The Essential Dishonesty of Christopher Hitchens

It’s pathetic, really, to have to hear our war birds squawk and complain about the consequences of the policy they wanted so passionately, the glorious crusade they argued for with such overriding certainty and sense of mission. Here’s Andrew Sullivan on the Abu Ghraib horror show:

“We have to know who really sanctioned this. And we have to stop it. Just because some anti-war opportunists are getting on this bandwagon does not absolve pro-war advocates from holding this administration responsible.”

This from someone who advocated launching a nuclear strike on Iraq when he (and nobody else but Laurie Mylroie) was sure Saddam was behind the anthrax attacks:

“At this point, it seems to me that a refusal to extend the war to Iraq is not even an option. We have to extend it to Iraq. It is by far the most likely source of this weapon; it is clearly willing to use such weapons in the future; and no war against terrorism of this kind can be won without dealing decisively with the Iraqi threat. We no longer have any choice in the matter. Slowly, incrementally, a Rubicon has been crossed. The terrorists have launched a biological weapon against the United States. They have therefore made biological warfare thinkable and thus repeatable. We once had a doctrine that such a Rubicon would be answered with a nuclear response. We backed down on that threat in the Gulf War but Saddam didn’t dare use biological weapons then. Someone has dared to use them now. Our response must be as grave as this new threat.”

But if, according to Sullivan, it would have been okay to nuke hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis because, after all, it was “likely” that Saddam was responsible for the anthrax, then why isn’t it okay to torture far fewer of these same Iraqis?

“We have to know who really sanctioned this.”

Earth to Sullivan: You did.

In the run-up to war, Iraq was caricatured by the War Party as the fount of evil, the source not only of the deadly anthrax but also of a veritable arsenal of WMD, which were ready and waiting to be launched at the U.S. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the Abu Ghraib torturers believed they were exacting revenge for 9/11: to this day, a good many people still believe the myth of Iraqi responsibility, including the Vice President of the United States, without a shred of evidence to back it up. The point is that Sullivan has hyped this lie consistently and energetically – and now backs away from his own handiwork.

Doesn’t anybody take responsibility for anything anymore?

An even more brazen case of hypocritical cant is exemplified by Christopher Hitchens’ recent column in Slate, wherein he confides that the horrors of Abu Ghraib have only just begun to be revealed, and, after mustering a fairly good rendition of moral indignation, announces:

“Almost the whole of public opinion is complicit in this, as is shown by the fury over the administration’s failure to pre-empt the Sept. 11 assault: a pre-emption that would almost certainly have involved some corner-cutting in the interrogation room.”

This is an outrageous proposition on so many levels that the mind reels. To begin with, the inmates at Abu Ghraib – 70 to 90 percent of whom were arrested by mistake – are hardly the equivalent of the 9/11 hijackers. But such fine distinctions as guilt and innocence are not discernible through the thick moral fog that clouds the author’s mind.

Hitchens pined for this war the way Echo pined for Narcissus, and, when it finally arrived, declared “I couldn’t be more ready to spend the rest of my life fighting it.” Now that his love has soured, we are told it’s everybody’s fault. Or, at least, “almost” everybody. I suppose Hitchens really could mean to exclude himself – that is, if he managed to consume enough alcohol.

Good grief, but our warmongers are such effete cowards! These fabled chickenhawks, who would never let themselves get anywhere near a battlefield, are, virtually all of them, self-proclaimed military experts. Sullivan, for example, has been demanding that we “Take Fallujah!,” and level Najaf, as if he were directing the war from the comfort of his P-town digs. And they are never wrong – even as their vaunted predictions of a “cakewalk,” of Iraqis dancing in the streets and hailing us as “liberators,” now seem to mock the dead.

Cowards, and liars, too. In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Hitchens reviews a reissue of Isaac Deutscher‘s three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky, which, we are told, is “sonorous and majestic,” but no less so than its subject. Trotsky is glamorized by Hitchens as a literary icon and inspiration to such giants as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, and the art critic Clement Greenberg: The founder of the Red Army, we are told, is the very embodiment of “defiance and dissent.” I’ll bet that isn’t what they thought at Kronstadt, where dissent was felled by Trotsky’s sword. Wasn’t it Trotsky’s Red Army that ruthlessly stamped out the very possibility of defiance in Soviet Russia? You have to be as dumb as a stump to believe that the much-feared prophet of “military communism” was anything other than a totalitarian, a Leninist, and a murderer.

Hitchens cuts a pathetic figure these days, dazzling the ditto-heads with showy displays of half-assed erudition. I especially like this sentence from his recent Slate column:

“If any young scholar were now possessed of equivalent daring, a biography of the protean, scintillating revolutionary and Cold War sage Max Schachtman [sic] could be an intellectual Rosetta stone for the story of mental and moral combat in the modern American mind.”

If such a scholar were to depend on Hitchens, he would have to learn, first of all, how to spell Max Shachtman‘s name correctly. Otherwise, I agree that Shachtmanism is the “bridge” between the “Old Man” and his present-day epigones. So how, as Hitchens avers, is this “kinship” between Trotskyism and what is known as neoconservatism “merely an anecdotal or autobiographical one”?

Ah, but, never mind all that. The whole point of Hitchens’ paean to Trotskyism, aside from justifying his unrepentant faith in the benignity of the “Old Man,” is to lash out at those of us who find the neocons’ Trotsky cultism more than a bit dubious:

“Even today a faint, saintly penumbra still emanates from the Old Man. Where once the Stalinist press and propaganda machine employed the curse of Trotskyism to criminalize and defame the ‘rotten elements’ and ‘rootless cosmopolitans,’ now the tribunes of the isolationist right level the same charge at neoconservatives and the supporters of regime change. In Patrick Buchanan’s vituperations, and in a plethora of related attacks on a hidden American ‘cabal,’ it is openly said that the cunning members of a certain ethnic minority are up to their old tricks of ‘permanent revolution,’ and even that the arcane figure of Leo Strauss is the partial reincarnation of Trotsky. Intended as a mortal insult, and wildly, not to say laughably, mistaken in point of any theoretical resemblance, this charge might yet have a faint tincture of interest to it.”

The essential dishonesty of Christopher Hitchens, as I have noted before, is underscored in his online pieces by the complete lack of links (except, on occasion, to his own pieces, and other articles in Slate). And even in the dead-tree edition of The Atlantic, an author raising the sort of charges Hitchens makes owes it to his readers to identify the source, and put quote marks around what the accused actually said or wrote. Oh, but he doesn’t have to tell us just where and how Buchanan identified “a certain ethnic minority” as the “cabal” behind the “permanent revolution” currently convulsing the Middle East. We’re all supposed to indulge “Hitch,” and acknowledge, if only implicitly, that the rules applicable to ordinary writers certainly don’t apply to him.

Baloney. He’s a liar, and a fraud, and it’s about time someone called him on it.

If we “isolationists” are to be characterized as “Stalinists” because we oppose the revolutionary program of imposing global “democracy” at gunpoint, then so be it: I’ll take Americanism in one country over American imperialism on a global scale any day.

But if anyone is here mimicking the methods of classical Stalinism, it is the shameless liar Hitchens. Buchanan never identified anyone as a “rootless cosmopolitan,” nor did he target “a certain ethnic minority” in any way, shape, or form. Pat singled out supporters of the hardcore Israeli nationalist Likud party in the U.S. as the vanguard of the War Party on the basis of their foreign policy stance, not their religion. And he is hardly alone in his analysis, which, in any case, is being confirmed on practically a daily basis. A review in Time magazine of James Bamford’s just-released book, A Pretext for War, has this to say:

“The Bush hard-liners had long believed that stability could come to the Middle East and Israel – only if Saddam Hussein was overthrown and Iraq converted into a stable democracy. Led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, they were installed at various national-security choke points in the government, and nothing moved without their O.K. Bamford comes very close to stating that the hard-liners were wittingly or unwittingly acting as agents of Israel’s hard-line Likud Party, which believed Israel should operate with impunity in the region and dictate terms to its neighbors. Such a world view, Bamford argues, was simply repotted by the hard-liners into U.S. foreign policy in the early Bush years, with the war in Iraq as its ultimate goal. Bamford asserts that the backgrounds, political philosophies and experiences of many of the hard-liners helped to hardwire the pro-Israel mind-set in the Bush inner circle and suggests that Washington mistook Israel’s interests for its own when it pre-emptively invaded Iraq last year. The result was a war built on sand.”

And we are sinking in it, thanks to the Likudniks embedded in this administration. But what’s really coming out is the key role played by the neocons, acting as the agents of a foreign power. Former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski and writer Robert Dreyfuss have both touched on the subject of Israel’s involvement in pushing the lies that led to war, and Bamford, a longtime chronicler of the world of intelligence, elaborates and confirms it:

“Douglas Feith, a senior Pentagon official, set up several secret offices in the Pentagon that received data from Israel’s own intelligence teams and coordinated its findings with them, partly as a way to get around CIA caution in the region. Bamford reveals that the original source of the spurious allegation that Saddam harbored ‘mobile biological-weapons labs’ did not come from the brother of a top aide to Ahmad Chalabi whose code name was Curveball, but from an Israeli tip going back to 1994. Bamford quotes anonymous CIA agents who say that they suspected that much of the hard-liners’ intelligence on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was bogus but there was pressure from within and without to shut up about it.”

As I put it in an op ed piece published early last year in USA Today:

“When the dead are buried, let the following be inscribed on their tombstones: They died for Ariel Sharon.”

Both in concept, and operationally, the Iraq war was, for all intents and purposes, an Israeli covert operation run out of the Pentagon. I don’t care what “ethnic minority” agents of a foreign power belong to: their machinations have to be exposed, and, given the plethora of inquiries into the neocons’ various activities, I have no doubt they will be. It’s going to be a long, hot “investigation summer.” Hitchens and his neocon friends will no doubt scream bloody murder, but all the victimological special pleading won’t get them anywhere – not, at any rate, where charges of espionage are concerned.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].