Hitchens Rages Against the Dying of the Light

Christopher Hitchens was on the Daily Show last week, and the interview included one of those great moments when Jon Stewart gets serious about what he’s looking for, and failing to find, in the public debate on the Iraq war. (Video available from One Good Move.)

One downside to having Hitchens interviewed by someone as rational as Stewart is that he (Hitchens) is prevented from really spinning out into the convoluted combination of misplaced self-loathing and desperate blather that has become his stock in trade lately. But when he’s talking to himself (in effect) when writing an essay for the Weekly Standard, he’s free to indulge: A war to be proud of.

Basically, as near as I can tell, Hitchens really, really hates the positions he used to espouse, and is on a one-man jihad to expose everyone stupid and evil enough to hold such positions in the post-9/11 world. Which, when you get right down to it, is a jihad against his own former self, and which, as such jihads tend to do, has become pretty nasty.

One Response to “Hitchens Rages Against the Dying of the Light”

  1. Aaron Says:

    A couple of days ago I used Google to search out responses to the Hitchens interview. Surprisingly (in my opinion) there were a few blogs which defied the consensus view and suggested that Hitchens had trounced Stewart. I don’t think that Stewart was trying to beat up Hitchens – it was an interview, not a debate – but he did manage to make Hitchens squirm, and provide some ridiculous answers to direct questions.

    Hitchens strikes me as the type who believes, “I’m right, and everybody who disagrees with me is stupid.” Or, if you prefer, a narcissist. I doubt that his demeanor or tactics have changed, even as his ideology has been radically transformed. You were wrong if you disagreed with him back in his socialist days, you were wrong if you disagreed with him when his views started to change, and you’re wrong if you don’t agree with him now. The only person who can with this contest of “wits” if, of course, Hitchens himself – everybody else disagrees with Hitchens to at least some degree, and is thus “wrong” to at least some degree.

    Anyway… enough armchair analysis. Hitchens defended the war in Iraq as a moral obligation (even while now asserting that the occupation has been botched), because we didn’t depose Hussein after the first gulf war. We walked away from North Korea in 1953, coincidentally the same year the CIA overturned the elected government of Iran. No moral obligation there?

    Hitchens also argued that a nation could lose its sovereignty through aggression against other nations. Iran actively sponsors groups generally regarded as terrorist, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. Until 9/11 changed the calculus Pakistan has been accused of sponsoring terrorism and has been periodically engaged in border skirmishes with India over Kashmir. We have had troops stationed between North and South Korea for more than fifty years, due to continued concern that it would otherwise attempt to take over South Korea. In contrast, we favored and supported Iraq in its war against Iran, and accidentally green-lighted (through April Glaspie) its invasion of Kuwait (which I doubt would have occurred had we told Hussein “We will take military action against you if you invade” rather than “We take no position on your border dispute with Kuwait”. Although sanctions played a significant role, Iraq was no threat to its neighbors at the time of the invasion, and had little capacity to threaten its neighbors.

    He also mentioned genocide – more accurately, violation of human rights norms. Obviously, human rights norms are not observed in North Korea or Iran.

    As for non-proliferation? Of Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, at the time of invasion it was only Iraq which was not actively violating nuclear non-proliferation. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. North Korea probably has nuclear weapons, and if not soon will. Iran has a very active nuclear weapons program.

    Which is to say, Hitchen’s distinction makes no sense.

    And he continues to imply the “if it was done right, things would be wonderful” argument. For some of us, a military intervention to stop a humanitarian crisis can be justified – e.g., ending a famine or genocide – but toppling a government and attempting to reinvent a nation is not something that you should do unless you are first reasonably certain that the result you desire is feasible. And by that, I don’t emrace a Hitchens-style “it could happen, thus it is feasible”, but I mean substantially likely to succeed.

    My biggest concern about the war is coming to fruition – that we would not be effective in the post-war occupation, and we would lack persistence after initial efforts failed. And by that I don’t mean that when things didn’t work out in the first two years or so that public support would falter. By that I mean that the warnings of certain military leaders after the first war that “had we deposed Hussein, we would still be there” rang true, General Shinseki’s statements about required troop strength rang true, and the “candy and flowers” short-term occupation, and magic transformation all-but-promised by the Bush Administration seemed likely to doom public support as soon as the scales dropped from our eyes.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.