December 15th, 2005


More on "The Power Of Nightmares"

Peter Bergen provides a coherent critique of the "The Power Of Nightmares."

His main points:

1. Curtis' critique of Leo Strauss and his influence on the Neocons isn't particularly accurate or even germane. If you read the Wikipedia article on Strauss you won't find much to justify Curtis' portrayal of Strauss. In fact, my judgement from reading that is that Strauss was pretty much like all serious 20th Century philosophers -- you have to be the sort of brilliant wonk my son Sean is to even begin to divine what the hell he's on about.

2. Al Qaeda was a much more coherent and disciplined organization up until the Invasion of Afghanistan than Curtis would lead you to believe, and Curtis' assertion that the name 'Al Qaeda' was coined by the FBI in order to prosecute Bin Laden with RICO law is just plain wrong.

Despite these critiques, Bergen on balance likes the film, and doesn't believe Curtis' polemical liberties completely invalidate the central point of the movie.

I guess where I'm at on the subject is this: It's obvious that the War On Terror as prosecuted by the Bush Administration is, as Curtis would have it, based to a large extent on distortions, fantasies and perhaps outright lies. The Iraq War in particular was an act of geopolitical psychosis.

But -- and this is a huge but -- Curtis has the same failing as a film-maker and political agitator as Michael Moore: he is willing to fudge a bit to make his story more punchy and dramatic. There is a huge story in the history of the Neocons in the US government since the mid-60s, and they have a lot to answer for. There's also a huge story in the history of the Islamists, and of the Neoconservative reaction to them. But if someone can't figure out how to tell this story with a rigorous attention to factual detail, they won't be doing anything but pandering to the foggy-brained left.

I am, and have always been, liberal and progressive in my political opinions, but what I really want, more than any triumph of liberal ideology, is to know the truth. I want a government whose actions flow from humane ideals, but whose implementation is rigorously tied to a scientifically accurate appraisal of the threats and challenges we face. What I'd hope for from people like Curtis and Michael Moore is documentaries who get the facts right first. Both "The Powers of Nightmares" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" are limited in their ability to persuade by their innaccuracies. They do us all a disservice by granting conservatives the means to discount and ignore them.