Although Hitchens championed this invasion, he opposed the first Gulf War. He once passionately supported Palestinian rights but has apparently abandoned that cause in his new crusade with the Likudists of Washington and Tel Aviv. Hitchens claims to defend the Enlightenment yet he embraces the Bush Administration, the most influential and dangerous anti-Enlightenment locus of power in the world. Yes, bin Laden, the Taliban, and their ilk are fanatically anti-Enlightenment, but they are relatively puny; and although Bush and Ashcroft, praise Jesus, are constrained by the Constitution, a creation of Madison, Jefferson, and the American Enlightenment, their power to do harm is unmatched. By the Enlightenment, I mean authentic respect, not propagandistic blandishments, for reason and science, human rights, education, secular institutions, progress, and liberty.
The Bush Administration, in order to rally Christian fundamentalists, opposes abortion and stem cell research. Recently over 4000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Price winners, denounced Bush’s anti-scientific policies.22 The Bush junta rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, and that environmental catastrophe is perhaps the gravest menace to our future. Blair’s chief science adviser, Sir David King, has warned that global warming is far more dangerous than the over-hyped threat of terror. Even the Pentagon, in a major report on the impending crisis of climate change, concurs.23. The Bushites fuse two fanatic ideologies—Christian fundamentalism and market fundamentalism. (Many of the core ‘intellectuals,’ of course, are not Christians or even believers, but rather cynical admirers of Machiavelli and Strauss; they know that religion is useful in controlling the herd. And much of the market fundamentalism is theoretical gobbledygook; in practice, at least domestically, they adhere to State-Corporate military funding, protectionism, and crony capitalism.)
George Bush himself rejects biological evolution (both in theory and practice), and you are as unlikely to find a copy of Darwin or Voltaire on his nightstand as in Osama’s knapsack. Many of his followers are extremists awaiting a much-anticipated Armageddon, inspired not by Enlightenment values, but by the “Left Behind” series of novels by Tim LaHaye, a publishing phenomenon with 60 million sold in the U.S. In Glorious Appearing, Jesus returns to earth as a great exterminator to eviscerate, cook, and melt all non-Christians.24 By backing Israeli and U.S. aggression in the Middle East, these Christians hope to trigger a prophesized final war that will destroy the world. Jews, ironically, will be forced to convert or fry. Bush and many of his supporters, in fact, are as hostile to the Enlightenment as Mullah Omar, and share a number of values and outlooks. What remarkable strain of political schizophrenia permits Hitchens to ignore all these contradictions?
Afghanistan remains a disaster.25 The country, first sacrificed on the alter of the Cold War, is now a kill zone in the ‘war on terror.’ Karzai, the U.S. appointee, remains the esteemed mayor of Kabul. Despite all the propaganda and promises of a new Marshall Plan, there is no general freedom for women, infrastructure remains in the Stone Age, security is Hobbesian, and fundamentalism and warlord sectarianism are rampant. Even the vile Taliban are making more comebacks than Frank Sinatra. Medecins Sans Frontieres, which maintained a noble presence in Afghanistan for 28 years, including the occupation by the Soviet Army, finally relented to flee after staff members were recently killed.26 It is heresy to say this but, compared to the present, the period of Taraki’s regime looks like the golden age of Pericles. There is, however, some good economic news– the trade in opium has reached record levels.
When I visited Iraq in 1992, I could safely walk the streets of Baghdad alone at night. This was after the first Gulf War, and the bombing and sanctions had already destroyed much of the economy. The lack of hostility was extraordinary. Reverse the circumstances, dump me on a street in Dallas or Washington, and I’d be running from a lynching. In Baghdad, in contrast, people invited me into their shops and occasionally their homes (although that was risky) to chat over tea. They complained about the sanctions, the wars, and often Saddam. Today I might not last five minutes in Baghdad.
The violence of the Bush/Blair invasion has catalyzed even more rage and violence. Tacitus wrote, “They created a wasteland and called it peace.” Hatred of the U.S. has swollen worldwide but especially in the Middle East. George Bush is a walking/talking recruitment poster for al Qaeda and associates. The hypocrisy of the U.S is monumental as it defends theocratic monarchies with horrific human rights records but threatens and destroys the strongest secular Arab states. Pakistan, the patron of the Taliban and much of the terrorism, is now an official ally. Armed with nukes, dangerous and unstable, they have generously sold off their nuclear secrets across the globe, but all is forgiven. Sharon, culpable for war crimes at Sabra and Shattila, now has carte blanche for all Israeli state terrorism as well as the theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Hitchens proclaimed that the invasion of Iraq would be quick and painless, a gateway to a bountiful new order. Many of the anti-war critics, especially those familiar with the history of the region, warned that an invasion and occupation would be catastrophic. Uncounted numbers of civilians in the thousands have succumbed to the ongoing carnage. In one of many violations of the Geneva Conventions (Article 34), U.S. forces arrested women and children to get at “wanted husbands.”27
Extreme collective punishment includes the apparent killing of more than 700 civilians in Fallujah to avenge the deaths of four mercenaries. (Those ratios are reminiscent of the most brutal retributive campaigns in the Second World War.) After attacks, U.S. commanders publicly lie and claim that 95% of the deaths are “terrorists” when at least half of the victims in hospitals and mass graves are women and children. Marine snipers shoot ambulance drivers, a technique the Israelis have perfected. Interrogators and guards beat prisoners to death, rape them, or force them into torture-porn. Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Graib story, says that there are unreleased videos of boys at Abu Graib sodomized by American soldiers. Their cries, he says, are especially haunting. This is not, I presume, part of Hitchens’ Iraqi liberation platform.
A British officer publicly condemns American soldiers for viewing the Iraqis as untermenschen, a rather deliberately chilling choice of words.28 The majority of Sunnis and Shiites are at least united in their wish to see the foreign invaders gone. Recently, an American helicopter fired 7 rockets into an unarmed crowd in Baghdad and killed 12 Iraqis and a Palestinian TV reporter.29 The military issued two clearly false and contradictory justifications, and of course there is no accountability. Why aren’t these people’s lives worth as much as Klinghoffer’s or Kenneth Bigley’s? Is it because they were killed casually from a helicopter without malice rather than in stylized executions? Is it because they are nameless and faceless, at least in the Western media, and cannot function as ‘symbols’? Or is it just because they are Iraqis and cheaper by the dozen?
Let’s enumerate a modest slice of Hichens’ remarkable record of unerring inaccuracy. Once, breathlessly, he claimed that Bush would be a boon to Palestinian statehood. Now that the laughter has died down, he has vacated the subject. Recent developments, obviously, have not been kind to our Chris: No WMD; no fawning, liberated Iraqis throwing ‘sweets and flowers’; no reconstruction, no end to the violence and deaths. Hitchens serenaded us with noble tales of the INC and Chalabi, the internationally respected bank embezzler, even as they made unsavory deals to plunder the spoils of Iraq.
Conditions in Iraq have deteriorated so badly that many Iraqi Christians, now targeted by Islamicists, are fleeing once secular Iraq for Baathist Syria where their rights are protected. The invasion has engendered precisely the sort of barbarous terrorism that it supposedly would quell. This self-fulfilling prophecy is now used as a justification for the invasion itself!
In the 1990s the Iraqi people were trapped between Saddam and the genocidal sanctions; now they are caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of a brutal military occupation and deranged suicide bombers—neither of which cares how many innocent Iraqis are killed. (An insurgency against an illegal invasion is, of course, entirely legitimate.) In a recent CPA poll, only 2% of the Iraq population sees the U.S. as liberators. (I’m confident that Iraqis will quickly perceive their liberation once they read a couple of Hitchens’ Slate columns. This should be very soon as their American benefactors are presently wiring every Iraqi home with free internet.)
1. In March of 2003, Hichens claimed a “substantial number of Bin Ladenists on Iraqi soil.” This was not true at the time but thanks to the invasion it is becoming true.
2. Hitchens maintained that the war would not worsen terrorism, increase the influence of bin Laden, or swell membership in his organization. Wrong, wrong and wrong.30
3. “It must be obvious to anyone who can think at all that the charges against the Hussein regime are, as concerns arsenals of genocidal weaponry, true.” To be so off-base and so smug simultaneously is a rare gift. And this is the oracle who denounces Moore as an ignoramus, fool, and a liar?
4. Hitchens accused the UN weapons inspectors of incompetence, hinting darkly that they might be taking bribes. Hans Blix, Ritter and their compatriots did their job supremely well. The incompetents and liars were those who claimed otherwise. Hitchens, in a bow to fairness, might want to send the inspectors roses and a contrite apology.
Hitchens, besides compiling a sterling record of fatuous pronouncements, appears to accept all the Bush alibis for the invasion. The notion that the Bush administration, a virtual Dream Team of the oil industry, would invade a country, much weakened by wars and sanctions, effectively disarmed by weapons inspectors, based on the fact that it holds the second largest reserves of petroleum in the world is just unthinkable. Gore Vidal, with his typical panache, nails the Bush team:
“But the tom-toms keep beating revenge, and the fact that most of the world is opposed to our war seems only to bring hectic roses to the cheeks of Bush Senior of the Carlyle Group, Bush Junior of Harken, Cheney of Haliburton, Condoleeza Rice of Chevron-Texaco, Rumsfeld of Occidental, Gale Norton of BP Amoco. If ever there was an administration that should recuse itself in matters dealing with energy, it is the current junta.”
Hitchens, however, disdainfully dismisses anyone who argues the invasion of Iraq was primarily motivated by oil and profit as “domestic nut bags”—and a repertoire of nastier insults. Or does he? For just when you think you have him cornered by consistency, he retorts, “Of course it’s about oil, stupid.” Adding further clarification:
“Just on the material aspect – I love it when people darkly describe the coming intervention as “blood for oil”, or equivalent gibberish. Does this mean what it appears to mean, namely that oil is not worth fighting over?”
Mark Kingwell comments, “Hitchens is not much concerned with the stated justification for the (illegal) invasion of Iraq. Not being a politician, he doesn’t have to care about WMDs or evidence thereof. And so he doesn’t, preferring what he must imagine is straighter shooting about what the Americans are up to. Indeed, at one point, talking tough, Hitchens tells a notional opponent, “Of course it’s about oil, stupid.” But elsewhere, he said it was about liberating the people, stopping the torture, ending the evil. Which is it? Principle or pragmatics? Morals or moolah? With this move, Hitchens snares himself in a contradiction even he cannot escape: No matter how clever his arguments, he is not, finally, serious.”31
How does Hitchens arrive at such squirrelly, if proudly belligerent, positions? Why does he loath Michael Moore to such an extent that he considers dishonesty and trashy ranting fair play? Why, after a huffy career as an angry leftie, has Hitchens attached himself so lovingly to George W. Bush’s right buttock?
“In order to get my own emotions out of the way, I should say briefly that on that day [9/11] I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration. I am not particularly a war lover, and on the occasions when I have seen warfare as a traveling writer, I have tended to shudder. But here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. (Those are the ones I love, by the way.) On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.”32