August 26, 2002
Christopher Hitchens continues his devolution as the War Party's favorite leftist, and by the time he's done he may have invented a whole new school of thought: but, hey, come to think of it, he's about 30 years too late: the neoconservatives beat him to it. It's pathetic, really, to read his latest rationalizations for war: Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, the Saudis, the Turks how can they be right about Iraq, he wonders, or about anything?
"Those who don't want a 'regime change' in Iraq now include the Saudi royal family, the Turkish army, the more prominent conservative spokesmen in Congress and the Kissinger hawks. General Sharon, at least in his public pronouncements, appears to be against it as well. And somebody with a good contact among the Joint Chiefs of Staff seems to be leaking pessimistic or pacifistic material at a furious rate. Those who like to think of themselves as anti-war or anti-imperialist might wonder what there is left for them to say: all the war-loving imperialist hyenas are barking for peace at the top of their leathery old lungs."
He's wrong about Sharon. The New York Daily News reports Ranaan Gissin, a top aide to the Iron General, opining:
"Postponing the action to a later date would only enable Saddam to accelerate his weapons program, and then he would pose a more formidable threat."
And Sharon, in declaring Iraq "the greatest threat," boasted to the Knesset that "strategic coordination between Israel and the United States in dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime 'has reached unprecedented dimensions.'" Oh, but don't worry, says Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, far be it from us to "pressure the Bush administration to speed up a military strike against Iraq," reports Fox News. "The timing of such an assault is solely a U.S. decision." Gee, that's pretty generous of them, don't you think? But just in case the Bush administration gets giddy with its new-found freedom of action, we have Mr. Gissin reminding us that "Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose. It will only give him [Saddam] more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction." If the Israelis are skeptical about anything, it's over whether Bush will really ignore the best advice of the US military, and override the considered opinion of his closest advisors, in order to kowtow to Israel's pro-war lobby.
Oh, but never mind that: the Vanity Fair school of interventionism isn't too particular about details. Kissinger may be, in The Hitch's inimitable phrase, "a one-man rolling crime wave," but this newly-minted neocon is a veritable tsunami of oh-so-fashionable warmongering. Having gone in search of "a respectable radical case for eliminating Saddam Hussein," one feels sure that, by the end of his piece, he is almost certain to find it.
His angle is to examine "the motives of the anti-war establishment," he says, and naturally all those "leathery-lunged" baddies are impure of heart, unlike the heroic Hitch:
"The Saudis do not want an Americanised Iraq because it might favour the Shia Muslim majority, which in turn might favour Iran, and they also know that with Iraqi oil back on stream their own near-monopoly position the profits of which have been used to finance bin Ladenism worldwide would be much diminished."
An "Americanized" Iraq? Don't hold your breath. If that country were conquered and admitted to the Union tomorrow, it would be about as "Americanized" as Afghanistan is now, i.e. not at all, unto eternity. As for the Saudis "near-monopoly" on oil: lefties are notoriously ignorant when it comes to economics, but there ain't no such thing as a "near-monopoly" either you got one, or you don't. In the case of the Saudis, it's the latter. The price of oil has been plummeting because of an over-supply, and that's the whole reason for the Kingdon's current economic crisis. (And the crisis of the Western oil majors, by the way, who would be the real beneficiaries of the conquest of Iraq. But, then, The Hitch doesn't mind being in their camp, as long as he isn't in Kissinger's ..)
As for the Saudis being responsible for financing "Bin Ladenism worldwide" has there ever been a more tenuous, less convincing conspiracy theory than this one? It's the thesis of The Forbidden Truth, the worst-written book of the last 50 years, and one that points an accusing finger at the Bush family, in league with a nebulous cabal of corporate insiders, as the secret collaborators with terrorism. Naturally, the Left loves to hear this stuff: it's all a capitalist plot, you see .
The slickness of Hitchens' presentation is that, as in the Kosovo war, this sort of warmongering is done under the rubric of humanitarian concern for an oppressed minority group, in this case the Kurds:
"The Turks are hostile to the idea because it would almost inevitably extend the area of Iraqi Kurdistan that is currently ruled by its own inhabitants, who abut the restive Kurdish zone of Turkey."
But if Kurdistan is now ruled by the Kurds, then why-oh-why do they need to be "liberated"? Perhaps Hitch is too sozzled, or too hypnotized by the rhythm of his own illogic to notice that he's making a complete fool out of himself. He barrels merrily onward, drunk with the idea that all his old enemies will just hate this war and wouldn't that be lovely:
"A sizeable chunk of the American military and business elite is peacenik as well, either because it fears damage to its polished and expensive arsenal or because it fears the disruption of Opec and the corresponding loss of business and revenue. Jordan's operetta monarchy thinks that it might fall if Iraq is attacked and even though this collapse might give an opportunity for cleansing the West Bank in the confusion the Israeli hard-liners are sceptical also."
Ah, yes, the "peacenik" epithet spoken like a true neocon! From Trotskyism to warmongering is such a short distance to travel: how long before the American Enterprise Institute honors The Hitch with a celebratory dinner or the White House confers on him a Medal of Freedom. We are witnessing the birth of yet another neoconservative literary celebrity. He's less boring that Norman Podhoretz (but, then again, who isn't?), and a lot more photogenic than Irving Kristol. His memoirs will be published in three drearily self-infatuated volumes, with an introduction by some neocon drone comparing him to Orwell and an afterword by Donald Rumsfeld thanking him for services rendered. In his dotage, he'll be dragged out every so often to utter a few witticisms over the ruins of the latest country we've "bombed out of the Stone Ages," as The Hitch once quipped after our glorious Afghan victory.
Like all neocons, Hitchens' idea of an army is that it doesn't really consist of individual persons: it is, in his phrase, a "polished and expensive arsenal," entirely expendable in the pursuit of ideals best defined by intellectuals such as himself and his friends. It is the old Leninist dream, reborn in American triumphalism, and hailed by the former followers of the founder of the Red Army. Oh well, Red, or red-white-and-blue what difference does it make? It's the Revolution that counts.
It's important to people like Hitchens that they see themselves as revolutionaries, crusaders against bourgeois conventions, or, at least, against the conventional wisdom:
"Shall we just say that the anti-war position is the respectable status quo one? That's interesting in itself. Who would be the beneficiaries of an intervention, always supposing it went well and Saddam's vaunted army fought no better than it did the last time? Only the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples. Well, from the Kissinger-Saudi-Turkish viewpoint, and from the vantage of the Dallas boardroom, where is the fun in that? The consequences might be if we employ the revealing word of choice among the conservatives 'destabilising'."
That anyone could write such drivel with a straight face would be impossible, which perhaps explains Hitchens' permanent smirk. To speak of the beneficiaries of this war without mentioning Israel seems rather too obvious. For what about all those infamous "weapons of mass destruction" Saddam is supposed to have constructed out of matchsticks and smuggled Crazy Glue during a decade of draconian sanctions? Will they be aimed at London? Los Angeles? Tel Aviv, it seems to me, is a far more likely target and the Israelis seem to agree, as indicated by their furious war preparations and their relentless lobbying for a U.S. strike, the sooner the better.
The benefits of not living under Saddam may indeed be outweighed by the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives: I'll leave that kind of amoral calculus to Hitchens and his fellow neo-Leninists. As for the fate of the Kurds: it will be sealed if and when this war commences. For all Hitchens' pious concern for this much-oppressed people, a war would threaten the de facto independence the Kurds have already won. The weakening of Baghdad as a centralizing force has ceded most of northern Iraq to the two major Kurdish factions. A war would upset the status quo by bringing in Turkey, and, as Hitchens complains, usher in "a centralised Sunni Muslim military regime." No wonder they aren't exactly rushing to embrace their would-be "liberators."
Being both a leftist and an insufferable snob confers certain immunities, one of them being a complete indifference to the economic consequences of war. Oh, those terrible people in those Dallas boardrooms will suffer, supposedly, "loss of business and revenue" how crass of them to complain! But what about when the US military "Americanizes" the Iraqi oil fields does he think the Joint Chiefs are going to go into the oil business? The Western oil majors will profit both short-term and long-term, since war will drive the price of oil through the roof and, ultimately, deliver a rich prize into their hands. Big Oil won't suffer from this war: ordinary people, who have to drive to work, will pay the price at the gas pump, and in the tax increase that is sure to come no matter which party is defiling the White House.
Can it be that Hitchens doesn't understand this or is this just his way of announcing that he's sold his pen to the highest bidder?
In his brief against what he calls "pacifist realpolitik," Hitchens brings to the Iraq debate what he brought to the debate over the conquest of Kosovo and the bombing of Belgrade loud jeering at the anti-war opposition. It's not a pretty sight, but it's one we've seen repeated endlessly: ex-leftists morphing into warmongers of a particularly monstrous stripe, the sort who glory in the prospect of the destabilizing aspects of war and laugh at the qualms of grizzled generals who have looked Death in the face. Isabel Paterson, an acerbic libertarian writer of the 1940s, had Hitchens' sort pegged in her classic 1943 book, The God of the Machine. In the chapter entitled "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine," she wrote:
"Certainly the slaughter committed from time to time by barbarians invading settled regions, or the capricious cruelties of avowed tyrants would not add up to one-tenth the horrors perpetrated by rulers with good intentions."
Pointing to the Western Stalinists, whose hosannas to the Soviet Union dominated the intellectual world when Paterson's book was published, she averred:
"We have the peculiar spectacle of the man who condemned millions of his own people to starvation, admired by philanthropists whose declared aim is to see to it that everyone in the world has a quart of milk."
The spectacle, in all its peculiarity, rolls on. Hitchens has his own softness for Stalin & Co., as chronicled in a new book by Martin Amis, Koba the Dread, in which Amis takes Hitchens to task for calling Lenin "a great man, and, toward the end, addresses his old friend directly:
"So it is still obscure to me why you wouldn't want to put more distance between yourself and these events than you do, with your reverence for Lenin and your unregretted discipleship of Trotsky ... Why? An admiration for Lenin and Trotsky is meaningless without an admiration for terror. They would not want your admiration if it failed to include an admiration for terror. Do you admire terror? I know you admire freedom"
Ah, the humanitarian with a guillotine would reply, but there is no freedom without the terror. Whether "left" or "right," neo-Leninist or neocon, our war-birds are uniformly shrikes.
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