike to be his first guest of his new season this Friday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.