The Dead-Enders

Christopher Hitchens isn’t sorry. Not about being a Commie all those years ago; after all, he was a Trotskyite, not one of those icky Stalinists, which merits a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Not about being frequently drunk in public: after all, it’s part of his image as the Courtney Love of punditry. And, most of all, he’s not sorry about doing his bit to gin up the Iraq war:

“Four years after the first coalition soldiers crossed the Iraqi border, one can attract pitying looks (at best) if one does not take the view that the whole engagement could have been and should have been avoided. Those who were opposed to the operation from the beginning now claim vindication, and many of those who supported it say that if they had known then what they know now, they would have spoken or voted differently.

“What exactly does it mean to take the latter position? At what point, in other words, ought the putative supporter to have stepped off the train?”

Instead of stepping off the train, the neocons – and Hitchens most of all – have stepped in front of it. In terms of their own credibility, what they did was the equivalent of lying down on the tracks and letting the train run over them. By staking their reputations as serious commentators on the success of a war that Gen. William E. Odom trenchantly and accurately described as the greatest strategic disaster in American military history, they have ensured their place in the pantheon of mistaken prognosticators, along with the inventors of phrenology and the makers of the Edsel.

Oh, a few have recanted, most notably and sincerely Francis Fukuyama. The rest, particularly Kenneth “Cakewalk” Adelman and, most obnoxiously, Andrew Sullivan, have taken to blaming President Bush’s supposedly inconsistent and even halfhearted effort to implement their grand theories – much like Trotsky’s disciples blamed Stalin’s “counter-revolutionary” shortcomings for the inconsistent implementation of the Marxist-Leninist grand design. Hitchens, who has been both a Trot and a warmonger, is a particularly hard case: a dead-ender, in short, who stubbornly sticks to the Revealed Truth even as reality rudely intrudes.

Hitchens sets up a phony dialogue between himself and his interlocutors and lobs himself a lot of softball questions, which he disposes of with his characteristic disdain for facts. It’s as if Scooter Libby had cross-examined himself. How pathetic that a writer who used to be so interesting and fun to read, even if one disagreed with him, has descended to this very threadbare bag of tricks.

Hitchens first raises a fundamentally phony question: Oh, but didn’t Saddam violate a whole bunch of UN resolutions? Wasn’t the credibility of the UN at stake? Why Americans should care about the UN, or why the U.S. military should be put at the disposal of the Security Council, is never made clear. Besides which, if we set up a mechanism whereby an invasion is automatically launched against any country that violates a given number of UN resolutions, we’d have bombed Tel Aviv long ago. At any rate, I don’t recall Hitchens being much of a UN fan to begin with, but I guess when your back’s against the wall any maneuver will do.

It was “correct,” insists Hitchens, to send U.S. forces to the Gulf, because only the threat of force caused the Iraqis to cave on the inspections issue. So Hitchens admits the Iraqis were ready to comply with the UN demand to admit inspectors without conditions – what he doesn’t admit is that the U.S. thwarted Saddam’s pathetic attempts to effectively surrender, and instead launched a series of provocations designed to torpedo a negotiated settlement. Aside from that, however, the very act of sending military forces to the Gulf made war a foregone conclusion: by that time, the president had invested so much of his own political capital – and America’s prestige – in this misadventure that the administration could argue that backing down now, even a little bit, would do irreparable damage to our credibility. Such an argument was, of course, completely unreasonable, but in the Bizarro World we had fallen into post-9/11 – and are only now showing signs of climbing out of – such illogic is perversely “logical.”

Hitchens throws himself a few more underhand pitches, all centered on the question of Iraq’s degree of cooperation with the UN inspectors, but he never addresses the overarching reality, which is that there weren’t any “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Period. As Scott Ritter pointed out long ago in an article in Arms Control Today, the Iraqis had been disarmed by the stringent UN inspections regime and would not be able to reconstitute it. Whether Saddam tried to wriggle out of the straightjacket imposed by the IAEA is irrelevant: what matters is that – contrary to what Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Hitchens were telling us at the time – he didn’t succeed.

But we couldn’t afford to wait for the smoking gun to arrive in the form of a mushroom cloud: Condi Rice’s infamous formulation of the “imminent threat” talking point was just one dark note in the administration’s Doomsday Symphony, which deliberately evoked the horrors of a nuclear attack on the U.S. The president even conjured visions of Iraqi drones dropping WMD on the continental United States. Those “drones” turned out to be rickety little gliders that could barely have gotten off the ground. It would be funny if the consequences of the president’s delusions hadn’t led to such tragic results. Cheney went on television and said flat out we know Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Every bit of misinformation put out there by the Office of Special Plans and the private-sector division of the War Party, including Hitchens, proved to be dead wrong – including all that malarkey about “links” between al-Qaeda and the Ba’athist regime. Saddam’s supposed “training camp” for Islamist terrorists (a hoax), the “Prague connection” (a fable), the Niger uranium story (based on a forgery) – it was all of it a pack of lies, from beginning to end, and the American people know it.

Yet Hitchens doesn’t concede an inch. “Was the terror connection not exaggerated?” he asks, and, like some crazed homeless guy wandering down the street muttering imprecations at invisible demons, he answers himself:

“Not by much. The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But it did point out, at different times, that Saddam had acted as a host and patron to every other terrorist gang in the region.”

I have to say I agree with him on this point, if only to a limited degree. While Hitchens has absolutely no evidence to show links between the Iraqi government and Islamists of the al-Qaeda type – the author is, as usual, linkless as well as clueless – he is right that Saddam did harbor one terrorist group. The Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MeK, is a weird neo-Marxist cult made up largely of Iranian women – at least in the top leadership – who are followers of Maryam Rajavi, the self-proclaimed president of “liberated” Iran. The MeK participated in the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah and installed the Khomeini regime, but fell out of favor and went into violent opposition, launching terrorist attacks (including against U.S. interests and personnel) in Iran from Iraqi soil. Saddam gave them Camp Ashraf, where they remain to this day – under the protection of the U.S. military, which is reportedly using them for expeditions into Iran, the scene of several recent terrorist attacks.

The exact extent of U.S. aid to and cooperation with the MeK is unknown at present. However, they have their advocates in the U.S. Congress and the administration, as well as among neoconservative groups. The recent trial of Scooter Libby was the occasion for a huge document dump, and one interesting find is a memo [.pdf] from John Hannah to Libby regarding the activities and status of the MeK – and there must be a reason why the entire document was blanked out except for the authors’ and recipients’ names and the subject lines.

Hitchens claims that no one could have predicted the Iraqi civil war, yet I don’t believe for a minute I’m the only one who likened the invasion of Iraq to the opening of Pandora’s Box, and you shouldn’t either.

Hitchens ends with his usual flamboyant flourish:

So, you seriously mean to say that we would not be living in a better or safer world if the coalition forces had turned around and sailed or flown home in the spring of 2003?

“That’s exactly what I mean to say.”

If the Bourbons of Talleyrand’s day learned nothing and forgot nothing, the “democratic” imperialists of our own day have learned nothing and forgotten everything – including their own bright prognoses for the postwar era in Iraq and throughout the region. War advocates recalled the Allied liberation of Paris when envisioning the likely outcome of Iraq’s “liberation.” It never happened. Remember how the invasion and especially the Iraqi elections were supposed to augur an era of democratic reform and even revolution in the Middle East? That, too, never happened.

Every word the War Party rattled off before the invasion – the reasons for the invasion, the “evidence” of WMD, the alleged connection between the Iraqi regime and 9/11 – was either a lie or a half-truth intended to obscure the full truth. Hitchens was one of the main disseminators of these lies, yet he has the temerity to stand there and tell us he’s not sorry. He and his pal Ahmed Chalabi belong to the legion of “heroes in error“: they’re proud of their deceit. It has proved, after all, the key to their postwar success. I hear Chalabi is in line for minister of oil resources, and our laptop bombardiers have done quite well for themselves, as one wag recently pointed out in Radar magazine. The journalistic price to pay for being so wrong has been less than nil. Bill “New American Century” Kristol has been rewarded for being wrong about Iraq with a column in Time magazine. Hitchens became a media star in the run-up to war, when he was all over television charming those gullible Americans who are suckers for any snake oil salesman with a British accent. No doubt his lecture fees are at an all-time high.

He isn’t sorry because the war has been good for him, but it’s not just about careerism. For the War Party, the world is a better place now that the U.S. has invaded Iraq and occupied it for four years: we have the “surge” to look forward to – and now the glad tidings of yet another war, an even bigger and “better” one, with Iran. As far as Hitchens and his fellow neocons are concerned, happy days are here again.

When the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War abruptly ended, the professional warmongers and Sovietologists were out of their jobs, and it was a long stretch of lean times between the Berlin Wall’s fall and the fall of the twin towers. Sept. 11, however, did more than merely revive the War Party’s fortunes – it enabled the neocons to effectively pull off a coup d’etat at the very top levels of U.S. government. In Colin Powell’s characterization, they set up a “separate government.”

Centered in the office of the vice president, the neocons did an end run around the mainstream intelligence agencies to manufacture the lies that lured us into war, and Christopher Hitchens did more than his part to spread these lies. But in the minds of the neocons, all their lies are noble ones – besides , this whole obsession with such outdated concepts as truth and falsehood is just a superstition dreamed up by the “reality-based community,” as one White House official put it to Ron Suskind. Watch us while we make history: in the triumphal atmosphere of the War Party’s heyday, a fatal hubris was in the air, and the pro-war intellectuals breathed this in so deeply that the effects have yet to wear off. Hitchens is drunk on a lot more than booze.

Alcoholics often suffer from delusions, and their recalcitrance is part and parcel of their strenuous denial. The reality on the ground has proved the drunken warriors utterly wrong, yet they still go on pretending that all is well, if only the “surge” would be given time to work, if only the media would stop subverting the war effort, if only…

When the neoconservative version of this war’s history is written, each chapter will elaborate on a different “if only” scenario that deftly ignores what actually happened and instead focuses on the imperfect implementation of their wonderful scheme.

Hitchens at least tries to defend the indefensible, which is a brave thing to even attempt, but his fellow neocon Richard Perle is clearly uninterested in making the effort. Here he is chatting with Tim Russert:

“RUSSERT: Mr. Perle, is the war, war in Iraq worth the price we’ve paid?

“PERLE: Forgive me for saying it, but I think it’s the wrong question. It’s a bit academic for one thing. But the question is what is in our national interest now, what is going to make Americans safer. I disagree with what we’ve just heard. A defeat in Iraq brought about in the worst instance by precipitous withdrawal would have terrorists around the world celebrating. It is the idea that the United States can be defeated that motivates terrorists. And we have Osama bin Laden himself saying that and saying it repeatedly. So the question the country faces now is not is this a reason – is this a bargain, is it a reasonable price. The question is what do we do. And I think we have to win this war, and I hope that the new strategy that’s been adopted will enable us to do that.”

The most basic question, whether it was right to have sacrificed so many lives in pursuit of Perle’s policy, is “a bit academic” to one of this war’s chief intellectual architects and public advocates. His answer to his critics is simple: I got you into this mess, and only I can get you safely out of it, so listen up ….

The problem for Perle and Hitchens is that few are listening. Even in Washington, where both parties collaborated in bringing this disastrous war about, the ranks of the War Party are noticeably thinning. In the country at large, the war is wildly unpopular. The electorate longs for an antiwar presidential candidate like evangelicals pining for the Messiah’s return. Deliver us from evil! appears to be the general sentiment, although what sort of evil the American public is just beginning to learn.

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].