Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Iraq: The Reckoning of Christopher Hitchens

Four years after invading Iraq, most "neoliberal" or moderate hawks who supported the invasion of Iraq have changed their tune, myself included. But one fist stands shaking in defiance -- that of Christopher Hitchens, the eloquent drunken war supporter who recently posed a series of questions to himself in an attempt to avoid the obvious. So let's take Hitch's questions one by one:

Was the president right or wrong to go to the United Nations in September 2002 and to say that body could no longer tolerate Saddam Hussein's open flouting of its every significant resolution, from weaponry to human rights to terrorism?

Mostly wrong. The problem with going to the U.N. is that the US and Bush already had the preexisting intention of invading. In the abstract, there's nothing wrong with the UN passing resolutions -- Iran got tagged last week -- but the question becomes, how do you intend to enforce those resolutions. Remember Bush's line, "we don't need a permission slip to go to war?" The line resonated with me at the time. Now? I realize the folly of spurning a genuine international coalition and shouldering the heavy burden of war alone (well, with the Brits too).

Was it then correct to send military forces to the Gulf, in case Saddam continued his long policy of defiance, concealment, and expulsion or obstruction of U.N. inspectors?

No. The logic remains the same: the troop buildup left us with no exit strategy short of war. We we're never going to trust Saddam (and we shouldn't have). Therefore, there was no "in case of continued defiance" option -- the continued defiance was an assumed inevitability. Hitch should know this; virtually every American I spoke to did at the time. We knew war was coming, no matter what Saddam did or did not do.

Should it not have been known by Western intelligence that Iraq had no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?

Probably not. But the more accurate and important question -- one that was ignored by Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz -- is this one: "Should it not have been known by Western Intelligence that we had hardly any 'actionable intelligence' on WMDs, and therefore we could not use WMDs as the causa belli for war?" Not surprisingly, Hitch never asks himself this question.

Could Iraq have been believably "inspected" while the Baath Party remained in power?

Depends on what "believably" means. According to Hitch, "To call for serious and unimpeachable inspections was to call, in effect, for a change of regime in Iraq. Thus, we can now say that Iraq is in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty." He apparently reads this to mean that we needed to invade to make sure the weapons weren't there. If this sounds like "we needed to destroy the village in order to save it" style logic, that's because it is. There are alternatives far short of 100% believability that we deal with all the time: witness Iran and North Korea today. Should we invade those countries too, just to make sure we know what WMDs they may not possess? No, Vice President Cheney, that was not a serious proposal.

Wasn't Colin Powell's performance at the United Nations a bit of a disgrace?

Hitch admits that it was -- even a stopped clock is right once during a war -- but seems utterly uninterested in probing why it was a disgrace. Apart from ruining the career of one of our more distinguished soldier-statesmen, the performance has destroyed all credibility in the future -- even when we face real threats, and have real intelligence evidencing those threats. By shooting our wad on Iraq, we've severely limited our options in the future. This same argument was made by my father in the winter of 2002, before the invasion. Dad was right. I was wrong. Hitch was wrong too.

Was the terror connection not exaggerated?

You won't fucking believe this one. Here's the entirety of Hitch's response:

"Not by much. The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But it did point out, at different times, that Saddam had acted as a host and patron to every other terrorist gang in the region, most recently including the most militant Islamist ones. And this has never been contested by anybody. The action was undertaken not to punish the last attack—that had been done in Afghanistan—but to forestall the next one."

NOT BY MUCH? That's like me saying Hitchens is an alcoholic "not by much." Even today, at every conceivable opportunity, the Bush Administration equates the invasion to the "War on Terror." Cheney repeatedly stressed a 9/11 connection and a nonexistent Prague meeting between Iraqis and 9/11 hijacker Atta. Saddam never hosted al Qadea and it's ludicrous to suggest he did.

The entire argument collapses at this point, if it hasn't already. If Hitch can't recognize the Bush Administration's blatantly misleading propoganda even today, it's clear he's drinking from the neoconservative kool aid (spiked with vodka).

Was a civil war not predictable?

In "The Gathering Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," Kenneth Pollack argued -- all too persuasively -- that the U.S. should remove Saddam from power. But he also argued convincingly that the invasion should be done under UN auspices only, because the US was and is uniquely incomptentent in the role of nationbuilder. The fact is, we will never know if civil would have resulted after Saddam's fall from power -- what we do know is we have one now, and U.S. soldiers are dying in it.

So, you seriously mean to say that we would not be living in a better or safer world if the coalition forces had turned around and sailed or flown home in the spring of 2003?

Hitch: "That's exactly what I mean to say."

TPV: "That kool-aid must taste terrific!"


Anonymous Nic said...

Are you trying to suggest that Hitch’s drinking is affecting his judgment, or are the jabs incidental?

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Jimmimoose said...

I know I support the President better when I've been drinking....

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure the argumentum ad hominem is purely incidental.

10:26 AM  

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