Justin Raimondo vs. Christopher Hitchens on al-Jazeera

Justin Raimondo was on al Jazeera yesterday, with Christopher Hitchens and Nazar Janabi from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Riz Khan was the host.

The show was about al-Qaeda: after 20 years of existence, what is it’s future? Is it recruiting? Those were the questions we were supposed to address. And yet the idea that Al Jazeera was actually having Hitchens on – a militant atheist, who wants to invade practically every country in the Middle East, and has nothing but disdain for the religious and cultural ethos of the region – answers the question of why al-Qaeda is still around, albeit unintentionally.

Here it is in two parts:

4 thoughts on “Justin Raimondo vs. Christopher Hitchens on al-Jazeera”

  1. I just saw “the trials of henry kissinger” based on hitchens book. kissinger accuses hitchens of being a holocaust denier. it’s a great movie. I’m trying to think what could have brought him to where he is now but I can’t. has he had a change of heart about kissinger? these are the same sort of people he runs with now.

  2. Hitchens is right that al Qaeda is their own worst enemy. That everything they do makes people hate them. That the Iraqi Sunni turned on them because of what tyrants they are. That the Iranians considers them deadly enemies.

    And so these are all reasons that we need to wage a “Global War on Terror” against them? When they only exist as al Qaeda to fight us “the far enemy” they hold responsible for backing all their “near enemies,” and who would otherwise be crushed fighting dispersed little jihads hither and yon? When they were only tolerated by the Iraqi Sunni AFTER the American invasion and occupation of that country in the first place, and through their evil have already made themselves unwelcome even while the occupation continues? When as he says, EVERYONE who ain’t them has ample reason to consider them enemies?

    How does this most marginal group of bad guys require anything beyond regular national governmental police and intelligence cooperation to mop up?

    I’ll tell you how: America’s continued policy of regime change, occupation and the backing of dictatorships in the region. Oh, wait, I almost forgot. Hitchens agrees that backing dictators is wrong. That‘s why we have to wage an endless campaign of regime change against them too! (Seriously though, even now, anything beyond police and intelligence work against them is counter-productive.)

    1. The real question is who are really these bad guys that are in Iraq ? Are they realy who we are told ?Who is realy behind them or who brought them to Iraq in the first place?Who realy benefits from them being in Iraq?Many Iraqis doubt the official American story line!
      The answer might be “the Salvador Option”which the US used in central America.

      1. That is a central question the mainstream media is not allowed to ask. What is “Al Qaeda in Iraq”, for example, seemingly materialized out of nowhere after the US invasion and occupation, and in an area where, under Hussein, “Bin Laden” and the Wahhabists were not welcome.

        What, too, was their role in engendering civil war between Sunni and Shia after Bremer sent the Iraqi Army (many of the units of which did not fight the US invasion because they had been turned) home with no jobs, no pay, and not even a thank you?

        Quite convenient, was it not, suddenly having a very loud and vicious group of plotters who overnight turned a nation that was no terrorist threat at all–indeed, that, like old Soviets eschewed terrorist tactics as too unmanageable–into a continuation of Bush’s and Cheney’s “War on terror”.

        Meanwhile, there is at least one documented incident in which US operatives in Afghanistan–where the earlier and surely genuine Bin Laden, enemy of the House of Saud, was a US ally and not liked by the locals–were within a few minutes of striking someone supposed to be “Bin Laden” and were forbidden to do so, apparently so that “Bin Laden” might complete a video.

        A tangled web indeed.

        1. what is being repeated here is the same information from the same corrupt media.In the run up to the war of aggression against Iraq,the media scared the ‘hell out’ of the US population by depicting Iraq as a threat of mythical proportions with the ability of striking the US in a short period of time!,but any one with a basic knowldge of Geography,and world militry affairs and history would find absured.

    2. Good points, Scott.

      It is very odd, now that I think about it, that Hitchens thinks that the only way to fight al qaeda is to send in the Marines. No rational person—that is, one who is genuinely interested in stamping out al qaeda—would believe that tanks and planes sent in by the US military is the only way to go about such a thing. And if one held such a belife, then he should at least have the courage to admit that, in narrow tactical terms, US troops on the ground is clearly counter-productive. Hitchens has to know this. So I ask, what’s he really thinking and why is he thinking it? He can’t be that crazy, can he?

  3. Hitchens is also right that we don’t need to sacrifice liberty and principle against a stateless little foe so intent on destroying itself.

    But he neglects to mention – perhaps out of ignorance – that one of the purposes of using terrorism as a strategy is to force security clampdowns in the target society. This is done in order to turn the population against their state for overdoing such actions (TSA anyone?) and force that state to chose the other policy solution: stop doing what it was that got you bombed in the first place(such as occupying Saudi Arabia, backing then bombing Saddam Hussein, baking tyrannies in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, Pakistan, etc., etc.).

    In other words, Osama does want our freedom destroyed, not because he hates it, because we love it. We could simply renounce empire and keep our Bill of Rights, but the War Party continues to play right from bin Laden’s script.

    1. Are you quite sure Osama Bin Laden, whoever that might be, does not have an Israeli bodyguard?

  4. I’m glad to see Justin get more air time on TV these days, even if CNN doesn’t know his name. But Justin, buddy, you should be burying that blowhard Hitchens. I know these guys only give you questions you can’t possibly sensibly answer in the short sound byte-time they give you, so take a cue from these neocon dillweeds. Get your talking points ready. Give us some bullet points to counteract Hitchens. (When the anchor asked you about Iran, you probably should’ve mentioned that Iranian fax in 2003. The one where the Iranians wanted to settle all their beefs with the US. If we had done that instead of being jerks, etc, etc.) Even if you don’t answer the question, you can impart some wisdom in the small time you have. You’ve got precious little time, don’t squander it by starting every segment with an exasperated, “Well, look…” Get to the meat of it. Sell the audience on your point of view. “Al Queda is blowback from US foreign policy. Take away the policy and you completely undermine their ideology. Continue the policy and you validate everything they do and say to their audience.” And next time Hitchens calls you Al Queda’s “water carrier” tell him to go have his 12th martini while you get a chance to answer the question.

    1. Great advise, from Tony above. That is they way you have to use the air time given. Furthermore, Hitchens advocates genocide and thus deserves complete repudiation and ridicule.

      1. It is ridiculous to state that Hitchens advocates genocide. Where is your evidence for that?

    2. It looks like you could have done a better job that he managed. Why send someone who gets tongue tied and looks like a dimwit?

    3. Yeah, I agree. I’m saddened when a principled person — be it Naomi Klein and Amy Goodman facing down Alan Greenspan, or Juan Gonzalez facing off with Lou Dobbs, or in this case Justin Raimondo facing questions about empire — gets so caught up with emotional outrage that he or she misses the opportunity of nailing the issue concisely and forcefully so that viewers will get the picture and the culprit is busted.

      These are wasted opportunities that sometimes leave me wondering whether the whole thing isn’t just drama for drama’s sake.

      Hitchens took this round, and only those who know Justin and the concise arguments he normally makes would know that Hitchens shouldn’t have.

      1. Hitchens is, of course, a pro at this sort of play acting and gamesmanship. He’s the new Bill Buckley.

        For one thing, he was able to tune his message to the perceived audience, hamming up his newfound opposition to compromising civil liberties, which is a joke compared to his rabid pro-war-on-Islamofascism boosterism which directly led to those compromises.

        It must be difficult to deal with such a high pitched media show. Justin should have pointed out that Hitchens virulently anti-religion, publishing a book entitled “God is not Great,” which obviously biases his purported analysis of Al-Qaida and their importance vis-a-vis American policy. It would be a cheap shot in some ways, but it would have definitely put him back in his haunches and either humble him or set him into blabbering, livid, damage-control mode.

        1. Sorry sifta but sending Hitchens “into blabbering, livid, damage-control mode” is a pipe dream.
          Hitchens positions are carefully thought out and he is careful to fully admit the mistakes made by the US and the West however he does not fall into, (and has distain for those that do) the trap of moral equivalency.

        2. Note that the audience here is Al-Jazeera, not the New York Daily News. As Hitch is aware, he basically loses all credibility with that audience (like it or not) if he comes off as anti-religion and anti-Islam. He was pandering to that audience in his remarks and would have had to go one way or another to respond to such an attack. However carefully thought out your ideas are, changing the context in such a sound-bite debate will throw you off.

    4. Justin will never be burying Hitchens. Hitchens is just to sharp.
      Your advice for attacking Hitchens about booze is poorly given.
      “Just get to the meat of your argument” is his best bet. And be ready to follow with some proof of sorts.
      Also Justin should drop the word “nonsense” from his vocabulary. Unless he can quickly tell us why it is nonsense.

  5. That was sound, media-savvy advice, Tony. When one is going toe to toe with Hitchens, one has to be fully prepared to deflect one’s own groin area from his punches. No matter how much he’s had to drink, he never seems to miss his favorite target: Below the belt. He’s a sell-out and a water carrier for imperialist power, and one should never fail to remind him of that.

  6. Al Queada is not “blow-back” to American policy.

    Even if you can remove one of the grievences, i.e. US soldiers on Saudi soil, they will just replace it with another, i.e. the liberation is East Timor from Indonesia.

    Even if you’re will to try that approach you’re left to explain how troops on Saudi soil, at the invitation of the government and for their benefit, i.e. the Iraqi threat, rationally justifies mass murder.

    1. I disagree. It is possible to remove grievances in regard to the US or to remove so many of them that its hardly worth blowing yourself up because McDonald’s has a restaurant in Dubai. Even if the only thing we exported was porn, the Saudis might be mad, but most people and I would wager even most extremist wouldn’t KILL over it. And certainly the rest of the normal citizens of Saudi Arabia wouldn’t condone it.

      The problem with the Saudi government is that its a monarchy and inevitably that causes its own internal blowback by the citizenry because they resent the king. Who wouldn’t resent a guy that lorded over you and told you what to do? By supporting the Saudi government, we undermine the very values we supposedly laud. And who wants to take the side of a hypocrite?

      1. Forgotten in all of this is the fact that for over fifty years the US and its people had no problem whatsoever with the Saudis,the Wahhabis were in exixtence then as now,until the the US decided to keep its troops stationed in the country even after Iraq was expeled from Kuwait.

    2. An argument that begins and ends with conjecture is a tenuous one indeed. Contrary to your spurious imputation no one here has claimed that Al-Qaeda’s conduct is traceable to a specific event or state. It is directed at the totality of US foreign policy. Your equally risible implication that we have attempted to “justify” mass murder is sheer calumny, and effectively conflates explanation with apologia. Finally, it must be asked what “threat” an emasculated state like Iraq without any discernible motive for becoming such posed toward Saudi Arabia. What becomes clear is that one of Saudi Arabia’s many functions is that of military launching pad.

      Neoconservatives are invariably libelous cretins.

    3. The Saudi government was fooled in allowing US troops on its soil by another Bush lie,the fake satlite images of huge Iraqi forces amassing the Saudi border.The Saudi people were against stationing of the US troops in their country.And at the behest of the US those who opposed were rounded up!

    4. I have never heard this claim about East Timor and al qaeda. Charles, can you provide a source for that statement made by Hitchens, since you’re repeating it here? thank you.

      1. He made it up. The only justification is based on the resume of the UN chief involved. The idea that the Iraqi suicide bombers would have been tracking the career histories of the people in the UN is both speculative and highly improbable. But, that is the kind of thing that Hitchens can easily do when there’s a camera on him.

    5. Irrespective of what Al-Qaida wants, demands, or would do, I would agree that it is dumb and inappropriate to try to figure out a list of demands and try to assuage them.

      Such an approach would presume some sort of bilateral negotiations which are not and will not take place. Trying to deduce the interests, etc., is kind of silly.

      So in the real world, we should rather re-assess our own position and decide if the course of action really makes sense. Incidentally, even the Bush administration has technically pulled troops from Saudi (they’re in Qatar now) because they *wanted* to. People as diverse as Michael Sheuer and Ron Paul would take this a step farther and try to figure out what we are trying to achieve and whether we really want it and need it. The costs, in general, are a lot higher than expected, and the benefits are a lot lower.

      How you sell this analysis to the bulk of people who can’t be expected to go through all the details is another story. So far, we have been unwilling to consider truths that “won’t sell” and the current administration has taken this sort of cowardice to unprecedented lows. And the mainstream media, taking a cue from the business model of Fox news, is also seemingly arrested by this kind of puerility. But, I digress…

  7. Christopher Hitchens claims “nobody knows” that the US supported Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda against the Soviets in Afghanistan. But this is not true: It is a well-known fact that the US supported Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

    It is also known that when Bin Laden ran out of work-to-do in Afghanistan, Bill Clinton shipped him out, with his mujahedeen buddies, to Bosnia to fight. Bin Laden even received a Bosnian passport for his efforts. This was before 9/11.

    Christopher Hitchens quoted several obscure statistics about Indonesia’s national income (not very interesting) and then made some benign claims about salvaging our ancient civil liberties (we all pretty much agree on that).

    Apart from a good speaking voice and intriguing accent, I find that he didn’t contribute anything of value.

    1. Many people in the US hold the Suadi government and by extension the Suadi people responsible for the making of “al-qaeda” when in fact the Suadies wouldn’t have done so if they were not forced by the US government to do so.At the same time ,when Lebnanon was being occupied by the Israelis and the Plaestinians were being killed ,the Suadies did not do any thing to help! If any one to be held accounrable is the U S government!

  8. Wow! What a fantastically uninformed talking head this site managed to send. Christopher Hitchens, in every way short of drawing a bucket of soapy water, mopped the floor with little Justin. Poor Mr. Raimondo’s researched apparently didn’t extend much beyond watching a few Michael Moore flicks, and his preparation seemed limited to dressing himself and maybe eating lunch.

    Who wants to hear the same old tired talking points? Antiwar.com blog readers? I can’t suffer listening to the same 19 sentences spanning policy from Iraq to healthcare for much longer than a few minutes, let alone the decades you poor sods self-flagellate in continually approaching matters of US domestic policy with unflinching vitriolic synicism rather than an at least modestly optimistic skepticism.

    1. Presumably such “modestly optimistic skepticism” entails turning a blind eye toward the fundamentally malign character of the US government, or government in general. In that case, rational persons would be well advised to eschew it. And on a final note, that’s “cynicism”, not “synicism”. Surely, even basic orthography is within your grasp?

    2. “Christopher Hitchens, in every way short of drawing a bucket of soapy water, mopped the floor with little Justin.”

      What Hitchens did was score debating team points–he refuted nothing. His answers to Raimondo’s points are the same they always are when that pompous, self-important Marxist sod debates anyone who takes a position similar to Raimondo’s: Non-sequiturs and irrelevancies. He illuminated nothing.

      And the points Hitchens scored were, as others here have noted, entirely below the belt. Objection to militaristic U.S. foreign policy=Being a “water carrier” for al-Qaeda. Objection to costly, deadly long-term occupations of foreign countries=”surrender.” Hell, Hitchens even implied toward the end there that it was even possible for a radical Islamist regime to establish itself in the U.S. or England! (I don’t know about England, but millions of privately armed Americans will not allow several thousand [at the MOST] religious fanatics to rule them. Though apparently, their tolerance for the homegrown fanatics for democratic socialism in Washington appears to be another story altogether…)

      I guess once a Marxist, always a Marxist, but even I was surprised that Hitchens resorted to smear tactics that were right out of the World War II-era U.S. Communist party playbook.

      1. Actually, his Marxist days are since long gone. I know because I have followed his work on religion (where I usually tend to agree with hum) quite closely.

    3. I would agree that Justin Raimundo’s talent, that comes over so well in his contributions for antiwar.com and antiwar radio, is not entirely captured by this type of softball fluffy general questions. But at least he didn’t do as poorly as C. Hicthens who came across as completely ignorant.

      This type of interview is best suited for debaters with good “one-liners” and and for ignorant viewers with a short attention span. Perhaps like our friend M. Wiley here..

      1. Debating is a form of eristic, thus a variety of sophistry. It is worthless in establishing the facts of the case or coming to an agreement on what might be true or not true.

        Americans, not only in education, but also in politics, have always overestimated the value of debate.

        The adversarial legal system is also part of the problem, and was also a problem in the Roman Republic.

        In fact, one of Napoleon’s most important and lasting reforms was establishing the tribunal system, where the purpose is the investigation of facts, not winning a debate.

        As G.B. Shaw observed, one of the worst disasters to befall Britain in its long history was not being conquered by Napoleon.

        The Soviets in the USSR also made an important legal reform, which in practice they unfortunately translated too easily into an ideological dimension.

        The whole idea of “trial”–half debate and half ducking stool–is seriously flawed, as even a few minutes of Court TV establishes.

        1. I’m not so sure. I’ve seen a few enlightening debates, but then they were debates, not TV fluffbyte moderating. If you ever get a chance, see the debate between leading American and British comedians (about 20 years ago) as to which country’s comedy is funnier. Alan King’s comments were a hoot, but made some thoughtful points too. As long as the debaters are primarily pursuing the truth, and not just scoring rhetorical points, debate is worthwhile.

        2. “As long as the debaters are primarily pursuing the truth, and not just scoring rhetorical points, debate is worthwhile.”

          That is the heart of the distinction between eristic and dialectic.

          Structurally defined, eristic is a zero-sum game, as is debating.

          As indeed, is also “legal process” structured adversarially, and even more so, when peopled by those whose goal is income.

          The idea that in such an agonistic system any truth or justice, or even true facts, reliably result is, to my mind, quite analogous to the muddle of “the invisible hand” in economics, or the idea that “competition” necessarily results in an optimal market.

      2. M,
        Hitchens has hours and hours of recent debates online. As good as he is at “one liners” his skill at positing and defending his point of view for 40 min+ is one of the best out there.
        Defining Mr Hitchens as ignorant, merely show your lack of exposure to well informed commentators.
        You can call him a lot of things, a sot yes, but ignorant no.

  9. charles- the saudi government doesn’t speak for it’s people. just because someone offers you a ride doesn’t mean you have to take it.

  10. Justin is a writer not a debater. Maybe a commenter, but definitely not a debater. He comes across as shallow, uniformed and at loss for words. If he debated as good as he often writes, he would have ripped Hitchens a new one.

    1. I have to agree with this post. Now Justine is the guy who showed me there is in fact intellectually honest conservative thought out there I have enormous respect for his clarity of logic But Justines debating skills did not shine. The ” oh come on ” apathy approach to what Hichens was saying just did not play. treat him like the child he is ( with patience ) and talk up to every one else.

      1. Actually, the eyes have it.

        Who watches Al Jazeera?

        Hitchens in sunglasses are a dime a dozen.

        Raimondo was superb.

  11. Justin,

    At least you stood up to that prick. That’s what counts. A few points. First, relax. Every TV appearance is not the end of the world. If you need to loosen up a bit, have a drink before you go on. God knows Hitchens has a few. Second, don’t acknowledge your opponent’s attacks or try to attack yourself. Third, bring some note cards. It’s a tad hard to remember facts when your fight or flight mechanism is active.

    Don’t sweat it, you’ll get him next time.

      1. Actually I have noticed Hitchens as looking impassioned and sincere when he talks about the future of the middle east.
        His astute comments about 1/2 the Muslim population being regarded as subhuman by Wahhabist theology seems to be of no concern to Raim or most posters on this board.
        What gives?
        Raimondo came armed with one weapon, “its our own fault” And you’re right, even he seemed bored with it.

  12. Did Raimondo wander into the wrong studio by mistake? Between Hitchens and Jenabi, Raimondo looks like an ignoramus, and a pretty ill-tempered one at that. Check his answer to the interviewer’s question at 6’42” in the second part. Hilarious! It’s like watching someone try to fight off a grizzly bear armed with a wet fish.

    That’s what happens when your debating partners come armed with a great big box of facts, and you turn up with a pocketful of cliches. Better luck next time, Justin.

  13. Justin’s strongest point was that “we are not god,” and therefore we can’t possibly know what’s best for others. I hope that at least a few viewers caught that.

  14. You mean GOD knows?
    Which GOD is it anyway, which knows what’s best for others? Yours or theirs?
    And didn’t the caller who claimed to be from Afghanistan, mirror what Hitchens said, and all Raimondo had in reply was his repulsive facial expression?

    1. The caller from Afghanistan was speaking very honestly, but conflated the Taliban and Al-Qaida. That is, he said that it was hellish living under Al-Qaida; of course, he was talking about the Taliban, not the interior of some training camp. I thought that Justin was kind of chagrined in having his remarks taken out of context.

      In fact, the whole thing suffered from lack of context. Justin’s perspective was what should “we” (i.e. the USA) “do” about “Al-Qaida.” However, the “we” for Al-Jazeera is not really the USA. Of course, most viewers will understand what Justin means, but it doesn’t help him with his message. In any case, that is why Hitchens was trying to score points by talking about ‘takfir’ and whatever, and speciously bringing in the Algerian conflict (was this related to Al-Qaida?).

      The three commentators didn’t necessarily agree to the basic question of “What is Al-Qaida?” Justin tried to answer this by saying that it is the product of American foreign-policy blowback. That’s not a very good definition, unfortunately, and the rest of the conversation went off the rail as well. It would have gone better if the Washington Institute guy had “defined” Al-Qaida for Hitch and Justin to argue about.

      1. This is kind of a typical Hitchens ploy, bring up FLN and drop words like “takfir” to give himself the appearance of vast knowledge and as a way to talk down to his counterparts. For instance, with great bluster, he spoke of the Hazaras that the Iranians wanted to defend but he was 100% wrong by saying they are ethnically Persian.

        I was a bit disappointed with Justin’s appearance on the program. He seemed annoyed to be on the show. Justin’s views call for more nuance and probably not fit for the Hitchens’ style talk over each other and trade insults and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it. But still, I expected more.

  15. Seemed like Hitchens was trying to bring AQ into sharp focus by explaining where they are on the 20th anniversary and what they have been up to around the world aka
    “Al-Qaida’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, used the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the United States to announce on video that the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) had officially joined al-Qaida. He had a message for France (despite its government’s refusal to follow the United States into Iraq as part of the war on terror: “This blessed union will be a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders . . . and will bring fear to the hearts of the miscreant sons of France.”

    Just google “Algeria Al-Qaida” you will have knowledge.

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