Monday, September 26, 2005

Just Once More On Hitch

I want to move on from the Hitchens-Galloway experience, but I do feel the need to say a couple of things. First, I'm not a blind Hitchens partisan, and I've criticized him many times, in harsh language, on this blog. Second, it takes five minutes of listening to him speak to realize that the whole notion of him as a sell-out, as disingenuous, cynical, soused, whatever it is, is nonsense. He argues for the causes he does because he really believes in them---he really believes in the extension of democracy to immiserated parts of the world, and believes it in a way that the neocons definitely don't. If he's wrong, it's because of his stubborness about principle.

It's got to be obvious to everyone by now, including Hitchens, that the Bush administration simply could not be trusted with the task of rebuilding Iraq, and that in the absence of WMDs, the correct move would have been to wait until an administration with the tiniest facility for nation building came in. Only if there were simply no theoretical possibility of competent management of the war would attacking in March 2003 have been correct. It's the last point, in effect, that is the source of my disagreement with Hitchens. A just war, yes, though criminally executed. A necessary war, not exactly. What would have been less entertaining, though much more enlightening than Hitchens vs. Galloway, would have been Hitchens vs. Michael Walzer. (This is solispsistic but it would have been more comfortable for me too; I've gradually moved from Hitchens' to Walzer's position on the war.)

Oh, last note on Hitch, Hitchens never defended the substance of any of David Irving's claims, he only defended Irving's right to publish (which he has) and said that Irving was brilliant (which he is). Brilliant and deranged, and brilliant and dishonest are not mutually exclusive, and Hitchens has said as much (and more: e.g. something to the effect that Irving's libel trial was correctly decided). The Holocaust denier brush is the one Henry Kissinger chose to try to tar him with, and it backfired pretty spectacularly.

Last note of all: The statement, "Galloway wasn't up to the task, eh? Too bad" gets at everything I dislike about the anti-war movement. Just because somebody opposes Bush's cause in the war does not make him a comrade. Nobody who considers himself a leftist, or a liberal, or a progressive, or whatever the word is now, should identify with a man who takes bribes from Arab dictators, praises them exuberantly, glorifies suicide bombers, traffics in the language of jihad, and makes comfortable profits off the venture. As Hitchens aptly put it, it's disgraceful to go to Syria to praise Casey Sheehan's killers and come to New York to appeal to the emotions of his mother. Galloway is an enemy of the democratic left. When he fails to be "up to the task," the democratic left wins, and vice versa. If you're for the POUM, you're against both Stalin and Franco. You don't mourn Stalin's defeat anymore than you celebrate Franco's victory.


At 5:43 AM, Anonymous Ashish George said...

1. I didn't say you were a blind Hitchens partisan. I said you have a fondness for the man that is, at least to me, baffling.

2. Hitchens is not wrong because he is a tenacious idealist. He is wrong because his ideas are pre-packaged to place him on Olympus, looking down with an upturned nose on us anti-war mortals who are too concerned about petty things like the problems of building a liberal society from scratch or the ahistorical nature of the claims of pro-war commentators before and after the war. And from his perch Hitchens brooks no disagreement in good faith. He cannot fathom that people who were and are against the war might actually be sincere. Whether he is accusing Michael Moore (a dubious character, at any rate) of "fascistic nonsense" or peddling the slander that the left wants Iraq to go to pot, Hitchens always paints the controversies with the same palate: He, the perspicacious pen-wielding muckraker on one side, ignorant friends of surrender and oppression on the other. Hitchens doesn't so much make arguments as puerilely shriek them into the ears of the unenlightened. And like you, Hitchens is afraid to face empirical arguments against the claim that the terrorists hate us because of an animosity towards the culturally foreign. The University of Chicago's Robert Pope recently published a pretty convincing study demonstrating that the terrorist rank-and-file is driven by military grievances, not cultural ones.

3. You say the Bush administration could not be trusted with rebuilding Iraq. True enough. But here is the thing, Daniel: No administration could be trusted with rebuilding Iraq. The historical precedents are simply not there. For every success story like Germany or Japan, there are many more disasters. For instance, by 1939, the only country in Central America that was a functioning democracy--Costa Rica--was, not coincidentally, the only one where American troops had not been sent. What would be required for such nation-building to have even a remote chance of succeeding is a broad acceptance of the idea as America as an empire here at home. And both morally and pragmatically, that is out of the question. (See John Judis or Niall Ferguson.)

3. Hitchens defended Irving not just on the principles of free speech and the more general value of historical revisionism, but also, at least in part, on the idea that somehow Irving was not as bad as his detractors made him out to be. In 1996, for instance, Hitchens wrote that Irving never called the Holocaust a "hoax." True, insofar as Irving never used that exact word. Irving did however say...

"No documents whatever show that a Holocaust had ever happened."

"Until 1988, I believed that there had been something like a Holocaust ... but [in] 1988 ... I met people who knew differently and could prove to me that story was just a legend."

"The holocaust of Germans in Dresden really happened. That of the Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz is an invention."

"More women died on the back seat of Senator Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz."

And all of this before Hitchens defecated that claim onto the page in 1996.

4. Just because a person is wrong about something--or even most things--it does not mean you cannot root for them in a debate on one particular issue. If judged on an all-or-nothing basis, people's political views would rarely allow any alliances or cooperation. Galloway may be all that you say and worse, but when a debate takes place over the war and Hitchens is the opponent, one can root against the pro-war participant without accepting everything his rival stands for. A war is a glib analogy.


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