Christopher Hitchens, 1976: Saddam a “visionary”

The pro-war blowhard Christopher Hitchens is one of those former leftists-turned-neocons who changed his spots but not his soul, which is that of a power-worshipper. Back in the 1970s, when it looked like socialism might be the wave of the future, he was a Trotskyist (like so many of the neocons), who wrote an article for the New Statesman that valorized Saddam Hussein as “perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser.” Hailing the “fierce revolutionary ideology” of a state that was “the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalization,” Comrade Hitchens tells us he met a man who lives on a houseboat moored in the Tigris river who embodies the history of modern Iraq, having been imprisoned by the British, by the pro-Soviet predecessor to Saddam, and then by the Ba’athists. He writes:

“There had been torture and brutality of a far worse sort than his previous incarcerations. And yet he declared that he thought the present government the best Iraqi Administration he had seen. Why? ‘Because it has made us strong and respected.’ There seems no getting round this point. From the festeringly poor and politically dependent nation of a generation ago, Iraq has become a power in every sense — military, economic and ideological. “

You can see the Trotskyite gleam in his eyes as he exclaims:

“Iraq is dedicated to the idea of a single socialist Arab nation from Gibraltar to the Indian ocean; the original Ba’athist dream.”

Thirty years ago, Hitchens was hailing the secular socialist Saddam as the greatest Arab “visionary” of his time: today, he hails Saddam’s overthrow by the US as an act of “liberation,” and this even as the horrifically bloody aftermath continues to inflict terror on the prostrate peoples of Iraq. What changed?

Nothing, really: it’s just that, back in 1976, it looked like the Third World tyrants, “secular socialists” like Saddam, were winning. Today, it looks like the US is winning. As Orwell noted in his “Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” a certain kind of intellectual worships power, and will ally himself with the strongest brute out of “idealistic” idolatry, and a sense of invincible power.  

Yesterday Saddam was “perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser,” today he is (or was) a vicious tyrant who had to be overthrown by American force of arms — and isn’t it odd that the same bad intellectual habits and frame of mind produced both evaluations?