The Emperors New Clothes
Playthell Stiil Droppin Science on Christopher after Chastisement
Notes on my debate with Christopher Hitchens….
…………. a Silver Tongued Sophist
“Stranger: Of this merchandise of the soul, may not one part be fairly termed the art of display? And there is another part which is certainly not less ridiculous, but being a trade in learning must be called by some name germane to the matter?
Stranger: The latter should have two names,-one descriptive of the sale of the knowledge of virtue, and the other of the sale of other kinds of knowledge.
Theaetetus: Of course.
Stranger: The name of art-seller corresponds well enough to the latter; but you must try and tell me the name of the other.
Theaetetus: He must be the Sophist, whom we are seeking; no other name can possibly be right.
Stranger: No other; and so this trader in virtue again turns out to be our friend the Sophist, whose art may now be traced from the art of acquisition through exchange, trade, merchandise, to a merchandise of the soul which is concerned with speech and the knowledge of virtue.”
From Plato’s Dialogues on Sophistry
Rapping into History
While academic philosophers may quibble over the precise meaning of the above excerpt from the Dialogues of Plato, to my philosophically untutored mind it seems like a perfect description of a sellout and bullshit artist! The latter characterization conforming in important details to one who spouts what the Princeton philosopher, Harry G. Franks, defines as “Bullshit,” in his recent book by the same name.
From my sketchy and episodic exposure to the ubiquitous Christopher Hitchens before our debate – denouncing Slick Willie’s cunt collar over here, testifying against the canonization of Mother Theresa over there, and trashing Princess Diana everywhere – I thought Plato’s Sophist a perfect characterization of the slippery British poseur. Alas, nothing that transpired in our throw down in the Great Hall argues against my first impression.
As is to be expected of a student of history, when I took the stage to debate the pugnacious British contrarian on the war in Iraq, I was well aware of the grand legacy of heroic souls who had argued the pressing issues of their day from the stage of the Great Hall in Cooper Union, and I could feel their lingering aura.
It was from this stage that a gangly countrified Illinois rail splitter who had evolved into a corporate lawyer and Congressman, Abraham Lincoln, made the pitch that catapulted him into the Republican Party candidacy for President, and from there into the white house, and from there into history as our greatest President, and from there into immortality.
As it was African American History Month, I remembered that Frederick Douglass – ex-slave, publisher, brilliant essayist and editor, peerless orator and moral clarion, champion of women’s rights, impassioned violinist, ladies man, and elegant dandy whom the stern black nationalist intellectual and Episcopal priest, Alexander Crummell, called “That mulatto showman” – had also spoken here, denouncing slavery and highlighting the moral failings and hypocrisy of his white countrymen. 6’ 4” and strikingly handsome, with a linebackers body, a rich baritone voice, and a mastery of English rhetoric; it was easy to imagine the sensation this brother must have caused.
But of all the great men who pontificated from this stage, none was more interesting than the beautiful radical feminist Victoria Woodhull. This woman, for whom a major hospital in Brooklyn is named, was at times a whore, a spiritual healer, a newspaper publisher, a fearless and impassioned spokeswoman for women’s rights, and the first woman to own a brokerage house on Wall Street – where most of her clients were madams of the cities joy houses and their working girls.
In this way she addressed one of the most pressing problems confronting women in 19th century America: Freedom from male domination through “control of our own purse strings!” Victoria was also the first woman with the nerve to run for President, and amid scintillating rumors that he was her undercover lover – she boldly chose Frederick Douglass as her running mate.
After blackmailing the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher – brother of the celebrated novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the two volume tome The Life of Jesus Christ, and America’s most famous divine – into introducing her upon threat of publishing a list of his concubines among the congregants of his powerful Plymouth Church on the front page of her newspaper; Victoria spoke from the stage of the Great Hall to a hail of praise and ridicule. She spoke on “Free Love” and caused a sensation as a boisterous overflow crowd filled the sidewalks outside. Thus I felt in good company as I mounted the podium and became a part of the legacy of the Great Hall.
Why I Agreed to the Debate
While the topic that Christopher Hitchens and I had come to debate was nowhere near as sexy, nor the crowd as rambunctious – although they became quite animated with political passions during the course of the debate and drove the rascal from the stage – it was an issue of serious gravitas, a matter of life and death. Here lately Sir Christopher has adopted the dramatis personae of a 21st century Anglo-Saxon Knight leading a new crusade into the Holy Land, although his Teutonic pedigree has been called into question due to his Jewish mother.
His unrestrained bellicosity toward Islam – he is presently tempting fate by writing a book titled God is Not Great – and his jingoistic cheerleading for the war in Iraq makes him look like a killer nerd, “cutting the fool in public,” as the old folks would say when I was a boy in Florida. Thus he gave me cause to pause, for my grandfather George had long ago warned me, “Never argue with a fool in public boy, because the people looking on can’t tell who’s who!”
Yet I suspected old contrarian Chris was crazy like a fox, and thus might just make an interesting opponent. Hence from the moment my buddy Scott Pellegrino approached me about debating the bodacious British gadfly, I welcomed the challenge. I gladly accepted the debate because it provided me an opportunity to argue the morality and legality of the war in Iraq with somebody who wasn’t a transparent fool – which is hard to find these days, now that the three blind mice can see that this war is a disaster!
Actually the genesis of this debate took a strange course, as it was the celebrated essayist and Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch who first challenged me to take Hitchins on regarding the war question. The issue came up when I was criticizing Crouch’s support for the war and challenged him to a debate. He begged off, saying that he did not feel sufficiently informed on the facts to argue the issue in a public forum.
Crouch quickly suggested Hitchens as a stand in. He even offered to promote the contest but couldn’t pull it off. It took the promotional acumen of Scott Pellegrino to make the match, but it was Stanley who put Hitchens on my mind. Prior to his challenge I didn’t even know that Hitchens was supporting the war; I thought he was far wiser than that.
Since I am publicly committed to unmasking charlatans – a designation I left up to the audience to decide in this instance – I must confess that part of me wanted the match for artistic and sporting reasons. Just as the novelist/essayist Ishmael Reed has concluded “writin is fightin,” I consider debate a form of verbal pugilism and tend to think of these contests in pugilisic metaphors.
Thus just as the great pugilist “Sugar Ray Robinson,” whom I admired because of his versatility in combat, threw up his hands to heaven and prayed for an opponent that could offer a real challenge after winning so easily had become a bore; I had become bored with an unbroken streak of victories in debate that spanned more than four decades, and longed for a worthy opponent too.
In Mr. Hitchens I felt I had found one. After all, here was an oxford man and widely published writer, who was heralded as the “Fifth most important public intellectual in the world!” So I began to prepare for a serious throw down; although in spite of his rhetorical gifts I didn’t really think Hitch could win because his evidence was too thin, and I figured I couldn’t lose by virtue of the science I use.
After all, I had issued a scathing attack on the war several years earlier onNovember 22, 2003 at the Army War College – one of the nation’s elite military institutions where all field grade army combat officers go to bone up on the latest military strategy and tactics. I had been invited to deliver a speech on Dr. Dubois at an affair hosted by black Officers in the grand ballroom at the college, and the room was full of high ranking officers of all races whose chests were decorated with medals and other combat decorations.
Encouraged by my knowledge of the fact that Dr. Jeff Record, a research professor at the War College with a resume on national security and military strategy a yard long, had published a treatise criticizing the objectives and the strategy employed in the Iraq campaign, I opened fire on the motives and methods of the Commander-In-Chief and dogged the “candy ass civilian eggheads” who led him into this no-win war.
I quickly put the Brass at ease by letting them know that I was not anti-military, and pointed out that General Wesley Clark was my favorite candidate for president at the time because he was from the working class; a reconstructed southerner like my man “Sugar Willie” Clinton; a brilliant student of military science who graduated first in his class at West Point and thus could not be goaded easily into war; and a passionate supporter of affirmative action who publicly brags about being the only white man in the presidential race who has been ordered about by black men!
I also told them that I too had taken the oath of military service and understood that their allegiance was to the US Constitution, since we don’t have a king, and they had sworn to protect that Constitution with their lives from “all enemies foreign and domestic.” I also let them know that I understood that they could not criticize Bush, because he was at the top of the chain of command and they were soldiers.
But I quickly reminded them that George was just a guy who worked for me; since our Constitution invested all power in the people, and I was calling him out because he was bungling the job! I also reminded them they were duty bound to fix bayonets and defend my right to speak as guaranteed by the First Amendment, even if they despised every word I said. To do less was to be guilty of treason!
Then I assured them that as honorable soldiers I had no doubt that they would do their duty, and I proceeded to show how they had been led into a murderous trick bag by the silly theories of civilians at the Project for a New American Century. The speech was a smash; the applause was tumultuous; or as my wise but unlettered grandfather once said when asked about the response to a talk he gave in church: “I don’t know whether it was too multuous, but it was multuous all right!”
The thesis of my critique of the war in Iraq was based on the arguments I had postulated before the invasion in written commentaries that were published online and broadcast on WBAI – especially my three thousand word commentary delivered on the eve of the invasion “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of Folly” – a subject we will return to later in this essay.
The attack on Iraq, I argued, was not only unnecessary because there was no alliance between Sadam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, but it also diverted men and materials from the war against Al Qaeda. And this policy weakened America’s efforts to combat a global network that is sophisticated and growing. My talk made the front page 11/23/06, edition of the Sunday Sentinel which carried my picture at the top of the cover.
My position was in line with Dr. Record’s study, which co-signed my basic position. The sixty two page monograph summed up the relationship of the Iraq war to the “global war on terror” the Bush Administration proclaimed as its objective: “Of particular concern has been the conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action.
The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the GWOT, but rather a detour from it.”
Having successfully waged battle with the military elite, I didn’t expect much trouble from The Sophist. Since our encounter was billed as a match between British and American heavy-weights, I imagined it would go a lot like the Tyson/Bruno World Championship fight. Bruno, larger and more thickly muscled, seemed the favorite based on the tale of the tape, but once the fight began Iron Mike exposed the flaws in Bruno’s stiff stand-up British style, smacking the pumped up slow poke bloke with shots thrown from angles Bruno had never seen, or could even imagine.
That contest resulted in a knockout for the American. I had little doubt that – despite his outsized reputation – my verbal contest with Christopher Hitchens would follow a similar script. Never-the-less, like those great champions Muhammad Ali and “Marvelous Marvin” Hagler, I never take an adversary lightly. Thus I began to seriously prepare for the match.
As part of my preparation I watched a video tape of my opponent’s debate with Mr. Galway, an honorable member of the British House of Commons who had stared down a committee of American Senators and gave as good as he got on the question of Iraq. Their contest had taken place a few months earlier, and the debate flourished because Democracy Now host, Amy Goodman, acted as an intelligent proctor and didn’t blow the flow of the discourse.
Me and Hitchens were not so lucky. Galway concentrated his efforts on exposing Hitchens’ ideological vacillations – suggesting that his allegiances are dictated by expediency – and defending the rights of the Iraqis to resist the American invaders with armed force. Brilliantly parrying Hitchens complaint about foreign fighters participating in the Iraqi insurgency, he asked: “What part of Iraq are the American soldiers from?” The Feisty MP also called into question how a nation that “couldn’t collect the dead bodies of its own citizens from the streets of New Orleans,” could reconstruct Iraq. I found his arguments compelling.
Mr. Hitchens replied by accusing Mr. Galway of pitting poor blacks in New Orleans against poor Arabs in Iraq. It was as if Hitchens was saying: how dare Galway suggest that American money and construction capabilities would be better utilized in resolving their crisis at home rather than slaughtering Arabs in Iraq and wrecking their country!
Then Hitchens dismissed the peace movement as naïve dupes who were willing to accept peace at any price and thus was the unwitting tool of tyrants and terrorists, labeling the anti-war protestations of the churches “Pious Nonsense” in a March 10, 2003 essay. This was such a distortion of the facts as I understood them that I quickly dismissed Mr. Hitchens’ argument as sophistry – which the dictionary describes as: “A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument.” I hoped he would attempt to use that sort of silly five and dime logic with me!
In an effort to besmirch his opponent’s character and cast doubt upon their argument Hitchens accuses them of either being dupes of the militant Muslims or misguided pacifist appeasers. Hence he accused Galway, who represents a mostly Arab district in London, of associating himself with questionable characters in the Islamic world and was therefore ethically suspect, a corrupt referee shilling for the Jihadists.
I brought no such baggage to the contest; I was neither a dupe of the Islamicists nor a partisan of the pacifists. Like Dr. Franz Fanon, the Afro-Martiniquean psychiatrist who was the principal theorist of the great Algerian Revolution, I believe the establishment of an Islamic society is a return to “primitive medievalism,” and killing one’s oppressor is therapeutic!
Thus I published a 2500 word commentary titled Bombs Away! when Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Yugoslavia to halt the genocidal assaults of the Serbs against the Albanians of Kosovo. Notoriously independent thinker that I am, I even read it over the air at WBAI, which was like reciting the rosary in the Mosque of Omar. Virtually everybody disagreed with me because my argument required me to criticize the views of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, two intellectual icons of the peace movement whom I also hold in high regard but just happened to disagree with on this question.
Furthermore, I have reasons for opposing Arabist Islam that I doubt Hitchins had ever heard of; and if he had I could find no evidence of it in his arguments; which I take as compelling evidence that the issues I have with the Arabs were of no concern to him. Hence I well understood that the tired rhetorical assaults Hitchens fires in cheap shot fashion at the pacifists and defenders of Al Islam would prove impotent against me. And witnessing the opportunistic way Hitchins slandered Galloway because he suggested that the Islamicists had some legitimate grievances, or that there is a method to their madness, I welcomed the chance to go toe to toe on the subject.
Long before Hitchens went boisterously on record as an impassioned opponent of “Islamo –fascism,” a term of recent coinage, I had serious issues with Arabs and Muslims. To begin with, like Hitchens, I am unalterably opposed to any kind of religious dogma. I am especially opposed to conservative fundamentalist theology and practice where ever it arises, and I believe that such doctrines are inevitably oppressive to women. Thus long before 9/11 catastrophe I felt that the US government should have led the debate in the UN about the plight of women in Afghanistan, whose human rights and personalities were ground into the dust by Taliban mad men while the world sat silently by.
The fact that the Bushmen were mum on this issue supplies indelible evidence as to the fraudulence of their feigned concerns about “freedom and “democracy” in Afghanistan, where educated and sophisticated women had promenaded about in miniskirts on the streets of Kabul before theCIAwas ordered to facilitate the development of an armed Islamic fundamentalist movement and teach them terrorist tactics for use against the Russians.
As an unintended consequence they also produced the Taliban and such great Islamic militants as Osama bin Laden, whom American statesmen had called “freedom fighters” back in the day – a blunder of historic proportions whose legacy should fill thoughtful Americans with angst about our government’s present meddling in the Middle East.
Aside from my general concern for the plight of women – a legitimate concern for the father of two bright, feisty and independent minded daughters – there is the question of the deeply ingrained anti-black racism that runs throughout Arab culture. In spite of the romantic fantasies of black American Muslims who identify with Islamic civilization, the fact is that while a few black men rose to prominence in Arab Islamic civilization – and Africans built empires based on an Islamic foundation – the general image of black men in Arab culture is as slaves and sex fiends whose prowess in the boudoir beguiles their women into committing adultery and thus makes them a threat to domestic tranquility. It is a point of view that mirrors the racial attitudes of the American south at its lowest point when black men were routinely enslaved, castrated and murdered with impunity.
This vision of black men is a fundamental theme in the epic tales A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in fact it sets the events in motion that supplies the raison d’etre for Scheherazade’s fascinating tales. The evidence can be found in the first tale of this Arabic epic, especially the famous 1850 translation by the great British explorer, adventurer and Arabist Sir Richard Burton.
Titled The Story of King Shahryar and his Brother, the tale recounts how two mythical Persian kings, Shahryar and his younger brother Shah Zaman, were driven to madness due to their discovery that both of their queens were doing the wild thing with black men in clandestine liaisons. The depiction of these black men is that of bestial slaves, yet these women, the wives of kings, found them irresistible.
Consider the following passage, which recounts King Shah Zaman’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity when he made an unannounced return to his palace after setting out on a journey across the desert to visit his brother Shahryar. “But when the night was half-spent he bethought him that he had forgotten in his palace somewhat which he should have brought with him, so he returned privily and entered his apartments, where he found the Queen, his wife, asleep on his own carpet bed embracing with both arms a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this the world waxed black before his sight and he said: ‘If such case happen while I am yet within sight of the city, what will be the doings of this damned whore during my long absence at my brother’s court?’ So he drew his scimitar and cutting the two in four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp without letting anyone know of what had happened.”
In this passage at the beginning of the text we can see the fear and contempt for women; the racist hostility and sexual terror born of a hysterical fear of the erotic prowess of black men; and the conviction that black men should be their slaves. All of the things I detest about Islamic Arab culture. Even Bilal, the black man with the beautiful voice who sang the chants calling the faithful to prayer was the Prophet Muhammad’s slave. The sexual humiliation of Arab royalty by black slaves who bone their queens is repeated a short while later when Zaman arrives at Samyrar’s kingdom and sequesters himself in a suite in the palace to grieve, unable to tell anyone of his great shame.
Then one day Shah Zaman looks out of his window and beholds: “a postern of the palace, which was carefully kept private, swung open, and out of it is came twenty slave girls surrounding his brother’s wife, who was wondrous fair, a model of beauty and comeliness and symmetry and perfect loveliness, and who paced with the grace of a gazelle which panteth for the cooling stream. Thereupon Shah Zaman drew back from the window, but he kept the bevy in sight, espying them from a place whence he could not be espied.
They walked under the very lattice and advanced a little way into the garden till they came to a jetting fountain a-middlemost a great basin of water. Then they stripped off their clothes, and behold, ten of them were women, concubines of the King, and the other ten were white slaves. Then they all paired off, each with each. But the Queen, who was left alone, presently cried out in a loud voice, ‘Here to me, O my lord Saeed!’
And then sprang with a drop leap from one of the trees a big slobbering blackamoor with rolling eyes which showed the whites, a truly hideous sight. He walked boldly up to her and threw his arms round her neck while she embraced him as warmly. Then he bussed her and winding his legs round hers, as a button loop clasps a button, he threw her and enjoyed her.” Shocked to the quick Shah Zaman laments, “My brother is a greater King among the Kings than I am, yet this infamy goeth on in his very palace, and his wife is in love with that filthiest of filthy slaves. But this only showeth that they all do it and that there is no woman but who cuckoldeth her husband.”
After one more experience involving a sexual tryst between a white Arab woman and a giant black “Jinni” with magical powers, the brothers conclude that there is nothing a man can do to prevent being dishonored by the sexual promiscuity of women. So they decided to return to their kingdom and behead every woman after deflowering her. Only in this way can they be sure their manly honor would not be disgraced. That’s how Scheherazade came to tell these tales for a thousand nights; by leaving the king on a cliff hanger – ala modern soap operas – he would be so anxious to hear the next episode he would order that she be kept alive for another night.
This text is obviously the product of a culture that is racist, sexist/paternalistic, and terrified of black masculinity. Thus it is not a culture I care to champion. For one thing, the hysterical fear of black male sexual prowess led to the practice of genital mutilation of black men. In the American south castration was employed as a punishment for black men charged with certain offenses and its objective was pacification through terror. But in the Islamic world it was a routine practice that created a class of black eunuchs.
There is also the reference to King Shah Zaman ruling over a “barbarian kingdom,” which is how they referred to non-Islamic peoples – especially peoples with polytheistic religions as was to be found all over Africa. That they were not alone in this attitude in the world of the middle-ages does not mitigate their racist attitudes toward black people in my eyes.
The ancient Chinese who built the Great Wall saw themselves as the “Middle Kingdom,” the civilized center of the earth and all else the Barbarian fringes – including the England of George III, whom a 18th century Chinese Emperor addressed in an official communiqué as “O Barbarian King” when refusing GeorgeIII’s entreaties to engage in trade with China.
But the Chinese’s ethnocentrism led them to wall themselves off from the rest of the world, not invade and colonize the lands of others like the Europeans and the Arabs. Thus as a black man looking back on the history of my people with a Duboisian second sight, I wish a plague upon both their houses!
I recognize quite clearly that the Europeans and Arabs share a history of racist exploitation and violence against black people that continues in various forms until today. In his comprehensive and timely book on the history of African slavery in the Islamic world, The Other Black Diaspora, Professor Paul Segal concludes “Both Christianity and Islam asserted the unique value of individual human beings, as created by God for his special purposes. Yet, for their own special purposes, Christian and Muslim societies long sanctioned the capture, sale, ownership and use of men, women and children from black Africa. We can never know the extent of the human cost. Millions lost their lives…..”
The role of the Islamic Arabs in the African holocaust was first documented by the venerable Howard University historian Chancellor Williams in his book The Destruction of Black Civilization. On several occasion I heard Dr. Williams argue that “black people should view the star and crescent the way Jews view the Swastika!”
There is also an extensive scholarly literature on the role that Jews played in the African slave trade and plantation slavery in the Americas. A devastating portrait of the role Jews played in the enslavement of Africans in Dutch Guyana can be read in the first hand accounts of the Dutch slave hunter John Steadman: Narrative Of My Five Year Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam.
This blood stained legacy continues to influence relations between black Africans and these predatory Caucasian peoples at this very hour. Just look at the tragedy in the Sudan, where mixed blood Afro-Arabs who look like Colin Powell, a Caribbean mulatto – is engaging in attacks against black Africans that even so reasonable a man as Powell has called “genocide.” However I notice that Mr. Hitchens’ voice has been tepid, if not dramatically silent, in calling for armed intervention in this crisis, although hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost in short order.
Furthermore, I have found that even those Arab leaders who were considered “revolutionary” or “progressive,” like Colonel Kwadafi of Lybia, often hold condescending paternalistic attitudes toward African peoples. One need look no further than his theoretical essay “The Blacks” which is a part of the Colonel’s political philosophy and global vision laid out in The Green Book, which is Libya’s version of Mao’s Red Book.
In the early years of the African Independence movement, when a spirit of “Third World” solidarity was in the air, visionary leaders like Egypt’s Abdel Nasser and Ghana’s Kwame Nkruma sought to address the problem of Arab/African alienation and conflict by having Nkrumah take an Egyptian wife. One presumes that it was not suggested that the Arab president take a black wife because Colonel Nasser was already married. It was a well intended gesture but the extent to which this official Arab/African marriage accomplished its diplomatic mission remains a mystery.
Many Afro-American’s strongly identified with Arab militants in the Algerian Revolution due to the influence of the movie The Battle of Algiers and Franz Fanon’s searing treatise The Wretched of the Earth, written in the heat of a revolutionary war against French colonialism that lasted seven years and cost one and a half million Algerian lives.
Yet during the “World Festival of African Art” held in liberated Algeria, the world class saxophonist and Professor of music Archie Shepp recalls that black American males physically ejected Arab men from their parties and forbade them to return until they agreed to bring their Arab girlfriends to the party. Well, that’s the last they saw of Yusef and Ramadan! They disappeared almost as fast as the memory of the critical role black Fanon played in Algeria’s revolution.
Anti-black racism is embedded in Arab culture, and it remains to be seen if it will ever disappear. The confessions I heard of repentant Arab slave masters and escaped black slaves at a meeting I attended along with Stanley Crouch at Columbia University a few years ago was not encouraging in this regard. Sponsored by the international anti-slavery organization I Abolish!, it was an incredible eye opening experience.
Americans think of African slavery as a thing of the distant past, but not so in the Arab world, which has continuously engaged in enslaving Africans for 800 years and counting. For Europeans, African Slavery was practiced for four centuries then it was history; but by some estimates there are still several million black slaves in the Islamic Arab world today.
The reformed Arab slave masters we heard from on this occasion were still in their twenties, and they confessed that they had concluded enslaving black people was wrong only after studying in France and learning about the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which abolished slavery in France back in the 18th Century.
Thus it was not from the teachings of Islam that they were persuaded that slavery was wrong, but the ideas of the French enlightenment! They also told a shocked audience that their parents thought they had lost their minds when they came back from France and told them that enslaving Africans was wrong. Another young Arab man told how he had lived all over the Arab world while growing up because his father was a diplomat. He told how he had seen African slaves in every country they lived in except Iraq, because Saddam Hussein had outlawed the practice before they moved there.
These are the facts I intended to present if Hitchins attempted to cloud the issue by accusing me of being an ally of the Arab Jihadists; like the way he had accused Parliamentarian George Galloway in a July 11, 2005op-ed essay published in the rabidly right-wing New York Post titled London: Stoics and Scalawags. In a hysterical screed covering half the page, Hitchins dubbed the MP “Saddam Hussein’s chief propagandists in Britain.” This commentary was written in the aftermath of the London Subway bombings by Anglo-Arabs who were enraged and spurred to action by Britain’s role in the American led invasions of Muslim countries, so perhaps the bloke momentarily lost his mind.
Galloway’s crime, which brought a rapid rebuke from Hitchens – who seems to be settling comfortably into the role of thought police and intellectual hit-man for the warmongering Bushmen –, was that he suggested the London bombings were inspired by Arab rage over Britain’s Middle East policies! Alas, by the time Hitchens launched the pro-Jihadists accusation against me the debate had degenerated into a boisterous fiasco – which is becoming a regular feature of Crazy Chris’ public polemics; just the night before he had given the finger to his audience at the ritzy New York Ethical Society!
The more I learned of Hitchins before our debate the more suspect I became of his character and integrity; especially after I read Snitchin Hitchins by his fellow Brit Alexander Cockburn, who really is the independent radical journalist that Hitchins pretends to be. Sometimes Hitchens seemed like an over-educated knucklehead as I observed his pugnacious approach to argument.
Yet it only made me look forward to the debate because I love to face down megalomaniacal bullies – on the podium or the side walks. Since we had no history of personal animosity I decided against character assassination as a tactic, the way so many of his former comrades on the left has done; choosing instead to stick to the facts and systematically deconstruct his argument.
Hence in this instance I had decided to be diplomatic; my conception of which had been fashioned by my eloquent aunt Rosa – an English teacher that introduced me to Shakespeare – who instructed me:” The essence of diplomacy is the ability to tell your adversaries to go to hell in such attractive language they will actually look forward to taking the trip.”
That’s why I praised Hitchins’ virtues and spoke nary a word about his ideological vacillations and shifting allegiances. I even played past the ugly but persistent rumors that my opponent is overly fond of a good cup of ale, which tends to befog his judgment. Instead I showed up with a stack of documents, intending to press my argument with lawyerly efficiency and beat him down with the evidence.
I chose this approach in spite of observing disturbing signs that my opponent was suffering from denial and tended to engage in faith based analysis; an approach that requires us to believe in outcomes for which there is not a scintilla of evidence. Thus I was certain that, given my love of scientific argument – which is to say one must offer proof for one’s claims – and my scrupulous regard for hard evidence – Christopher Hitchens could not prevail in a debate with me. I could hardly wait for the opening round.
The Essence of My Argument
The thesis of my polemic was “The Iraq War is Criminal Folly,” and my argument was based on several points of contention. First of all I opposed the war because it is a massive crime, a violation of international law and an impeachable offense under American law. Furthermore, I argued that the invasion of Iraq without UN sanction reflected a general contempt for the legitimacy of international law and institutions on the part of George II and the Bushmen; and that this attitude is reflected in their decision to un-sign the International Criminal Court treaty and scrap the Kyoto and Anti-Ballistic Missile treaties to boot.
I also argued that since these treaties were designed to protect the interests of all earthlings, the Bushmen’s actions failed to show “A decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” which Thomas Jefferson felt was such a critical justification for the revolution that established American democracy he wrote it into the Declaration of Independence. Since I didn’t get a chance to say it during the debate, due to its chaotic nature, let me say here: It is George II flagrant disregard for the opinions of the rest of the mankind that led him into actions which prompted Harry Belafonte to label him “The greatest terrorist in the world!”
While many may wish to argue about definitions here, there is no question that George II is the most dangerous man on earth because he has his finger on the trigger which launches the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal, and he believes in “the fire next time.” An Evangelical Christian, Bush believes in “The Rapture” and behaves as if he has a divine right to reshape the world in America’s image, a dangerous delusion if ever there was one. Nowhere is this self-righteous delusion clearer than in the invasion of Iraq, which is every bit a misguided imperialist adventure as was George III invasion of America. And I predict it will end as badly for the invaders.
Like Frederick Douglass, I have never met a group of men who were so wise and so good that they could be trusted with power over the rights of other men, thus I argued that democratic government cannot be exported by armed invaders. Furthermore, I argued that the invasion of Iraq was a strategic blunder in terms of the wider war against the Islamic Jihadists, who perpetrated the assault on the US in the 9/11 disaster.
Thus we are facing the absurd spectacle of Saddam on trial while “Osama been forgotten” is running hog wild. Yet Saddam Hussein was an ally against the militant theocrats whom Osama is leading. This is such an obvious blunder I argued, that anyone who claims not to recognize this is either a moron or a charlatan.
Added to our troubles is the fact that the dynamic of social movements are such that the Jihadists will feed upon this American assault against an unoffending Arab country and grow stronger. I knew this was inevitable because, as I have argued, wars of occupation always result in atrocities against the conquered people. It is in the nature of the tactics the invader must employ in order to pacify and maintain control of a people who will inevitably resist.
Thus the horrifying pictures documenting American crimes against Iraqi citizens emerging from Abu Ghrab – Saddam’s old torture chamber – make powerful recruiting posters for Al Qaeda that are far beyond anything Osama had the power to contrive. And this remains the case in spite of Hitchens’ obscene and meaningless argument that American atrocities at Abu Ghrab are a step up from Saddam’s policies. So what if they are? It’s like arguing that Spiderman is better looking than Freddie Kruger; in the final analysis they are both ugly mugs!
Even that clueless, incompetent, and murderous old fuddy-duddy Donald Rumsfeld, was forced to admit that America is taking a beating in the propaganda war. To paraphrase the old Ellington standard: We looking bad and that ain’t good! Speaking before the widely influential Council on Foreign Relations on February 18, 2006, a week after my debate with The Sophist, the Secretary of War who had assured us that the Iraq attack would be a cake walk was singing a different tune. “Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age,” he complained, “but for the most part, we – our country, our government – has not adapted.”
After belatedly concluding that the psychological battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim peoples may be more important than the victories of American military forces, Rummy the Dummy concludes that the current state of affairs in the propaganda war is an “unacceptable, dangerous, deficiency.” However, like Mr. Hitchens, he just doesn’t get it. It’s not the face you put on this war; it’s the war itself and the myriad atrocities it has wrought, which no amount of cosmetic public relations hype can disguise.
I went on to point out that it was a disgrace to wage a war that was fought by the poor but enriched the plutocrats who owned or controlled the monstrous military/industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in the victory over fascism in WWII, warned against. And I pointed to Michael Moore’s great documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11 to prove my charge.
This documentary, which in spite of being the second most watched documentary of all times, was slandered by my opponent with half-truths and irrelevant prattle. Yet it contains irrefutable evidence that George II is indeed a shameless servant of the super rich. In fact he proudly proclaims it in living color during a campaign speech to his fellow plutocrats – whom he called “the haves and Have mores.”
I argued that it was a great service to this nation the skillful way Michael Moore brilliantly contrasted these scenes of the President praising the plutocrats while Marine recruiters stalked poor communities like an invasion of body snatchers, trying to lure impoverished youths to risk life and limb for a chance to go to college, or learn a salable skill, or just get three hots and a cot on a regular basis.
One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t get a chance to challenge Hitchens straight up about the importance of Fahrenheit 9/11 as a tool of mass education about the true nature of the Bush regime and the character of the war in Iraq; providing a desperately needed counter-statement to the torrent of pro-war propaganda emanating from administration flaks like him!
I have published an essay stating my views on the film titled “On Fahrenheit 9/11, and I regard what Hitchens has had to say on the subject elsewhere as one of the most grievous examples of vulgar political opportunism that I have witnessed. Once more we see that his tendency toward sophistry is rooted in duplicity.
But since he has agreed to go head to head with me for two hours on WBAI radio in New York, perhaps we shall yet have an opportunity to calmly debate these issues of contention. He cannot defend his position and, like my uncle Birney used to say, “I dare him like a dog to try!” Hitch talks a good game about debating me again live on the radio, but only time will tell if he’s got the balls to show up.
The minimal essential lesson I wanted to teach on the evening of the Cooper Union debate was that at the top of my list of reasons why I oppose the war is because it was conceived in “The Project for a New American Century,” a think tank founded by deluded right-wing egg head ideologues out to conquer the world, and that George II willfully lied to Congress and the American people in an attempt to win their support for his war of choice. With key members of the PNAC strategically placed in the Bush Administration, I argued, these guys, whom George I called “The Crazies,” persuaded George II to take us to war and their cronies are making grand theft dough from profiteering on that war!
These were the issues that I clearly laid out in my opening statement. However I would get no real opportunity to press my case because Vanity Fair media critic Michael Wolf, an egocentric little bald headed Mumser who appears to suffer from a “Napoleonic Complex,” was mistakenly selected to proctor the debate and persistently interjected himself into the discourse by wantonly begging silly questions which he evidently thought profound.
Thus not only were the issues of cronyism and corruption studiously ignored in Mr. Hitchens’ hysterical war cries, but he had the unmitigated gall to speculate in an 2004 article, How I’m Slightly for Bush, that if Kerry wins the election, “I can’t wait to see President Kerry discover which corporation, aside from Halliburton, should after all have got the contract to reconstruct Iraq’s oil industry.”
Again he totally misses the point – a ritual he hastens to repeat ad-nauseum in his arguments for this criminal war. The question is not whether Halliburton can do the work; it is that we cannot know if they are the best company to do the job in the absence of a competitive bidding process and rigorous performance standards. Especially when, given this administration’s quite vocal commitment to globalism, the bidding process should have been open to construction companies around the world and the contracts awarded to the lowest bidder!
Considering the horrid record of the Bush Administration regarding cronyism – which is so bad that some members of Congress have introduced a Anti-Cronyism Bill to restrain the practice – we have every reason to look upon the awarding of billions of tax dollars in no-bid contracts to a company formerly headed by “Dirty Dick” Cheney as the most vulgar and dangerous expression of the influence of the Military/Industrial Complex on our government. Especially now that they have been repeatedly cited for over charging the government for their services!
The facts pointed out in the lead story in the April 25, 2006 New York Times, written by James Glanz, Rebuilding of Iraqi Oil Pipeline A Disaster Waiting to Happen, tells a harrowing tale of corruption and incompetence on a grand scale that warrants Congressional and criminal investigations. At a time when the US government is considering cutting entitlements to the poor and elderly in the US in order to pay for the Katrina recovery – a half-hearted effort that is a national disgrace – George II and the Bushmen are allowing their cronies in “Dirty Dick’s” old company to squander billions of our tax dollars in Iraq. Their profligacy with the public purse becomes all the more shameful when we hear that teams of cadaver dogs trained to find corpses buried amid the rubble had to be called off for lack of funds.
After investigating the chicanery around the bungled Al Fatah pipeline project Mr. Glanz tells us “Al Fatah has a wider significance as a metaphor for the $45 billion rebuilding effort in Iraq. Although the failures of that effort are routinely attributed to insurgent attacks, an examination of this project shows that troubled decision making and execution have played equally important roles.”
The rather extensive article goes on to explain how Halliburton decided to commence a massive drilling project to rebuild a crucial oil pipeline under the Tigris River – which had been destroyed by American bombing in the first place – “despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable.” This decision resulted in the “chewing up of astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the project down.”
A particularly poignant example of the massive fraud and criminal waste of our tax dollars can be seen in the fact that while the job is stalled due to the company’s incompetence, their contract “allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby.” And to add contempt to injury, when questioned about their fiasco Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Halliburton subsidiary working the contract, “defended its performance on the project…” In view of the fact that the Vice President, who was CEO of Halliburton just a few years ago, still has interest and cronies in the company, like General Eisenhower, I find it hard to imagine a greater danger to American democracy.
Hence while Mr. Hitchens agonized over whether America can build a democracy in Iraq, I thought about the pervasive corruption resulting from a single party government that monopolizes power, and the Bushmen’s reckless and lawless expansion of executive authority that is given license by absolute Republican power, and worried about preserving democracy in America! For Lord Acton’s axiom has never rung truer: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”
I also agonize over the fact that many of those who fought the war, who spilled their blood and sacrificed their limbs, become jobless and homeless upon their return to civilian life; or they are plagued by bad debts incurred while in the military, most often because of administrative failures by the government. The ABC Evening News of April 27 aired some shocking heart rending stories about veterans wounded in the field whom the government is suing for repayment of their singing bonus because they didn’t serve out their contract. I think these are clear cut signs of a democracy in crisis, and I told him so, but preserving democracy in America does not appear to have a high priority with our friend The Sophist these days.
A careful analysis of Mr. Hitchens’ arguments regarding the Iraq war will also reveal a penchant for spouting sophistry that is brazenly displayed in his contemptuous attitude toward the precedents of international law. He has glibly argued that there was no question of illegality involved in the US invasion of Iraq because that nation had already forfeited any right to sovereignty due to the actions of Saddam Hussein.
It is one thing to argue this point as a philosophical principle, but as a point of law it’s bunk! To begin with the Secretary General of the United Nations has declared the war illegal! And the weight of opinion among lawyers and scholars with knowledge of international law concurs with Koffi Annan.
The most authoritative scholarly treatise on this subject is Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules, written by Phillppe Sands, a professor of international law in Britain. Professor Sands demonstrates how international law always favored the interests of powerful white nations in Europe and the US over the legitimate concerns of the underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
After World War II the law has increasingly reflected America’s vision of international order, especially US corporate interests. A major reason for this arrangement is because if the US decides not to support a treaty it is basically useless. American power being what it is, the US can pick and choose which laws it will obey; a point made plain by George II’s decision to withdraw American support for the International Criminal Court.
This doctrine of “American exceptionalism” underscores an unsettling reality: No matter what the law prescribes “might makes right!” The US talks more than any other nation on earth about the need to respect international law, yet is the first to trash it when those laws work against perceived American interests at the moment. Even as I write John Bolton – that notorious critic of international institutions – is pressing a case against Iran in the UN Security Council employing the most hysterical hyperbolic rhetoric.
It is hard to imagine a more ridiculous spectacle in contemporary diplomacy, except perhaps Condoleezza Rice’s candid confession during a diplomatic visit to Britain on March 31. Amid howls of protest in the streets she confessed, “We have probably made thousands of tactical mistakes in Iraq, but I believe history will prove that we made the right strategic decision in removing Saddam.” Of course, I argue that history will show just the opposite.
Even as the US government seeks to try others, including former heads of state, for war crimes, it continues to cause the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis in an illegal war. Yet, as legal scholar Gerald Horne argues, “If universal jurisdiction means anything at all it must mean that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and others can also be arrested and tried for war crimes.”
Nothing demonstrates the Bushmen’s contempt for international law more clearly than the administration’s attempts to coerce other nations into signing agreements pledging not to hand over Americans who are indicted while on their soil! This bizarre and bloody state of affairs, ushered in by the Bush Administration, is now endorsed by Christopher Hitchens, the former darling of the white left intelligentsia, who hypocritically invokes the authority of international law in order to justify the US invasion of Iraq.
Hitchens also takes a cavalier approach to questions regarding the pervasiveness of corruption and incompetence in the Bushmen’s waging of the Iraq war that is dangerous at best, and immoral at worst. As I pointed out in paraphrasing the late Afro-American historian Benjamin Quarles – author of the seminal study The Negro in the American Revolution: he who wishes to fully understand the present need the added dimension of historical perspective. Hence Hitchins, who appears to have an equally cavalier regard for history, preferring the pseudo-intellectual intimidation of propaganda in its stead, could learn much from even a casual reading of the words of the late Marine General Smedley Butler.
A two time Congressional Medal of Honor winner, among other combat citations, General Butler is one of the most decorated soldiers in American history. He served in the US armed forces during the first quarter of the twentieth century when the American empire was expanding, and led some important military campaigns that secured US dominance of the western hemisphere as spelled out in the Monroe Doctrine. Although uttered in the 1930’s, nearly three quarters of a century ago, as an analysis of the nature of war in capitalist America General Butler’s words so accurately describe present realities they could have been spoken as I write:
“WAR is a racket.” He declared. “It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives… Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.”
All that has changed about the above statement is the numbers. As I pointed out in my opening statement in the debate – a point which Mr. Hitchins never addressed – thus far the war in Iraq has cost $440 billion, and Dr. Stiegletz, a Columbia University Professor and Nobel Prize winning economist, estimates that this war will cost $2 trillion before it’s over. As we have seen, much of this money is destined to end up as windfall profits for American corporations, with “Dirty Dick’s” old company leading the pack of war profiteers.
This vast portion of the nation’s treasure is being poured into the sink hole of war, a needless war producing vast destruction, while economists with theAFL-CIO have estimated that all of the crumbling infrastructure in the US – dams, bridges, subways, highways, levees, etc – can be rebuilt for one and a half trillion dollars! Money spent in this way would be of great service to the American people, many of whose lives are endangered because they live in areas where inadequate investment in infrastructure has left them vulnerable to the forces of nature.
The ninth ward in New Orleans is a striking case in point, as is much of the Golden State of California, where vital infrastructure is in such bad shape the governor is considering declaring a state of emergency before the fact. While these critical public works are neglected, works on a scale that could put legions of unemployed young people to work building something important and life affirming, they are being forced to join the military to find work or educational opportunity and end up slaughtering other poor people around the globe. Often they end up dead or crippled for life, while the rich get richer.
Thus General Butler asks a question that is still relevant: “How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?” This remains a critical question at a time when the nation’s poorest youths – black, white, and Hispanic – are fighting this war, while the Bush babes engage in drunken revelries or snort a soldiers pay up their nose!
Senator Frank Lautenberg has called most of the war mongers in the Congress “chicken hawks,” because they refused to serve in the military when it was their turn. Like George II, they had used their privileged position in American society to avoid conscription or combat. A list of the pugnacious pundits and assorted media talking heads will reveal that, like the belligerent politicians, they too are all blow and no go.
Thus we find that Mr. Hitchens, in concert with those tough Irish guys like Pat Buchanan, Bill O’Riely, and Sean Hannity who are so willing to send others off to die on foreign battlefields, has never been under arms. This also includes other loud mouth media hawks such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill Kristol, Paul Gigot, George Will, et al. They are all pheasants of similar plumage. Like my main man “Pretty Boo” from Brownsville – who was in the Hall during the debate – said when I pulled his coat to this list of churlish chicken hawks – “If them suckers scrubbed their backs with Pepsodent they would wonder where tha fuck tha yellow went!”
When I asked Hitchens about his military experience point blank, he tried to play it off with a joke at first, but later assured the audience that he came from a family of military men and his refusal to serve should not be viewed as a lack of courage. I viewed his apologia skeptically and thought to myself: “If you say so tough guy.” However one cannot but wonder if Mr. Hitchens’ blindness to the issues of crime, corruption and gross incompetence in this war is not willful, especially since the evidence of their pervasiveness is so abundant; for there is none so blind as he who refuses to see.
How the Iraq War Was Spawned in a Think Tank!
The same question can be asked with regard to Hitchen’s refusal to acknowledge the fact that the plan to invade Iraq was hatched in “The Project for a New American Century,” a think tank founded by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in conjunction with other neo-conservative politicians and policy wonks committed to US world domination: a Pax-Americana to rival the ancient Pax-Romana.
However the evidence of the PNAC’s preeminent role in formulating the war policy against Iraq, and brainwashing George II into carrying it out – which was a piece of cake because his head is a tabular Rasa in which anything can be inscribed once you manage to get his ear – is overwhelming and indisputable.
Yet when I presented this fact to Mr. Hitchens, whom Prospect magazine has acclaimed as one of the great minds of our time, he vociferously dismissed the evidence and announced that anyone who suggests there is a relationship between the machinations of the PNAC and the Bush Administration’s decision to attack Iraq is “spouting paranoid garbage!”
Alas he shouted this declaration as he fled from the stage under fire from the audience, who had become enflamed as Mr. Hitchens’ professions of moral concerns in supporting the invasion of Iraq was exposed as duplicity. Thus I was denied the exquisite pleasure of flagellating him with the facts on this matter, but his overall argument was exposed as little more than artful sophistry.
In an attempt to explain his support for the Bushmen’s attack on Iraq by defining it as an altruistic act, in spite of America’s long record of imperialist misadventures in the Mid-East and elsewhere, Mr. Hitchens’ described this dramatic change in policy by which “the United States has managed to get itself…on the right side of history,” as the result “of some Hegelian alchemy that I’m still trying to analyze properly.”
I had heard of Hegelian dialectics – a favorite subject of Karl Marx – but Hegelian alchemy was a new one on me. Hence I shall regard this as yet another instance of Mr. Hitchens’ retreat into faith based analysis, in spite of his much trumpeted atheism.
For my part, however, I have refrained from resorting to alchemy of any kind, including the sort of strange conjurations and black magic of which old Barbantio accused “black Othello” after he entranced his beautiful white daughter. In trying to make sense of the Bushmen’s policies I decided to rely upon a close reading of the evidence, a healthy disdain for ideologues of all stripes, and an abiding suspicion of the motives and methods of George II and the Bushmen. And I would invite Mr. Hitchens to follow my example and forget about alchemy, whether Hegelian or Saracen.
My argument is fairly straight forward and is about as simple as a discussion of such a complex issue can be. The raison d’etre of think tanks is to study policy issues, write position papers, shop them around to people in power, and lobby for their adoption. As non-governmental organizations they are privately funded, generally by wealthy persons, foundations and corporations who have an interest in the issues with which the think tank is concerned. All of this is true of The Project for a New American Century – whose name is a play upon Henry Luce’s imperialist vision of the twentieth century as “The American Century.”
This think tank was founded by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and that little grinning charlatan Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and ubiquitous television commentator on foreign affairs. The fact that Fox News features Kristol as a commentator on their Sunday Morning show without ever mentioning his role with the PNAC, which means that he is an ideologue with an agenda, only underscores the claims made about their lack of objectivity and journalistic ethics by former employees in the revealing documentary film Out Foxed.
When you add such characters as the militant policy wonks Paul Wolfowitz – for whom Mr. Hitchens has expressed great admiration – and Richard Perle, you have the major players in a crew that has been trying to get an American President to invade Iraq and overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime since the reign of George I.
Failing to pressure the senior Bush to knock off Saddam while American troops were baying at Baghdad’s door during the “Desert Storm” invasion of 1991, this foreign policy cabal had never ceased trying to convince someone else to do it. Unable to persuade George I who, according to his CIA advisor on Middle-East affairs Ray McGovern, began calling them “The Crazies,” and was soon joined in this assessment by General Colin Powell – then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who called them “The Fucking Crazies!” they turned their attention to Bill Clinton.
They got nowhere with Clinton, who was a Rhodes Scholar with a long interest in and understanding of foreign policy issues. Plus he was committed to a strategy based on multi-lateralism; which is just the opposite of George II, a know-nothing whom the PNAC cabal would eventually persuade to carry out their dreams of conquest and reorganization of Iraqi society.
Some of the most convincing evidence regarding the fact that the PNAC ideologues, who took command of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy after the 9/11 attacks, cooked the evidence to suit their imperial ambitions can be found in the testimony of ex-CIA agents who were experts on Mid-Eastern affairs. Consider the account of Paul R. Pillar, a career CIA agent who served as the National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian affairs from 2000 – 2005, and was an advisor to George II when the decision to attack Iraq was made.
Presently a professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, Pillar published a detailed account in Foreign Affairs magazine explaining how the Bush Administration either ignored or misused intelligence reports in arriving at the decision to invade Iraq. Which is to say he was an eyewitness to the manipulation of intelligence that the retired CIA agents around Ray McGovern predicted was going on to whip up war hysteria in support of the invasion.
Calling the relationship between the Bushmen and the intelligence community “dysfunctional” professor Pillar tells us: “The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair. In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community’s own work was politicized. As the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, I witnessed all of these disturbing developments.”
The complaint about the Bushmen politicizing intelligence is especially telling because it echoes the complaint of Ralph McGhee about the Johnson Administration’s politicizing of Vietnam era intelligence in his seminal book Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA. In Fact McGhee blamed that disastrous war on the cooking of intelligence as to the size and significance of the communist led nationalist insurgencies in Asia. Both of which they grossly underestimated.
The extent of American ignorance about these movements that he discovered after he was recalled from the field and stationed behind a desk atCIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, shocked and appalled him. And he attributes this willful ignorance to the fact that the legally mandatedCIA mission of providing objective intelligence was perverted by the policies of several presidents, Democrat and Republican, who turned the agency into a covert action force carrying out the policy objectives of the executive branch.
Anyone who has read this book should have no doubt about the dangers of political interference in the evaluation of intelligence. In the Vietnam era it not only led the US into tactical and strategic cul de sacs, it also allowed Lyndon Johnson to justify his criminal decision to send thousands of young Americans to their deaths and cause the slaughter of over a million Vietnamese, when according to Robert McNamara, who was the Secretary of Defense, they knew the rationale for the war was a damn lie!
As if unburdening his soul before standing in Judgment for his sins McNamara has publicly confessed their murderous duplicity, which was driven by Johnson’s egomaniacal obsession with not being the first American President to lose a war! It is a grand historical irony that another macho Texas wannabe cowboy has led the nation into another un-winnable war based on a big lie.
The reasons for this Administration’s obsession with invading Iraq and removing its government are complex and cannot be fully explained by US interest in Iraqi oil, as some opponents of this war believe, although Iraq’s 13 trillion dollar oil reserves figure much more prominently in shaping that policy than is generally acknowledged in the mainstream media. As one wag wryly observed:”If Iraq was exporting asparagus, Bush would never have invaded.”
Ted Koppel, a bonafide star in major media, explained the role of oil in shaping American policy toward Iraq in a New York Times article of 2/ /06, appropriately titled “Will Fight for Oil.” In a learned and candid commentary on the history of American policy in the oil rich Middle East he argues: “Keeping oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz has been bedrock American foreign policy for more than a half-century.” Koppel ridicules the Bush Administration’s denial of the central role oil played in its decision to occupy Iraq and observes, “There’s no reason to be coy about why the U.S. is in Iraq. The reason for America’s rapt attention to the security of the Persian Gulf is what is has always been. It’s about the oil.”
Pillar tells us that after the Commission set up to study the pre-war intelligence failures chaired by Judge Laurence Silberman and Senator Chuck Robb catalogued the intelligence failures in a exhaustive 2005 report, “an acrimonious and highly partisan debate broke out over whether the Bush administration manipulated and misused intelligence in making its case for war. The administration defended itself by pointing out that it was not alone in its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and active weapons programs, however mistaken that view may have been…But in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war.”
Instead Pillar explains that, “A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept “in his box,” and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors — namely, the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.”
Then he reveals this rather astonishing bit of information: “If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war — or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades.”
The obvious question raised by these revelations is: If Bush ignored the advice of the professionals in the intelligence community who was he listening to when he made the decision to invade Iraq? And the answer is equally obvious. It was the ideologues in the Project for a New American Century who had unsuccessfully tried to convince George I and Bill Clinton to invade. But these presidents had proved too smart to go for a sucker move like that; it took Denny Dimwit to go for that Okey Doke!
The evidence on this question is overwhelming. From the inception of the PNAC there was a steady drumbeat calling for an invasion of Iraq. Their position was published in The Weekly Standard, which is a mouth piece for the PANC. It could hardly be otherwise when its editor, William Kristol, is a founder, Executive Director, and major theoretician of the think tank.
In a November 16, 1998 article published in the Weekly Standard, titled “How To Attack Iraq,” Bill Kristol rants, “It now seems fairly certain that some time in the next few weeks the Clinton administration will have to strike Iraq. There are really no acceptable alternatives.” And why is an attack on Iraq such an urgent necessity?
According to Kristol, “Saddam’s recent demand for the expulsion of UN weapons inspectors and for the removal of Richard Butler as head of the inspections regime is mostly a ploy to buy time…The longer the present crisis lasts, the more weeks the United states spends arguing with its allies and with Russia, the closer Saddam comes to his real objective: Finally acquiring chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them.”
And why is nothing short of an invasion acceptable to our pugnacious pundit? “More hollow threats of force, more empty declarations that ‘all options are on the table,’ will only further erode America’s already badly damaged credibility…Even the Clinton administration, confronted by the inescapable and horrible logic of the situation, will soon come to the conclusion that military action is necessary.”
This article was published only 17 months after the founding of the PNAC, and already Bill Kristol – a wimpy little nerdy guy who looks like he gave up his lunch money for protection on the way to school – is frothing at the mouth, hysterically crying for an attack on Iraq, a country that had made no aggressive moves against the US. Even a casual reading of this bombastic screed will reveal all of the major themes in the arguments the Bush administration would employ as justification for the invasion of that country five years later.
These themes were repeated in published polemics by PNAC associates right up until the decision to invade Iraq was made. In an October 21, 2002 article in the Weekly Standard titled A Necessary War, written just five months before the invasion, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a militant PNAC ideologue, asks: “Could a war with Iraq compromise America’s war on terrorism? It would appear that many in the foreign policy establishment believe so.”
Gerecht cites Senators from both parties who opposed any invasion of Iraq for the purpose of regime change and observes, “Both have echoed former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft’s dire warning that an attack on Iraq would ‘jeopardize,’ if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign…Former Secretary of State James Baker, another close advisor to Bush Pere, was only a little more conditional, urging the present administration to confront Iraq in the right (multi-lateral) way or risk damaging our relationships with Arab and European states and ‘perhaps even our top foreign policy priority, the war on terrorism.”
After dismissing the opinions of Senators from both sides of the aisle, a former National Security Advisor and a Secretary of State, he then goes on to dis the professionals in theCIA. “And if you spend any time with working level real-politickers who staff the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon, you’ll quickly hit Scowcroftian resistance to a second Gulf campaign.”
It is no wonder that the Iraq war has turned into such a disaster; the planners rejected the opinions of everybody who knew what they were talking about. The PNAC ideologues remind me of the kinds of people who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union, of whom Andropov’s official ideologist said in an interview with Jim Lehrer: ”Whenever reality contradicted our official ideology, we dismissed reality.” Thus when we consider who the players were that became the architects of this policy, and examine what they believed, it is easy to see that the invasion of Iraq was inevitable once they came to power.
To begin with, among the founders of the PNAC were Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who became the Vice-President and Secretary of Defense. Ironically, George Bush was not the first choice of the PANC crew. They recognized that he was a simple minded frat boy with no discernable philosophy on foreign affairs, and was therefore likely to be managed by the same moderate Republicans like Brent Skowcroft and Colin Powell, who had advised his father.
John McCain was more their flavor. Furthermore George II’s disavowal of any special interest in Middle Eastern affairs, or nation building, increased their anxiety about him. But then a series of fortuitous events occurred that would radically alter the fortunes of the PANC ideologues and change the course of history. First Bush chose Cheney as Vice-President; then he put him in charge of the transition team when the Supreme Court selected him to occupy the Oval Office.
The result was that Cheney stacked PANC cadres in critical foreign policy and national security positions. At the end of this process here is what the Bush administration looked like. Dick Cheney, Vice President, Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Peter Rodman; Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State; John Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security; Elliot Abrams, Senior Director for Near East, Southwest Asian, and North African Affairs, National Security Council; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Chief of Staff, Office of the Vice President, and James Woolsey, a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and member of the Defense Policy Board, where he joined Richard Perle, a long time hysterical hawk who urged war against the communist in the past and militant Muslims in the present.
This rogue’s gallery of neo-con chicken hawks demonstrates how the PNAC effectively staffed the upper echelons of the defense establishment and planted important players in the State Department; all they needed was a catalyst that would ignite a chain of events which would place them at the levers of power. The catastrophe on 9/11 supplied that catalyst. In fact, they had predicted that it would take an event of “the magnitude of Pearl Harbor” in order to create the necessary public support to implement their costly and dangerous military plans!
It is this prediction that has spawned a spiraling movement of conspiracy theorists who argue that the Bush administration organized the events of 9/11 in order to institute a police state at home, and gain carte blanche approval for military adventures abroad. We never got an opportunity to discuss this growing controversy due to the fact that the extended give and take that I had prepared for never happened because of the bungling intrusions of our hyperactive moderator; the debate time between me and Hitchens was dramatically reduced when the moderator decided to open the floor for questions prematurely. So let me say here that I consider the conspiracy theorists to be crazier than “The Crazies!”
In January of 1998, eleven months before Bill Kristol’s article demanding an attack on Iraq was published, five men from the PNAC cabal signed a letter to Bill Clinton pleading with the Democratic president “to turn your administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.” Although unsuccessful in selling their views to men with the power to implement them, they continued to expend considerable time, money and intellectual effort theorizing about how to radically increase the role of military power in achieving US foreign policy objectives.
Hence when these PNAC cadres took over critical positions in the Bush administration they didn’t come empty handed. Early in 2000, with no hint that they would soon be in power, the PNAC published a comprehensive document stating their vision of the world, along with a detailed plan outlining how American military power is to be promiscuously employed in order to realize this vision. Titled Redesigning America’s Defenses, it is the neo-con master plan for world domination, a Pax-Americana. Unabashed imperialists that they are, they actually use this term.
There’s no shame in PNAC’s game; they make it abundantly clear that they are out to rule the world by whatever means necessary! “The United States is the world’s only superpower,” the document declares, “combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world’s largest economy…At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible. There are, however, potentially powerful states dissatisfied with the current situation and eager to change it, if they can…Preserving the desirable strategic situation in which the United States now finds itself requires a globally preeminent military capability both today and into the future.”
Well, if you wonder what happened to the so-called “peace dividend” look no further. This document makes it clear that if they had anything to do with it there would be no reduction in defense spending despite the collapse of the Soviet Empire, or the reality of the unipolar world that has emerged in the aftermath: “We did not accept pre-ordained constraints that followed from assumptions about what the country might or might not be willing to expend on its defenses.” The document also makes it abundantly clear that the PNAC was “building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The Defense Policy Guidance drafted in the early months of 1992 provided a blueprint for maintaining US prominence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”
The document goes on to lament the fact that the plan, which was largely authored by Paul Wolfowitz, was “Leaked before it had been approved,” then “criticized as an effort by ‘cold warriors’ to keep defense spending high and cuts in forces small despite the collapse of the Soviet Union; not surprisingly, it was subsequently buried by the new administration.”
Having had no luck in getting their agenda adopted as policy by George I, then being put on ice during eight years of two Clinton administrations that were very successful in foreign affairs – Our President was widely admired and America was loved around the world in this period – the neo-con ideologues and the PNAC were in hog heaven under George II. They would finally get the opportunity to translate their silly position papers into policy.
In order to understand the assumptions that informed the Bush administration’s policy on the Middle East in the post-9/11 period – when “The Crazies” took over and George II freaked out and stopped listening to the professionals in the State Department and CIA, giving a free rein to the PNAC cabal – one must study the section of the plan dealing with the Persian Gulf region.
Here we see their grand vision for this part of the world, and the thoughtful investigator will discover that the conflict with Iraq is actually a pretext for wider ambitions. “In the Persian Gulf region,” the report explains, “the presence of American forces, along with British and French units, has become a semi-permanent fact of life…Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
Thus we see that “The Crazies” coveted the entire oil rich Gulf Region, convinced that whoever controlled this energy source could rule the world. Ted Koppel notes that the region produces 80 million barrels a day, and the world consumes 80 million barrels a day. But based upon the language in the report it is clear that they don’t really understand the age of white supremacist domination of the world is over!
The building of new military bases in Iraq is further evidence of both their imperialist ambitions and their delusions about the realities of the age in which we live. According to the PNAC document, the real reason for constructing the Iraqi bases arises from the fact that “Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational.”
This demand arises from the fact that the Saudi Royals only allowed Americans to garrison troops in their country because of a fear of Saddam; it was a forced play. But in so doing they became apostates in the eyes of Islamicists like Osama Bin Laden, who regarded it as a sacrilege to invite swine eating infidel troops into the Muslim holy lands of Arabia, within the shadow of Mecca.
This event was a major impetus for the development of Al Qaeda out of the remnants of the CIA trained Moujiadeen of Afghanistan and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. Here the vision of the neo-cons and the Saudi Royal Family diverged, once Saddam was checked by virtue of Operation Desert Storm, they wanted the Americans out; but the PNAC cabal had other ideas.
“From an American perspective,” they argued, “the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should US-Iranian relations improve; retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in US security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.”
Thus to those who have read this section of the PNAC document – like that old ex-CIAwatch dog Ray McGovern, whose warnings during the mobilization for the Iraqi invasion has proven so prophetic – Rumsfeld’s present saber rattling toward Iran comes as no surprise. And he has put the nation on notice like a latter day Paul Revere bellowing: Beware the neo-cons are coming, and they are bearing bombs!
This warning echo’s in a April 16, 2006 commentary in the New York Times by Steve Simon and Richard Clarke, the former anti-terror Czar, titled “Bombs That Would Backfire. And, even as I write, the brilliant and prescient journalist Seymour Hirsh has published a cover story in The New Yorker magazine exposing the Bush administration’s secret plans for an attack on Iran with tactical nuclear weapons.
Any objective and reasonably intelligent observer can see the PNAC plan is a blueprint for perpetual war and imperial domination of the oil producing areas of the Middle East. And since the cabal who authored these plans is now in charge of US national security/foreign policy in terms of issues of war and peace, the crazies have literally taken over the nut house and they are making a serious attempt to realize their fantasies.
That fact, more than any faulty intelligence about “weapons of mass destruction” or a Saddam Hussein/Osama bin Laden alliance, explains why the Bushmen invaded Iraq and squandered military resources that should have been deployed against Al Qaeda. And it is a decision I am convinced we shall live to regret.
According to Richard Clarke – who was then the reigning anti-terrorism Czar in the federal government – the PNAC cabal began calling for the invasion of Iraq immediately after the 9/11 attack, although there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the assault nor and reason to suspect any. It is all too clear that they saw this as their big moment, the one they had been waiting on for a decade, and they were determined to make the most of it! The logical outcome of this neo-con obsession is that Saddam is on trial and Osama has been forgotten. If Mr. Hitchens can’t see this obvious pattern, the PANC cabal manipulating the facts to suit their ideological imperatives, he really is a fool in spite of his penchant for ostentatious erudition.
So What’s the Real Deal with Contrarian Chris?
Yet, in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary, I really don’t think Hitchens is a learned fool; rather I believe that he has made some sort of Faustian bargain – the precise nature of which I don’t pretend to fully understand – because he is too swift on the cap not to be able to put the pieces of this puzzle together. In any case I told him to his face that he is a walking oxymoron, a living paradox, a learned man on a fool’s errand!
On the face of it, given his apparently abrupt and radical change of allegiances, Hitchens seems to be going through a Churchillian transformation: If a man is not a socialist in his youth he has no heart, but if he remains a socialist as and old man he has no brain. But I advance this proposition as the grossest of speculations. Who knows what twisted emotions lies in the hearts of privileged Englishmen who came of age as the sun finally set on their empire. Perhaps The Shadow does, but not I.
In my opening statement during our debate I surmised that Hitch was either a charlatan or an unthinking fanatic. I suggested that he would clearly reveal whether he was a fanatic by his argument, and that I would leave it up to the audience to decide if he was a charlatan: which the dictionary defines as “a fraud, fake, imposter or con man.”
But upon further examination of his argument in defense of the Iraq war it has become impossible not to conclude that Hitchens is some species of charlatan. He is too much of a calculating cold fish to be an unthinking fanatic, and he is too clever to be dismissed as a fool in the conventional sense of an ignoramus. So what’s up with the ubiquitous Blimey?
Perhaps the answer lies in the personal relationships and mutual sympathies he shares with members of the PNAC cabal. He has publicly confessed his admiration for Paul Wolfowitz, the most influential of the PNAC theoreticians, and backstage after the debate he confessed to a member of the audience who introduced herself simply as “Gwen Goodwin,” that he was personal friends with several members of the cabal.
However unbeknownst to Hitchens, Gwen – blond, beautiful and decked out in mink – is a spirited community activist in East Harlem who is known as “Gwen The Good.” And she is an avid listener to my radio show who came straight away to report on her conversation with my opponent. She even suggested that we form a committee and see if we could find some legal grounds to deport him for spreading false information inimical to the peace and security of the American people!
Cronyism with cabal members seems as good an explanation as any I can conjure up – aside from the fact that his present position aligns him with the center of power at the moment – as to why a pundit as smart as Hitchens fails to see such evident connections between the ideologues from the PNAC who were shaping US foreign policy, and the illegal invasion of Iraq. All they did was implement a preconceived plan that anyone can read.
It was the realization of a dream that all think tank policy wonks share; one day they will possess the power to convert their theoretical position papers into policy. Presented with such compelling facts, I’d bet Denny Dimwit could make the connection. But if Cronyism and genuflecting before the reigning princes and powers are the real reasons why Hitchens now supports this murderous criminal folly in Iraq, then he may not be a fool, but he is surely a morally bankrupt charlatan. The facts however are clearly against him, which explains why his arguments must rely upon sophistry.
As I read Hitchens’ commentaries on the war I began to notice a pattern that bore an uncanny relationship to the policy positions of the PNAC, as expressed in the published opinions of its members. Hence I started to suspect that my opponent might not only be a charlatan, but a shill to boot; a covert mouthpiece for the murderous cabal! Sometimes he sounds like an echo of the neo-con chicken hawks.
For instance, onDecember 12, 2002Bill Kristol issued one of his “Memorandum’s to Opinion Leaders,” by which he attempts to brain wash them with the PNAC’s version of events. He cites several sources in a tortured argument intended to make the case that Saddam and Osama were partners in terror. Among them is a letter he claims was written byCIADirector George Tenant to the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
I can envision scenarios where the question of how Kristol came in possession of such a highly confidential letter dealing with national security matters would be superfluous, indeed irrelevant to whether or not the information was true, but not in this case. By virtue of what we now know about how the Bushmen – led by the PNAC cabal – employed disinformation techniques to whip up a war hysteria that convinced the American public the national security of the US was dependent upon “regime change” in Iraq, the source of this letter is of critical importance. And the knowledge that the pro-war propaganda emanating from the PNAC has never ceased should give us cause to view any “information” that originates there with a jaundiced eye.
Kristol claims the letter proves “Iraq has provided training to al Queda members in areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.” Then he offers this assessment of the implications of these facts for American policy in the Middle East: “What all of this means is that the president has been right in saying that the coming war to remove Saddam is part of the overall war on terrorism. Regime change in Iraq and the destruction of al Qaeda are two related fronts in one war, and both fronts should be prosecuted aggressively and simultaneously.” There was, however, a vast difference between his 1998 screed and this one; now his cronies from the PNAC were in power.
A November 2002 column by Hitchens replying to criticisms from his former colleague at the Nation, Katha Pollitt, slyly echo’s the points in Kristol’s polemic. Hitchens ridicules those who opposed the war and slanders them by suggesting that they are either covert supporters of Islamic fundamentalists, secret admirers of military dictators, or communist America haters who want Bush to fail for ideological reasons. He also attempts to draw a relationship between Saddam and the Jiadists.
These themes – along with the contention that it is precisely because of the destructive imperialist history of US policy in the Middle East, of repeatedly overthrowing democratic leaders and supporting dictators, that the US was morally bound to remove Saddam Hussein from power and assist in the building of democracy in Iraq.
Hitchens also argued that this will finally free the Kurds and unleash latent democratic forces throughout the region. These ideas form the basis of Hitchen’s argument in favor of the invasion of Iraq. Although he expresses this tortuous argument in various guises, in the final analysis it boils down to these essential points.
In the November 25, edition of The Nation Pollitt asked her estranged colleague in an essay titled Letter to an Ex-Contrarian, “Let’s say you wanted to persuade those opposed to invading Iraq that the cause of Iraqi democracy and Kurdish self-determination require it. What better pulpit than here?” The question was prompted by the fact that Hitchens had resigned from the magazine where he’d regularly written a column, Minority Report, for twenty years, but now found it impossible to continue because of ideological differences arising from his support for the invasion of Iraq.
After thanking her for not joining his former colleagues on the left and calling him vile names such as “scumbag, sellout, toady, moral degenerate, etc -” Hitchens observes, “which, true as some of them may well be of me, have scant bearing on the future of Iraq, or on the war against theocratic nihilists.”
Hitchens goes on to argue, “Why would this disagreement necessitate my departure from The Nation? It’s a matter of the viscera in some ways…It may now seem trite to say that September 11 and other confrontations ‘changed everything.’ For me, it didn’t so much change everything as reinforce something. I am against aggressive totalitarian states and I am resolutely opposed to religious fanaticism. I am also sickened by any attempt to call these hideous things by other names…in its horrible elicitation of readers’ letters on the anniversary of September 11, The Nation joined the amoral side…I say that they stand for neutralism where no such thing is possible or desirable, and I say the hell with it.” Notice the implication of a relationship between Osama and Saddam – a point he argues vociferously elsewhere – which carries the suggestion that Saddam was, after all, somehow involved in the Al Qaeda’s assault on the US.
And there is also the implication that if one has not arrived at the same conclusions as himself then one supports “aggressive totalitarian states” and “religious fanaticism.” Well, I easily abhor these things as much as Hitchens, but it has not led me to seek refuge amongst the political shamans in the party of god, the stomping ground for American Taliban, nor did I seek counsel from the knaves and fools in the Project for a New American Century who brought us the disaster in Iraq, folks whom Hitch now considers among his ace boon coons. Many people have behaved badly since the catastrophe on 9/11, but Hitchens has been scurrying around like a chicken with his head cut off, a soupy mouthed charlatan spouting madness.
For instance, in his farewell column in The Nation of September 26, 2002, Hitchens argues, “People keep bleating that Saddam is not a fundamentalist. But he did rejoice in the attacks on New York and Washington and Pennsylvania, and he does believe that every little bit hurts.” It is hard to imagine a more spurious argument for invading another country.
People also rejoiced in the princely palaces of Bush’s cronies in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait;’ they rejoiced on university campuses and coffee houses in France, Germany, Russia, Korea, and the Great Wall of China too. And many of these people were as atheistic as Hitchens claims to be. They rejoiced in white supremacists councils here in America too, viewing it as a long overdue assault on the ZOG – or Zionist Occupied Government – which is their name for the federal government.
On their websites many of these openly praised the Islamic martyrs and called upon their members to emulate the “testicular fortitude” the Arabs displayed in fighting the ZOG. And I dare say alas, they rejoiced in jolly old Albion too. One can only wonder whether Hitchens is so mesmerized by the sound of his own voice that he cannot hear how silly he sounds!
Writer Norman Finklestein, a former comrade of Hitchens in the legions of the left, has been so perturbed by Chris’ recent utterances he observes: “For many years Hitchens awed readers with his formidable control over the English language. Now his ego delights in testing whether, through sheer manipulation of words, he can pass off flatulent emissions as bouquets.” A classic example of this kind of intellectual flatulence can be found in Hitchens’ explanation for how he could denounce religious fanatics among Muslims, when he has aligned himself with Christian fanatics and creationists in the Republican Party.
“Well,” he tells us, “no position can be without contradiction. The only way to evaluate somebody is how they handle contradiction. That’s what the dialectical method means. So the decision by those on the liberal left to attribute Islamic jihadism to faults of the United States—in other words, not to say, here’s a chance to defend secularism against theocratic totalitarianism, but rather to dissolve that point—leaves the field to the conservatives, who will obviously do it. I mean, I don’t think you’ll get a snake-handler in Oklahoma to say he feels sorry for bin Laden and his grievances. You just somehow won’t. You can count on him not to do it. I’m with that guy on that point. I’m against the people who say, oh, but you have to feel sorry for bin Laden’s grievances, because I don’t. But the people who’ve left the field to the snake-handlers have in effect sold out secularism and made excuses for theocracy. I refuse to let them come to me and say I’ve betrayed secularism. I won’t hear it from them. I don’t owe them an explanation. They owe me one.”
Here is yet another sterling example of the false logic of the Sophist. For what Hitchens failed to acknowledge is that the snake handler would throw him out on his ass too; just as soon as he discovered that he was dealing with a militant atheist who view all religion as clap trap, and that believers are fools under the influence of the opiate of the people!
The mere idea that Hitchens thinks for a minute that he can form an alliance with such people shows the extent to which he is delusional; the bloke seems to have lost it under the constant blows from his former colleagues on the left who once revered him. In his increasingly desperate attempts to prove that he is standing on principle, and thus is not really the slimy maggot they now uniformly believe him to be, his argument is becoming increasingly bizarre. Like my unlettered Great Aunt Gussie used to say: “Dat boy done gone plumb fool!”
The fact is that not only does Osama have real grievances against the US due to our government’s policies in the area – unwavering support for the semi-feudal fascist kleptocracy of the House of Saud and uncritical support for Israel regarding possession of atomic weapons for instance – but he learned his terrorist skills from theCIA. It will do us no good to deny this, for it can only lead to further disaster.
Hence the best thing that can be said for the drivel that Hitchens spouts here is that he misses the point, just like he has missed the point on so many questions concerning Iraq. But that strikes me as perhaps too charitable an explanation. What is more likely is that this is self-serving chicanery designed to disguise his role as a PNAC shill and cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq, and a verbose apologist for the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent men women and children which has resulted from that invasion.
Furthermore, his constant exaltation of the virtues of secularism over religion is naïve in the extreme. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Pol Pot were all secular men, yet under their rule millions were slaughtered. And as I write Hitchens’ is locked in a passionate embrace, lips to posterior, with the Bushmen, a dangerous group of warmongering religious fanatics. Many of whom believe that God put George Bush in the White House. Yet Hitchens is so hyped on hubris that he actually believes he can explain away these massive paradoxes with a mess of pompous gibberish. As I told him during the debate I am a real atheist, pointing out that I have even passed the high seas test, and I expressed my skepticism of self confessed atheists who have not.
Yet I also have a great respect for the work of many churches, especially the African American church. In fact, the great Civil Rights movement in the American south – home of the former slave holding Confederacy – could not have happened without the leadership of the church. I told Hitchens’ this during our truncated debate, but got the impression that I was pouring water on a duck’s back.
When I pointed out that the black church was an incubator of great musicians, his response was condescending but had the unintended consequence of exposing his abominable ignorance of both the black church and the art of music. What I would like to have said is that I am convinced our society would be better off if many depraved souls attended church and believed they were going to burn in hell if they didn’t behave themselves.
Not the least of these is Hitchens himself, a tough talking hypocrite who has astutely avoided military service but sneers at the efforts of the church to speak out for peace. The catholic clergy for instance produced many thoughtful and learned written arguments against the invasion of Iraq. But old contrarian tough guy Chris brutally dismissed their concerns while beating the drums of war.
In a March 10, 2003 article titled Pious Nonsense he crows sarcastically, “An awful realization has been dawning upon the Bush White House. Christianity is a religion of peace. From every pulpit, an appalling ecumenicism is preached, which calls for ‘more time’ at best and for a ‘hands-off Saddam’ line at worst. The papal envoy to Iraq, Cardinal Etchegaray, has told us that Saddam Hussein “is doing everything to avoid war”…However, the strongly implied corollary was that “war,” if it should come, would be a strictly American responsibility.
How else to interpret the remarks of Cardinal Solano, secretary of state to the Vatican, who recently bleated: ‘We want to say to America: Is it worth it to you? Won’t you have, afterwards, decades of hostility in the Islamic world?’ This solicitude for the feelings of pro-Saddam Muslims—of whom the leading faction is constituted by al-Qaeda—is new for Holy Mother Church.”
Not only does Hitchens shamelessly mischaracterize the Cardinal’s views, but everybody who can read and has not been exiled to another planet now knows that the Cardinal was right and our friend The Sophist blew it again. But it gets worse. After reviewing the sordid history of the Catholic Church’s historic alliances with murderous dictators like Hitler and Mussolini – an easy target by the way – he intones, “But one wonders how the theory of ‘just war,’ largely evolved by Catholic intellectuals such as Augustine and Aquinas, ever managed to endorse the use of force.
As applied these days, it appears to commit everybody but Saddam Hussein to an absolute renunciation of violence. You could see this paradox demonstrated last Sabbath morn on the New York Times op-ed page, by Jimmy Carter: peanut czar, home-builder, Nobel laureate, and Baptist big mouth.” Talk about chutzpah; it really takes brass balls for a blabber mouth like Hitchens to call somebody names like “big mouth!”
Yet these are very revealing comments that graphically demonstrate the ignorance, cynicism, duplicity, and callous disregard for human life that exemplify Hichens’ commentary on the Iraq war. Even while he asks us to empathize with his contradictions, he is so unforgiving of the failings of the church – which has set the loftiest standards for itself of any institution on earth – and is, after all, run mostly by men with the same human frailties as himself. However in his self-righteous arrogance Hitchens cannot even admit that on this occasion the church is standing up for humanity by trying to use its good offices to ward off the unspeakable horrors of war – which are now apparent to everyone who is paying attention to the nightmare in Iraq.
Unlike Hitchens, wretched infidel that I am I yet welcome the good offices of the churchmen in pleading and praying for peace – especially in places like Burma, where the church alone heroically opposes the murderous generals who run the country through rape, rapine and mass murder – while appealing to what Abraham Lincoln aptly called “The better angels of our nature.”
This was especially so directly following the assault on 9/11, when sane and even wise people I know were calling for the US to “nuke em!” What was most disturbing about what I was hearing was that it was laden with generous portions of self-righteousness and denial – a very dangerous combination for a people with the military might of the US. And the situation becomes even more combustible when the clergy is overcome with nationalist fervor.
Hence a few days following the terrifying attack on my home town I published a polemical essay on The Black World Today – TBWT.org – titled, Aftermath of the Disaster: Irony, Fantasy, Self-Righteous Preachment…but Little Truth, which I also read on the air. I wrote “I have heard one Christian cleric after another call for war against the Muslim terrorists with all the fervor of a medieval monk recruiting knights for the crusades…The teachings of Jesus – whom they all give lip service to – along with reason, are the first causalities of the nationalistic war fever that has gripped the nation…Indeed, in a flurry of jingoistic indignation the clerics have scrapped the biblical injunction, “vengeance is mine sayeth the lord,” faster than Hopalong Cassidy could draw his gun.” I went on to note “It is not surprising that the clearest voices calling the nation away from this course of blind vengeance and setting forth arguments based on Christian charity and reconciliation have come from the African American community.”
Thus while Hitchins was blaspheming the church for not preaching war, my problem was not that the church was too passive, but that too many churches were not crying out loud enough in behalf of peace. That the black church was the first to speak out against vengeance as the object of US policy when everybody else was calling for war, reflects the “second sight” Afro-Americans possess.
For it was the black clergymen like Bishop Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, along with black intellectuals and visionary white intellectuals like Mark Twain, who opposed America’s first imperialist war in Asia: The invasion of the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century. Animated by the wisdom of the great Afro-American spiritual “I Ain’t Gone Study War No More,” they bade the nation to lead the world in beating our swords into plowshares.
Hitchens’ snide put down of Jimmy Carter – A man of great character and courage, who as President walked into a nuclear plant at Three Mile Island that was experiencing a meltdown and in danger of exploding, risking his life while putting a terrified nation at ease – is incomprehensible when he is sucking up to the likes of Wolfie, Rummy, Condi and “Dirty Dick,” the gang of four who led us into this Iraqi mess!
Only an effete intellectual and self-indulgent rummy, who probably grew up with servants waiting on him hand and foot, would consider picking up a hammer and nails to help build houses for the homeless a source for ridicule rather than setting a sterling example that the nation might follow. Such a person would probably fail to see the grandeur in producing crops from the earth too.
And a person thus deluded might also imagine themselves better qualified to analyze the technical aspects of warfare than a nuclear engineer, who graduated from the naval academy and commanded a submarine. Thus our friend The Sophist boldly offers this assessment of Jimmy Carter’s concern for the slaughter of innocents: “Reviewing ‘just-war’ precepts, our former president considered the obligation of weaponry to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. He then asserted: ‘Extensive aerial bombardment, even with precise accuracy, inevitably results in ‘collateral damage.’ General Tommy R. Franks, commander of American forces in the Persian Gulf, has expressed concern about many of the military targets being near hospitals, schools, mosques and private homes.” And, of course, General Frank’s concern was quite enough assurance for Hitchens that the Iraqi population was safe from American bombs and bullets.
Well, after the deaths of perhaps 200,000 or more innocent Iraqi men, women and children we know who was right on that one. Furthermore, even as I write, a new book Cobra II, Written by General Bernard Trainor and New York Times reporter Mark R. Gordon, provides a mountain of evidence that Tommy Franks couldn’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground in Iraq!
It should therefore come as no surprise that Franks rushed to the defense of Rumsfeld – with whom he planned the war – when six top generals came out in April and denounced Rumsfeld as an incompetent arrogant buffoon and called for his resignation or removal. In any case, Hitchens and I take radically different views about so called “Collateral damage.”
While Hitchens scoffs at President Carter’s concerns for the injury and slaughter of Iraqi civilians by errant American bombs and bullets, I stated emphatically in our debate that I thought the careless slaughter of innocents a crime against humanity that cannot be sanitized by employing soulless language such as “Collateral Damage.”
I first heard the term spouted by Timothy McVey, the home grown terrorist who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma and killed 168 people. Among his victims were children in day care centers, and when he was asked how he felt about having blown them up in order to get at his real targets in a federal agency, he calmly said the children were “collateral damage” and explained that he had learned this concept from his commanders when he was a part of the first invasion of Iraq, where his job was digging mass graves for the Iraqi dead.
Although McVey’s indifference to the slaughter of innocents was a product of his training in the US Army, he was sentenced to death for his crime; and I believe if killing innocent civilians by bombing areas where they are likely to be killed is a capital offense in Oklahoma, it is also a capital crime in Iraq! This is the truest expression of the universal humanism that people like Hitchens – or Thomas Jefferson for that matter – are so quick to pay lip service to but rarely practice.
The alternative view must necessarily be based upon a chauvinistic conception of humanity that considers the lives of some groups more valuable than others. And this is the same concept that informed the systems of slavery and segregation in the American south, Apartheid in South Africa, and Nazism in Germany. It is also this hierarchal ranking of human beings based on color or nationality that prevents otherwise intelligent people from recognizing that these ideologies represent a single class of phenomena.
While I’m certain Hitchens will vociferously deny any racist feelings – among other things it is no longer intellectually fashionable to be an out racist – I’d bet my bottom dollar he would cry bloody murder if London were being bombed like Baghdad and tens of thousands of British civilians were slaughtered because Islamic Jihadists believe, with considerable justification from their perspective, that Tony Blair is a murderous asshole. We have but to look at the way he screamed like a banshee when a couple of bombs were placed on a subway in London.
When all of these factoids are assembled so that we can get a clear portrait, Hitchens looks more and more like a blood thirsty charlatan who is willing to parrot any nonsense that emanates from his cronies at the Project for a New American Century. One of his critics has even authored a piece titled The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens.
Nothing demonstrates this tendency more that the fact that he is still trying to justify the Iraq war by implying that there were close ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam. Something that even George Bush has renounced as a bogus claim. At this very morning, Sunday March 18, 2006, three years after Bush started a war that we were assured was over in a triumphant victory speech aboard a warship a few months later, Hitchens is on ABC television’s This Week still talking that bogus bullshit about how wise and just the Bush policy in Iraq is, and claiming yet again that this war really began when “Jimmy Carter gave Saddam permission to attack Iran.” He also argued that the people who began this insurgency were largely foreigners. What absolute nonsense!
When a reporter who has been reporting on the ground pointed out that there are virtually no foreign fighters among the detainees who were captured by American forces; they are almost all Iraqis, Hitchens just sat and stared with that hung over drunkard look – it was Sunday morning alas – for which he has become a subject of ridicule.
A master of the TV sound bite – he’s had plenty of practice by now – he went into some verbal razzle dazzle about the Kurdish freedom fighters, the imminent implosion of Iraq if the Americans had not invaded, the moral obligation we have to our democracy loving Kurdish allies, and predictably he declared that the only person from the cabinet of George I who finally got it right on Iraq is “Dirty Dick” Cheney.
Yet Dirty Dick is a man whom Hitchen’s has said elsewhere that he detests. Alas, this is a conclusion that only some ideological automaton reading a script composed by the PNAC cabal could have arrived at! Since he was the fastest talker on the panel Hitch managed to survive in this forum, which was tailor made for a motor mouth with well rehearsed sound bites. In other words our friend The Sophist was on top of his game.
The most important revelation that came from Hitchens on this occasion was his frank admission that he had adopted the neo-con position on the Middle East, which was authored by the imperialist ideologues in the Project for a New American Century. This admission supplies unambiguous proof for my claim that his basic position on the invasion of Iraq – which he once opposed by the way – is the PNAC position and he is following their script to the letter! Anybody who is familiar with their ideological line can virtually predict what Hitchens’ answers will be on all the basic questions.
However it is abundantly clear to those who have studied the critical questions around the invasion of Iraq, that Hitchens’ answers can also be arbitrary and self serving. Having recently admitted that his leftist views about the world were mistaken, it would be devastating to his credibility – not to mention his colossal ego – to now be forced to admit that his newly minted neo-con views are also whack! But his attempts to impose an arbitrary interpretation of the origins of the Iraqi war will not stand up under rigorous examination.
For instance in reply to his claim that the present war really began when Carter gave Saddam a green light to attack Iran, it is easy to demonstrate that there would never have been an Islamic revolution in Iran, or a Saddam Hussein in Iraq, if not for the CIA overthrow of secular leaders and the eradication of countervailing leftist forces in those countries.
In Iran CIAoperative Kermit Roosevelt orchestrated the overthrow of Muhammad Mossadeh, a democratically elected leader who was a western educated dedicated secularist, and placed Muhammad Reza on the throne as Shah, an autocrat who regularly employed torture to enforce his dictates and wage war against leftist forces like the Marxist Tudah Party.
He carried out these repressive police state policies with generous American blessings and military assistance. It was the overthrow of democracy in Iran that led directly to the Islamic revolution a generation later, an event that resulted in the ascendancy of Ayatollah Homeni as absolute leader. Like a bearded avenging prophet right out of the old-testament, Homeni rose up and inspired the people to smite the Shah with the word of god! It was one of the great social upheavals of the twentieth century, an event that changed our world.
Other interventions in the middle-east and Islamic central Asia have not fared any better, for instance US meddling in Iraq nearly forty years ago also set forces in motion that led to Saddam’s rise to power. As the consistently excellent television investigative news program Frontline has shown, with pictures no less, the CIA organized a hit team in Iraq – which included Saddam Hussein – and trained them to assassinate General Abdul Qassim, the secular left leaning military leader of the country, who wanted to wrest control Iraqi oil production from the giant British and American oil companies.
When the 1959 assassination attempt, which was carried out by a machine gun attack in plain day light, failed Saddam fled into exile in Egypt for four years, where he pursued higher education including a stint in law school. But General Quassim who had overthrown Faisal II, the imported king the British brought from Arabia to rule over this artificial nation they had cobbled together out of three very different peoples in 1921, was eventually deposed by Baathist army officers and tortured to death on television.
On July 16, 1979 Saddam came to power and on July 22, he called a Baath Party congress and ordered his opponents outside; where they were summarily shot! His purge of opponents, or perceived opponents, numbered around five hundred and included people from the military and civilian sectors. None of this kept the US from supporting Saddam in his attack on Iran in 1980, launching a war that lasted eight years and by varying estimates cost over a million lives on both sides.
While much is made of Saddam’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds in Washington today, it was pretty much regarded as a non event at the time. The Reagan administration continued to give millions of dollars to the Hussein regime and Ronald Reagan even dispatched Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq to give Saddam a pair of golden spurs – a personal gift from one horseman to another.
But when Saddam moved on Kuwait a few years later he was attacked by US forces under George I. The common denominator guiding US policy toward Iran and Iraq, two nations with very different ideologies, is Anglo-American control of the oil flow from the Persian Gulf region. Hence Saddam Hussein was right on the money when he declared on the eve of the invasion: “My problem is with the Anglo-Saxons!”
Although Hitchens is well aware of this shameful history he now claims to believe that by “some Hegelian alchemy” the Bush administration has but aside such ignoble motives as blood for oil and invaded Iraq for altruistic reasons. However all the observable facts suggest that controlling the world’s largest proven oil reserves has always been, and yet remains, the basis of Anglo-American policy in that region of the world no matter the rhetoric of the moment.
This is a central argument in the recent Kevin Phillips’ book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Phillips, who wrote The Emerging Republican Majority in 1968, the book which laid the basis for the Republican strategy that has resulted in the GOP’s present domination of American politics, has demonstrated that he is an intellectual with prophetic powers and is thus worth listening to. On the other hand our friend, the Sophist, like his tutors in the PNAC, have been wrong about everything regarding this disastrous policy in Iraq that has cost so many innocent lives, wrecked their country, and has increasing numbers of Iraqis openly saying things were better under Saddam!
Phillips has coined a useful, and I think quite accurate, term that defines contemporary American policy: “Petro-imperialism.” And he astutely observes that the dominant feature of this ill-conceived policy is “the US military’s transformation into a global oil-protection force.” And he points out that the Bushmen – with the help of misguided or mercenary apologists and hucksters like Hitchens – have concocted a fake rationale that “puts up a democratic façade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes) and seeks to secure, protect, drill and ship oil, not administer everyday affairs.”
This explains why the architects of the invasion considered it more important to guard the oil ministry than the great museum that housed antiquities documenting the origins of human civilization, as well as their decision to post guards around the oil fields rather that find and secure the ammo dumps which contained enough ordinance that by some estimates will enable the insurgents to blow up American soldiers – who were sent into battle without adequate force strength, armored Humvees, body armor, or even the proper cleaning lubrications for their rifles – for the rest of this century!
What the great twentieth century Puerto Rican nationalist leader Albizu Compos said about American interest in Puerto Rico, “They don’t care about the birds, they are only interested in the cage!” is also true of the PNAC/ Bush policy on Iraq, or the entire Muslim Middle East for that matter. For anyone who is interested in truth the moral of this story is clear: The history of Anglo-American meddling in the Middle East is a record of one disaster after another, hence there is no reason to believe that this murderous misadventure will produce a different outcome. The fact that guys as smart as Hitchens and those eggheads in the Project for a New American Century cannot see this is eloquent testimony to the blinding effects of ideology, which explains why smart people can do such crazy things.
One wonders how many of these deadheads read The Best and the Brightest, that seminal post mortem on the Vietnam era that explained how another group of highly educated muddle-heads led us into a diplomatic and military debacle that resulted in the slaughter of millions. If they did read this text, they obviously learned nothing from the experience; like the Russian ideologues who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union, when reality contradicted their ideology they ignored reality.
To their credit, not every conservative is as whack as Hitch and the PNAC cabal. However, I consider it an indication of the low level to which the neo-con discourse on politics has sunk that Pat Buchanan and Bill Buckley now sound like wise men. To his enduring credit Buchanan opposed this war early on, and Bill Buckley – a forefather of the neo-cons – – has lately added his eloquent voice to the swelling chorus opposing the war.
Even one of the brightest members of the neo-con posse, Dr. Francis Fukuyama, who had gone so far as to sign the 1998 PNAC letter urging President Clinton to move against Saddam, and even signed another letter generated by the cabal right after the 9/11 attack which said in part “any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power,” has now written a scathing critique of the war and the ideologues who led us into it. Although it must be said that in spite of his support for the PNAC’s views regarding the need to depose Saddam, neo-con Fukuyama opposed the unilateral American invasion of Iraq from the outset just like the old line conservative Buchanan.
In his latest book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, Fukuyama pulls no punches in dissecting the blunders of his former comrades who beguiled George II into ordering the attack on Iraq that has the nation caught in a quagmire with no idea how to get out. The origins of Dr. Fukuyama’s book denouncing the follies of the neo-cons can be clearly seen in The Castle Lectures, a series of three lectures he presented at Yale in 2005. In his opening comments he declared his independence from his former ideological comrades and left no doubt about the cause of the divorce:
“I have always regarded myself as a neoconservative and have always been proud of wearing that label. I had always thought that I shared a common worldview with many other neoconservatives, including many of my friends and acquaintances who served in the administration of George W. Bush. And yet, unlike most of my fellow neoconservatives, I was never persuaded of the necessity of waging the Iraq War, and I found myself increasingly dismayed as I watched the way that American foreign policy was actually being implemented by the Bush administration.”
This was pretty shocking stuff coming from Fukuyama because he had been tutored by some of the major intellectuals who formulated the neo-con ideology: Wolfowitz, Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard, and the University of Chicago’s Allan Bloom. He had met Wolfowitz early on as a student in a special honors program at Cornell, and Wolfie was teaching political science at Yale.
Fukuyama would go on to become an intern of Wolfie’s at the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and he would later work under Wolfowitz in the Reagan era State Department. When Wolfie became dean of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies he hired Fukuyama away from George Mason University, the home of economist Walter Williams – a right wing nut if ever there was one! So Fukuyama’s neo-con credentials are beyond reproach.
Thus when we read his repudiation of their policies it is a devastating rebuke because it challenges some of the basic assumptions that under gird the neo-con worldview, which was inspired in part by an earlier book written by Professor Fukuyama, The End of History. Occasioned by the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, the book envisioned a post-soviet world in which American power and American values would inevitably refashion the world in the image of the US with free markets and liberal democratic governments the shape of the future. The PNAC cabal sought to hasten this vision through a continuing arms build up, promiscuous military interventions, and undermining international institutions that hampered their vision of a Pax-Americana.
America at the Crossroads repudiates this vision of America’s role in the world. To begin with, Dr. Fukuyama points out, the first theoretical error made by the neo-con ideologues was buying into the propaganda that Ronald Reagan’s vast expansion of the arms race was the principal reason for the disintegration of the Soviet Union, when the fact is that internal “political and economic factors were at lest as important.”
While this comes as no news to scholars who specialize in Soviet affairs, it is an important admission from a star in the neo-con camp. What is of greater importance is Fukuyama’s observation that based upon this misinterpretation of the cause of the Soviet collapse, and the surprisingly quick and peaceful transformation of Poland to democratic government and free market capitalism, the neo-cons concluded that this process could be replicated in other parts of the world and “accelerated through American agency.”
Some of Fukuyama’s analysis echo’s what we learned from Professor Paul Pillar regarding how the PNAC cabal shaped the policy that led to the tragic blunder that is the war in Iraq. “After their return to power in 2001,” he recalls, “proponents of the war in the Pentagon and vice-president’s office became excessively distrustful of anyone who did not share their views, a distrust that extended to Secretary of State Colin Powell and much of the intelligence community. Bureaucratic tribalism exists in all administrations, but it rose to poisonous levels in Bush’s first term. Team loyalty trumped open-minded discussion, and was directly responsible for the administration’s failure to plan adequately after the end of active combat.” Fukuyama’s analysis of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s incompetent ideologically driven military strategy also echoes what we learn from the comprehensive critique of that strategy in Cobra II.
Fukuyama argues that “Rumsfeld, who wanted to go into Iraq with light forces and get out quickly, has as a result of this strategy bogged the U.S. military down in a long-term guerilla war.” I remember well when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Shenseki, warned Rumsfeld that the invasion force was too small to achieve the objectives he had set for them.
But streamlining American military forces so that they would be better suited for the quick strike missions in recalcitrant third world countries – like Grenada, Panama and Iraq – was a cardinal objective of their master plan as spelled out in the PNAC document Redesigning America’s Defenses. Hence like all true ideologues, Rummy brushed the General aside and pursued a course of action based on his ideology. And of course hubris, which is an essential element in the attitude of all true believers, was in abundant supply here.
Beyond these blunders Fukuyama points out, the neo-con’s violated one of the oldest principles of their own philosophy, the conviction that “ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and often undermines its own ends.” Thus he is appalled that a movement that had as one of its prime domestic policy objectives the dismantling of the New Deal and Great Society social programs should undertake to remake a country thousands of miles from America’s shores!
Which is precisely what Hitches is advocating. However Fukuyama is having none of it. For one thing, as bitter experience is demonstrating, it takes more than a notion to dismantle and reconstruct a foreign nation in America’s image – especially if that country has no tradition of democratic politics or free market economics.
The Iraqi experience has taught the neo-cons a lesson that should have been obvious all along. As Prof. Fukuyama puts it, certain institutional arrangements “must be in place before a society can move from an amorphous longing for freedom to a well-functioning, consolidated democratic political system with a modern economy…” As Iraq falls further into chaos Fukuyama sings a swan song for the neo-cons; “one of the consequences of a perceived failure in Iraq will be the discrediting of the entire neoconservative agenda…” I say if a perceived failure can do all that just imagine what a real failure of the sort we are witnessing now can do.
I think it safe to say the neo-cons are history – although it make take a few years before the die out completely – they had their chance and blew it big time. And I say good riddance! To my delight I’m not the only one who views it that way. Once the golden boy of the neo-con movement, like Pontius Pilate, Fukuyama has publicly washed his hands of the sins of these clowns and repudiated their reckless schemes as a danger to American interests in the world. “Neoconservatism,” he declares, “as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.” Like the poet said, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again. “Let the church say amen!
Compared to these deep thinkers Hitchens comes across as a facile charlatan, a glib sophist whose contribution to the debate over the war in Iraq generates more heat than light, more confusion than clarity. The obvious question raised by all of this is why has Hitchens chosen to passionately embrace this discredited policy when so many of its ideological architects are abandoning it like panicked rats fleeing from a sinking ship?
In spite of all his maudlin rhetoric about the historic debt Americans owe the Kurds, or his crocodile tears for Kuwait – one of the richest and most profligate people on earth, who hire foreigners to do their work and whose youths were filmed partying in the discos of Europe while poor American youths fought to save their hides from the wrath of Saddam – I believe Hitchens is motivated by something altogether different; something that has nothing at all to do with any of this.
Although I had never felt compelled to interrogate his views, from what I saw of him on TV I had long concluded that he was a phony, a poseur. It was not so much what he said, because I often agreed with him and even found him witty and amusing, especially when he was dogging the British Royal Family whom I once heard him refer to as “Euro-trash.”
I actually thought him unique, because in my experience with Englishmen –which included spending time in London’s fabulous Dorchester Hotel in 1981 trying to broker a world title boxing match, and later writing many pieces on politics and culture for the Guardian and the Sunday Times of London – none had ever spoken of the Queen in such an irreverent fashion no matter what their class background.
Hence my suspicions about Hitchens were not intellectual, rather they were aroused by certain personal traits; idiosyncrasies that seemed to be contrived for dramatic effect, as if he was always on stage, a thespian alas posing as a man of serious concerns. The tell tale clue was the way his collar was always open and his ever present tie seemed askew in exactly the same position, as if costumed to affect a sort of disheveled intellectual look, like he was so deep in contemplation of weighty issues he couldn’t be bothered with such picayune matters as straightening his tie. It just looked Fugazy – which is a hip New York colloquialism for “fake” that seems to fit him perfectly. I got the same feeling when I saw his picture on the cover of Letters to a Young Contrarian; there he is striking a dramatic pose in what appears to be a London Fog trench coat with the collar turned up like a 1950’s Film Noir private dick. And as if to underscore his retro-look he is holding aloft a cigarette; a cancer stick! I didn’t quite know what to make of the imagery, but as near as I could tell it suggested that this guy has a serious case of “the cutes” and a death wish to boot.
I had picked up the book shortly before our debate because I thought if any one text could give me a clue what he was about it would be his sagely advice to the next generation of engaged intellectuals. Before that I had never felt the need to read a book by Hitchens, oppressed as I was by scholarly texts that had prior claim on my attention. At the Time I was reading Tango: The Art History of Love, by Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, Professor of Art History and Dean of African Studies at Yale.
And I was deeply embroiled in “Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, a brilliant reassessment of the causes of Japan’s attack on British colonial rule in the Pacific, by Dr. Gerald Horn, who is now a Professor of History at the University of Houston but has held professorships in history and law, sometimes simultaneously. Both of these books are highly original works written by broadly learned innovative scholars who are revising the Eurocentric mythology that too often passes as history. And I was preparing to feature them as guest on my weekly radio show Round bout Midnight, where we routinely engage the great issues of the day in the wee hours of the morning.
With my attention thus engaged, it took more than a notion to tear myself away from studying those weighty, carefully researched texts and turn my attention to Hitchens’ self-absorbed polemic. Part confessional and part rococo intellectual exhibitionism, the book proved to be quite revealing. For it exposed Hitchens as a garden variety white paternalist at best, and a racial chauvinist at worse, in spite of his rather adolescent refusals to identify himself as “white” on official documents.
Quite frankly I am skeptical of the color blind arguments of the neo-cons. Rather my sympathies lie with Colin Powell when he was told by a white reporter that given his grand achievements, he no longer thought of him, nor wrote about him, as a black person. To wit Powell replied “Don’t stop now! If I had mugged or murdered somebody you would certainly mention my race then. So don’t stop now.”
Thus I informed Hitchens in my opening statement that I viewed the Iraq war from a different perspective than him, and to explain the nature of my unique vision I quoted from Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’s 1903 masterpiece The Souls of Black Folk: “The Negro is the seventh son of a seventh son, born with a veil and gifted with a second sight in this American world…”
The point here, as I informed the audience, is that I am not simply a white man with a tan; I represent centuries of experience that was radically different than their experience with the world. And as a student of that history I therefore had a different world view; one that may be uncomfortable for them to hear because it called into question the moral conceits of post-enlightenment i.e. modern western civilization, as well as the doctrine of American Exceptionalism.
Yet it is the perspective gained from that experience that enabled me to see right off that this book, like just about everything else written by white writers, was about white folks even though black people have produced some of the most impressive contrarians of the last 150 years! How could it have been otherwise? We were constantly fighting for our lives in a rigid caste society, a pigmentocracy based on race and color, the definition of which was completely arbitrary. That’s how the white rulers could classify Jack Johnson – a classic West African phenotype – and Walter White, a blond haired blue eyed white man, as members of the “Negro Race” who were brought to these shores from West and central Africa.
And to be classified as “a Negro,” even if you were visibly white, meant you would be treated by your white countrymen – some of whom had just departed the boat from Europe where they had traveled steerage – as if your very existence was a crime. And yet they marvel at the fact that some of these “light, bright, damn near white “Negroes” choose to secretly reclassify themselves and “pass” for white! It is no wonder the great Afro-American novelist Chester Himes, who came of age in the 1930’s and permanently exiled himself to Paris and Spain by the 1950s, titled the first volume of his Autobiography The Quality of Hurt, and the second volume My Life of Absurdity.
In Africa and the West Indies there were variations on this theme of racial caste oppression; in some cases – as in South Africa – the systems rivaled that of the US in its arbitrary cruelty. And everywhere these white villains were spouting the rhetoric of freedom and democracy. Since Mr. Hitchens likes to pop game about dialectics, I wonder how come he doesn’t recognize that all of this white oppression would inevitably produce its opposite: black resistance!
How is it possible for a man who presents himself as fair progressive, and a dialectician no less, does not recognize the larger than life heroes – male and female – that abound in the history of black peoples in the modern world. One of the things I find most fascinating about the British gadfly is that he seems to learn nothing from the great men he studies.
He wrote a book on George Orwell but fails to see the debasement of language into oxymoronic sloganeering, and the total surveillance state that Orwell warned us was on the horizon in 1984, manifested in the war rhetoric and illegal spying of the Bush Administration. He taught the writings of Frederick Douglass, yet seems to have learned little about the ordeal of being black in American society – or perhaps he thinks Douglass’ insights are irrelevant in today’s America.
That’s why I closed my opening statement in our debate by reading a stirring passage from Douglass famous Fourth of July speech, delivered before a white audience in Rochester New York in 1841. Our audience in the Great Hall was amazed at the contemporary significance of this deeply insightful and stunningly eloquent speech that was delivered over a century and a half ago.
It is a powerful and timeless statement on the essential nature of American society, a society whose egalitarian ideals are ever in conflict with its will to dominate, enslave, or slaughter weaker peoples in order to impose its will, whether it be the enslavement of African Americans for two and a half centuries, or the systematic slaughter of native Americans and confiscation of their lands, or the invasion Iraq and the killing those who resist in order to control their oil fields. While I don’t know what was on Hitchens mind as I recited Douglass’ magnificent oration, the black folk in the audience heard its contemporary relevance for sure. And there were some radical free thinking whites in the audience who heard it too.
Yet in his discussion of great contrarians Hitchens makes no reference to Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois, A. Phillip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Gloria Richardson, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Martin Luther King, Harold Cruse, et al. Not even a word from Byard Rustin – activist, athlete and musician – that extraordinarily eloquent and brilliant contrarian who, like the great novelist and peerless essayist James Baldwin, opposed war, sexual conventions and racism in the most powerful nation in the world. Somewhere I read that Hitchens said he was inspired by Rosa Parks. If so it raises my suspicions. How did a man as intensely intellectual as Hitchens come to choose one of the least intellectual figures in the movement as his personal inspiration?
That she was a great lady who made a priceless contribution to the struggle against American apartheid is beyond question, Yet I cannot help but view Hitchens’ selection of Mrs. Parks as a role model with skepticism. I believe the choice reflects a sense of Noblesse Oblige that has long been characteristic of the paternalistic instincts of that class of British colonial administrators, missionaries, and soldiers garrisoned on foreign soil who defended the Queen’s interests and enforced her decrees and “superior” British values upon the lowly natives of the empire, some of whom had constructed high civilizations – like Egypt, India and China – back when the Romans considered the Britons to stupid to make good slaves.
This is the class incidentally, into which Sir Christopher was born and bred. “My grandfather had served in India in the first World War,” he recalls, “my father had been posted in British overseas ‘possessions’ as far distant as the costal enclaves of China, the Cape of good hope, and the Falkland Islands.” To such people it is acceptable to praise simple virtues in the natives, but they must never be taken seriously as thinkers and theorizers capable of challenging the intellectual superiority of the master race, nor question the master narrative of their civilization.
Although Hitchens denies that he was socialized on racist ideas, he cannot deny the assumption of superiority on the part of the colonizers. He tells us: “I won’t say that I was brought up to think or hear anything ugly – my parents were too intelligent to be encumbered by prejudice – but the prevailing attitude to foreigners was of the ‘watch your wallet don’t drink the water’ style’…”
Interestingly enough, it is with people of similar views in America with whom he has comfortably surrounded himself. “When I set off on a long tour of Africa for my magazine, not one person in Washington failed to wish me luck in ‘darkest Africa’ ‘the heart of darkness” “the dark continent.’” Since we know that there are legions of people in Washington who are not nearly so ignorant about African affairs, this speaks eloquently about the character of the company Hitchens keeps!
Although the Eurocentric orientation and concerns of Letters to a Young Contrarian became obvious when I saw references to Albert Camus on Algeria and not Franz Fanon, Emile Zola on state oppression but not Richard Wright, or even any discussion of his fellow Trotskyite C.L.R. James, one of the great independent radical thinkers of the twentieth century whose wisdom and praxis Hitchens claims to admire. But it was his off handed attack on Mualana Karenga, which is both ignorant and racist, that demonstrates his contempt for Afro-American culture and concerns. It is not that Hitchens doesn’t agree with Karenga’s philosophy or world view that concerns me; he is certainly entitled to his opinion. I myself do not agree with all of Dr. Karenga’s views.
However Hitchens disagreement with, or even abhorrence of Dr. Karenga’s views, does not give him carte blanche to slander his character and misrepresent his work. To tell lies about him for instance. Which is exactly what Hitchens does, and the way he goes about it once again raises the question of his carelessness with facts whenever he wishes to score an ideological point, a tendency which had first become apparent to me in his polemics about the Iraq war.
In order to make a larger point about the dangers of “tribalism” and “identity politics” – an argument which, although clumsily handled on this occasion, is not without merit – he declares “An absurd but sinister figure named Ron ‘Maulana’ Karenga – the man who gave us Ebonics and Kwanzaa and much folkloric nationalist piffle – once ran a political cult called ‘US.’ Its slogan – oddly catchy as well as illiterate – was ‘Whatever US is, We are.’ It turned out to be covertly financed by the FBI.”
Here, in one of the scant references to black intellectuals or activists, he takes one of the great contrarians of the twentieth century and attempts to reduce him to an illiterate buffoon and FBI snitch. In so doing however Hitchens reveals far more about himself than he teaches us about Dr. Karenga. For nothing Hitchens says in this vulgar attempt at character assassination happens to be true.
First of all as the holder of two Doctorates, Karenga is, to say the least, a learned man. His second Doctorate is in the ethical system of ancient Egyptians, which required knowledge of hieroglyphics, for which he wrote a dissertation of 852 pages – which is published by the way. Far from illiterate, he has knowledge of several languages and is a full professor in the California University system.
Dr. Karenga is a founder of Black Studies and the author of the first text book in the field. This young and still evolving discipline has produced some of the most exciting scholarship in the field of humanities in America today. Furthermore he had nothing to do with Ebonics. Dr. Robert L. Williams, an Afro-American linguist is the person who gave us the term “Ebonics,” which he says he arrived at by trying to come up with a name for the informal English that is the lingua franca of the Afro-American masses.
By combining Ebony and phonics, Dr. Williams came up with Ebonics which means simply “black sounds.” And while people who know nothing about the subject like Bill Cosby and our friend The Sophist sneer, jeer, and spout nonsense on the subject, there is no real controversy among professional linguists about the fact that Afro-Americans speak a language that is certainly related to Standard English but has its own rules. And while this language is the primary language of the poorly educated, Afro-Americans of all classes can speak some version of it and often do when they are not around whites; including a man as highly literate as Stanley Crouch, whom Hitchens purports to admire.
As to the meaning of US, it is meant to simply symbolize “us” – meaning black people – as opposed to “them,” meaning white people. And considering the historical context, the world of racial oppression that white Americans made, this name was both clever and timely. And as for the Afro-American holiday of Kwanza, it is a great tribute to Dr. Karenga that he has given to Afro-Americans a holiday that is secular, constructive and joyous. And it is celebrated the length and breath of this country by Afro-Americans of all classes who find it quite inspirational. What possible fault could anybody find with this?
Nothing illustrates Hitchens know-it-all great white father paternalism more than his attitude toward Kwanza. Here is a man who calls for the secularization of society ad nauseum, and when Dr. Karenga gives us a secular holiday he can only see a source of ridicule, an attitude which clearly reveals his true character as a snide and pompous ass! Something a lot of his critics have long ago figured out. What Hitchens, and all arrogant white ignoramuses like him, fail to recognize is that both Ebonics and Kwanza are the products of black America’s history of isolation and oppression here in America. And truly enlightened white folks who really know black Americans understand this.
For instance somebody like Norman Segal, civil rights lawyer and the former head on the New York Civil Liberties Union. I spent the evening with him during a recent Kwanzaa ceremony at the beautiful Brooklyn brown stone of Brandon and Natalie Ward, both of whom are engineers, and we had a beautiful time. What’s your beef Hitch? However in all fairness, I must admit that part of Hitchens problem is that he is friends with Stanley Crouch, of whom he told my daughter before the debate he was a fan. Given Crouch’s unrelenting hostility to any expression of cultural nationalism on the part of black people – except patronizing jazz performances – Hitch might well have thought it was fine for him to refer to Kwanza as “nationalist piffle.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Hitch lifted the phrase from Crouch.
However this episode exposes a reality that I have yet to hear Hitchens acknowledge: the fact that as a white man of Jewish and protestant origins he enjoys the privileges that accrue to males from those empowered groups. Hence, as in his youth, he is still playing the role of pukka Sahib, in spite of his egalitarian rhetoric! Although I have many Jewish friends who, like Hitchens – think all Jewish religious holidays are bunk, I don’t feel it is my place to ridicule Jewish beliefs. Yet the truth is that even if a black commentator were inclined to make fun of Hanukkah or Purim they would not dare, because they know their career would be over due to the reality of Jewish power.
Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League would enthusiastically preside over their demise. In my experience this is universally believed to be the case by black intellectuals regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum. And the prolific Jewish theologian Mark Ellis, who has suffered his share of grief at their hands for daring to defend Palestinian rights, has candidly written about the ways in which the organized Jewish leadership “disciplines” black leaders who dare to criticize their agenda.
This fear is exemplified among black leaders and intellectuals in the comment of a distinguished Afro-American writer who warned me as I was preparing to deliver a lecture on blacks and Jews in America at Harvard in 1992: “If you take a position that the Jewish establishment thinks offends their interests, they will answer you with political action not intellectual argument. And they will reduce your criticisms, no matter how well thought out, to a charge of anti-Semitism!” Often they will offer up Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as exhibit A.
Fortunately, the Harvard crowd turned out to be more enlightened, but I decided not to publish the essay. However Walt and Mearsham, who are professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago respectively, went against conventional the wisdom and decided to publish long and learned essay critiquing the Israel Lobby in the US and how it shapes US foreign policy on the Middle East.
It wasn’t long before the predictable assault on their character and scholarship was launched by Foxman and co, who accused the two scholars of professional incompetence and the catch-all charge of anti-Semitism. In an April 22, letter to the editors of the New York Times Foxman first denied that American pundits, politicians and scholars were afraid to candidly critique American policy toward Israel, he declared, “What Americans should be afraid of is partisan political advocacy and thinly veiled anti-Semitism masquerading as scholarship.”
If there was ever a case of the pot maligning the kettle for being black, this is it! Here you have a guy with no scholarly credentials whatsoever, whose raison d’etre is “partisan political advocacy,” slandering the work of two of the nation’s most outstanding scholars because the results of their research does not support his political agenda. It is clear that Foxman is as much a Sophist as Hitchens, and he insults the intelligence of Times readers by arguing that one need not fear criticizing US policy toward Israel while simultaneously supplying compelling reasons to avoid the subject altogether. The pervasive fear of reprisals from pro-Zionist thought police like Foxman on the part of American editors is precisely why Walt and Mearsheimer had to go to England to find a publisher for their study in the first place. And if Foxman claims to be unaware of the reign of terror he has been conducting against Israel’s critics he is either a fool or a charlatan.
Hitchens understands this power paradigm well; that’s why he has joined Foxman in his attempt to brand Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer as anti-Semites because of their decision to investigate the structure, function, and consequences of the Israel Lobby. His comment that their argument was “smelly” is so over the top that the New York University professor and Director of the Remarque Institute, Tony Judt, called it “somewhat hysterical” in April 19, Op/Ed essay in the New York Times, which I found to be a thoughtful, well crafted, and balanced argument against the sort of which many supporters of the Israel lobby seems inclined.
However Foxman came charging out to besmirch the character of Professor Judt. In the same letter to the editor, which is dated on the 19th although it was published on the 22, Foxman wrote: “There is also cause for concern when academics like Tony Judt, a constant critic of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, suggests that condemnation of the biased pseudo-scholarship of John J. Merasheimer and Stephen Walt amounts to stifling legitimate policy debate.”
I would suggest to Mr. Foxman that that is precisely what he is attempting to do here. We have already learned by virtue of court cases against the Anti-Defamation league that they have conducted extensive illegal spying operations against a wide rage of groups – including Civil Rights organizations. And I shudder for the fate of my country if he is allowed to succeed in his scurrilous attempts at thought control.
Although such examples abound, it would be hard to find a better example of Hitchens’ sophistry than his response to Judt’s thoughtful commentary, which was also published in the April 22 letter to the New York Times. First Hitchens concedes that Walt and Mearshimer’s critique of Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied zones “was weaker than that policy deserves.” But as to the more explosive charge that Israel boosters in the US government were a major force in convincing the President to attack Iraq, and that this has “brought the wrath of Al Qaeda on the United States,” he concludes “That last assumption probably deserves a much stronger condemnation than the word smelly.”
However if we look at the people Walt and Mearshimer identify as passionate advocates for the Israel lobby among George II’s closest advisors on Middle Eastern affairs, a quite different picture from that painted by Hitchens emerges. These are people, they tell us, “whose ranks have included such fervent advocates of the Israeli cause as Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis (‘Scooter’) Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and David Wurmser. As we shall see, these officials have consistently pushed for policies favored by Israel and backed by organizations in the Lobby.” This, of course, is a list of the PNAC cabal who was running the show, a fact that Hitchens continues to deny to the detriment of his intellectual reputation.
However what has both Hitchens and Foxman so exercised is the way Professor Judt analyzes the role of these men in formulating the skewered US policy toward Israel. Perhaps their response is so hysterical because of the unimpeachable authority of his sources, which are Israelis themselves. “How are we to explain the fact that it is in Israel itself that the uncomfortable issues raised by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have been thoroughly aired?
It was an Israeli columnist in the liberal daily Haaretz who described the American foreign policy advisors Richard Perle and Douglas Feith as ‘walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments…and Israeli Interests.’ It was Israel’s impeccably conservative Jerusalem Post that described Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, as ‘devoutly pro-Israel.’ Are we to accuse Israelis, too, of ‘anti-Zionism?’”
This is a splendid and timely question which both Hitchens and Foxman refused to answer, instead they resorted to name calling and intimidation through slander and character assassination. That’s why Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have declined live interviews in the media. However I know some folks who would love to debate Hitchens and Foxman on the veracity of their scholarship, so I am making an attempt to see if they really want an open debate by inviting them to engage in a live debate over WBAI, where the phones will be opened so that the public can register their views also.
I must admit that I will be surprised – and delighted – if they accept my invitation, because I don’t think they dare engage the intellectuals whom I would assemble although half of them are Jews. In fact, I believe that Mearshimer and Walt are right when they say that Israel right or wrong fanatics don’t want to engage in a serious debate, a knock down drag out fight where no deference is given to their claims.
As to Hitchens’ supercilious blather about the validity of Mearsheimer and Walt’s meticulous study, I say people who live in glass houses should be the last to throw stones. His scurrilous charge that Dr. Karenga was an FBI operative violates the most basic principles of scholarly discourse; where is the evidence for his claim?
The principle study of the FBI’s relationship with black activist during the period in question is Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960 -1972, by Dr. Kenneth O’Reilly. In this serious scholarly study Dr. O’Reilly utilizes the Freedom of Information laws to gain access to the secret files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation detailing the counter-intelligence activities conducted against the black liberation struggle by the US government; a government that had sanctioned and promoted racist and oppressive policies against black Americans for four centuries.
Among the files investigated by Dr. O’Reilly were the files on Dr. Karenga. Far from discovering that Karenga was a collaborator with the FBI, he discovered that along with other militant black leaders he was a victim of the bureau, who purposely tried to give the impression that they were cooperating with them in order to discredit them with there colleagues, even if it meant that they might kill each other! Since any of Hitchens charges against Dr. Karenga, and the misrepresentations of his work, could have been dispelled with some research one is left to wonder if he is even interested the high standards of objectivity and evidence to which American historians are committed.
Alas this is true to the Sophist’s approach to argument, which held that it was the art of persuasion, rather that the careful elucidation of fact in a logical discourse, that was most important. In other words winning the untutored mob with lies was valued over telling the truth. Thus his analysis of the development of the Iraqi war is not only a burlesque on history, but it’s not cricket! No British gentleman of letters would stoop to such tactics, but this man is no gentleman.
However it is instructive to compare Hutchins’s pro-war boosterism with Dr. Karenga’s position on the war, the full text of which can be read on his website: The US Organization. Posted onFebruary 28, 2003, just days before the US invasion of Iraq, a time when Hitchens was screaming for blood and presenting bogus reasons for going to war, Dr. Karenga took the moral and intellectual high ground:
“There is no just cause for a war against Iraq. A just cause or just war cannot be aggressive or preemptive. It must always be defensive and it can be defensive in three possible ways, i.e., as: (a) an act of self-defense against immediate attack or imminent grave danger in the process of unfolding; (b) a liberation struggle against foreign occupation or severe internal oppression and (c) a humanitarian intervention to prevent or halt genocide, ethnic cleansing or any other massive killing of a whole population.
The U.S. attempt to use the first justification is false on its face. There is no evidence of attack, involvement in an attack or an imminent attack on the U.S. by Iraq. Nor is there any evidence of Iraq’s having the ability to seriously attack or harm the U.S. or its allies, given the devastation it has suffered in the U.S.-led invasion of 1991 and the sustained brutal bombing by the U.S. and Britain ever since then.
Moreover, there is no provision in the U.N. Charter for wars of preemptive aggression, or for overthrowing governments, assassinating leaders of other countries or conquering and colonizing other countries for national, corporate or family interests. Indeed such aggression is called “a crime against peace” and international law.”
Thus Dr. Karenga saw the bogus rush to war for just what it was and rejected it on ethical grounds while Hitchens, political opportunist and armchair warrior, applauded the invasion of Iraq and now feels free to slander anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan – presenting us with the obscene spectacle of a slacker insulting a “Gold Star mother.” Furthermore I believe his comments on Dr. Karenga amount to legally actionable slander. And if I were Dr. Karenga I would sue his British bloomers off!
At the end of the day however, Hitchens’ present posture is perhaps best understood as the behavior of a man on the make who has finally realized that he has climbed has high as he can climb positioned on the left end of the political spectrum. The Iraq issue just provided him an opportunity to make his move. This is not unusual in the history of the left, and it is becoming an old story in the history of the neo-cons. But in looking for a historical model that might help me understand Hitchens’ ideological metamorphosis, I discovered some critical aspects to Hitchens conversion that reminds me of Benito Mussolini.
For instance there is the fact that, like Hitchens, Mussolini also started out as a crusading journalist of the left but ended up supporting a right wing party that was passionately supported by the church. Mussolini’s party also had an interventionist agenda which was justified by the argument that they were freeing the people in the victimized country from the oppression of an autocratic indigenous ruler.
Like Hitchens, Mussolini was not just a run of the mill critic of the church, he was part of a militant anti-clerical faction in Italian society who missed no opportunity to slander and denigrate the church, and besmirch the character and prerogatives of the Pope. The World War II veteran and Cambridge educated historian Anthony Rhodes, tells us in his fascinating and learned book The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, “Before attaining power Mussolini had been a noisy anti-clerical, the author of a novel, The Cardinal’s Daughter, in which he described priests as “black microbes as fatal to mankind as tuberculosis germs.”
In 1919 he wrote in his Fascist newspaper Popolo d’Italia, “Our party demands the separation of Church and state; the abolition of all privileges for the Catholic religion and the confiscation of church property. The state must regard the church as a purely private society subordinate to common law. Religious education must be confined to the nave of the church.” Does this not sound like the ranting of a man who might be inclined to write a book titled “God is Not Great?”
However a strange thing happened when Benito became disillusioned with the left, switched sides, and began his ascent to power on the right. He embraced the church to legitimize his politics! Just as our friend the Sophist has embraced the party of God to find allies for his. Indeed professor Rhodes tells us of Mussolini “In his first speech as Prime Minister, he even evoked the help of religion, claiming he had been summoned to govern ‘by divine decree,’ finishing with the words ‘May God help me to bring my heavy and difficult task to a successful conclusion.’…he now realized the advantages of an alliance with an organization as ancient and honored as the Catholic Church.” Virtually the same thing can be said for Hitchens, intrepid self promoter that he is, who has come to realize that siding with George II and the Republican war mongers will bring the kind of attention that he would never command had he remained on the l
Thus we see the true measure of this man, who misses no opportunity to denounce religion yet has aligned himself with a party whose ascent to power rests on a base of Christian Fundamentalists who are as committed to the belief that they are carrying out God’s divine as any Muslim fanatic anywhere and are even more dangerous because their man has his finger on the nuclear trigger. As Frontline showed in a report on the relationship between George II’s rise to the Oval Office from a short and undistinguished stint as Governor of Texas, the largely right wing Evangelical Christian movement were as critical to his success as they were in his father’s failure to win a second term.
Having grown up in the upper class WASP environs of Greenwich Connecticut, George I was far too stiff and preppy to shed his restrained Episcopalian approach to religion, and thus lost the fire and brimstone Evangelicals, many of whom sat out the election that put Bill Clinton – a southern WASP who is quite at home among the progressive evangelicals – in the White House.
But not so with Jr. who had gotten to know and understand the mind set of the evangelicals during a difficult period in his personal life when Laura was about to take the kids and split due to his persistent drunkenness – which, judging by the public drunkenness of his daughters appears to be a family trait.
In search of personal salvation George II joined a bible study group with a posse of men around Crawford Texas, many of whom were facing personal crisis, and from this experience he came to know their hearts, minds and dreams for the future. In a very shrewd political calculus Carl Rove, that evil genius of American politics whom cynical though insightful analyst dubbed “Bush’s brain,” Republican strategists discovered how the son could win where the father had failed.
It was a perfect plan for the ideal candidate; for while the son had the fathers name and face he didn’t have his daddy’s brain. This meant that like Ronald Reagan, the GOP’s most successful president of the Twentieth Century in terms of getting in office twice and enacting the party’s agenda, Junior’s head was clearly empty and thus they could fill it with any sort of foolishness they chose.
Although Ronald Reagan was a product of Hollywood, a modern Babylon in the eyes of most Evangelicals, who married two actresses – one of whom, his beloved Nancy, is remembered as giving “the best head in Hollywood” in the Peter Lawford Story – and was not particularly demonstrative about his religion, he managed to win over the religious zealots by delivering the right lines effectively. In fact I once heard Ronald Reagan attribute the fall of Richard Nixon to the fact that “The guy just didn’t know how to deliver a line!”
George II, a mush mouth given to spouting malapropisms, also lacks the oratorical skills of “The Great communicator.” But he compensates for these deficits by his open profession of Christian faith, which has proved sufficient to win the legions of untutored Christian soldiers in search of a leader who has been born again in the spirit.
These Christian activists in league with members of the plutocracy who were looking for a leader on a mission to cut their taxes and scrap programs for the poor, joined by misguided workers who believed this same leader would also serve their interests, “getting the government off their backs” by cutting their taxes too. They also expected their deliverer to scrap affirmative action programs, thereby restoring the “whites only” job reserve system that has always been a part of the economic elite’s bargain with the white working class – their piece of the capitalist pie so to speak. This is the coalition of forces that created the Republican Party majority that is reshaping America.
The society of their dreams is one where organized labor is impotent at worse and extinct at best, the poor getting poorer and joining the military to become cannon fodder in endless imperialist wars, cooked up by militant egg heads like the PNAC cabal, prayers returned to the schools and other temporal arenas, and biblical teachings given the same stature or substituted for science.
This is the crowd that Christopher Hitchens, the self styled atheist and socialist intellectual, has now associated himself with! He has even gone so far as to oppose abortion, a fundamental issue that defines the right-wing evangelical movement and the women’s liberation movement as well. Although he may not believe in God one jot or tittle more than he did before, like Mussolini, he has made common cause with the evangelicals in order bolster his power as a pundit. Of course he is not powerful in the same sense as Mussolini, who had actual state power; but Hitchens’ ability to influence those in positions of real power has been enhanced by his alliance with the neo-cons.
And there is yet another dimension to Sir Christopher’s game, another charm in his bag of self-promotional tricks: his omnipresent Englishness! Hitchens understands with great clarity the depth and pervasiveness of Anglophillia in America, especially among the powerful super rich elite, and he intends to make the most of it.
That explains how he has lived here in the former colonies in the wilderness of North America for over two decades yet his British accent remains undiminished; in fact he seems to embellish it. Hitchins understands only too well the advantage this affords him among Americans who – albeit liberated from the political bonds of GeorgeIIIby armed Republicans in the eighteenth century – continue to genuflect before the cultural traditions of England, a country they routinely refer to as “Great Britain” or simply “the mother country.”
The clarity with which he understands this cultural advantage is clearly revealed in this passage from his witty and insightful 1989 book Blood, Class and Empire: the Enduring Anglo-American Relationship. “How is it that the image of an English princess graces the cover of every American celebrity and sensation magazine? Why should it be that, as the rest of the world absorbs mass produced television output, the educated class in America itself prefers the diversion offered by the English country house drama on it’s otherwise scantily financed Public Broadcasting System? Why is Winston Churchill the most quoted politician in American national life? Is it coincidence that in repeated test of American style and taste, the words “English” and “British” are synonymous with a certain sense of the sophisticated? Is it of interests that the terms ‘East Coast,’ ‘Establishment’ and ‘Anglophile’ have been, at certain crucial points, effectively interchangeable?”
Of interests indeed! An enduring irony of American democracy – the first society in the world to denounce the “divine right of kings,” outlaw the wearing of titles, deny the claims of the British empire and place sovereignty in the hands of the people – is that it should produce an upper class with a nostalgia for aristocratic pedigrees.
They have expressed this cultural neurosis in various ways, including manufacturing family Coats of Arms, riding to the hounds, affecting upper class English accents, and marrying indigent British Aristocrats in search of rich American commoners looking to raise their social standing. As Amanda Mackenzie Stuart tells us in her fascinating book, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, nine marriages of this ilk were performed in 1895 alone, right at the apex of the rise of an American plutocracy.
The most spectacular of these unions was the nuptial ceremony of Consuelo and the ninth Duke of Marlborough, which offered among other fabulous and pretentious things a 60 piece orchestra performing master works of European composers such as Wagner and Tchaikovsky. What Christopher peeped about the contemporary Anglo-American establishment is that while they no longer display their neurosis so ostentatiously, Anglophillia and nostalgia for the crown still lingers in the deep recesses of their shallow souls. Hence they are patsies for a silver tongued charlatan with gracious manners and a dazzling rap rendered in a well cultivated British accent.
Thus perhaps the reason for Hitchens’ switcheroo, which has seemed so puzzling to his former comrades on the left, is that once his Churchillian transformation was complete he simply decided that the grass was greener on the other side, where the real money and power is. Witness his odyssey from the relatively austere digs of The Nation to the plush environs of Vanity Fair. Of course, having no expertise in human psychology, I shall avoid resorting to the sort of psycho-babble that seems au courant among certain pundits, preachers and professors to knowledge of human motivation.
Let me also hasten to also confess that I have not enjoyed the confidences of secret informants with special knowledge of how Hitchens arrived at the momentous decision to abandon an intellectual stance he has held his entire adult life. Whatever conclusions I have reached as to why he made the moves he’s made have been arrived at without benefit of such special insights, but is based solely upon what I have been able to glean from reading the public record – plus our misbegotten debate in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Yet even without resort to “Hegelian alchemy,” that has been quite enough to convince me our friend the Sophist is engaged in “the sale of the knowledge of virtue,” and a “merchandise of the soul.” And we simply cannot trust the counsel of such a man on matters of war and peace.
Some Final Reflections
Here lately it has become fashionable among the punditocracy and chattering on-air heads to declare, without fear of contradiction, “The world is safer now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power!” That conclusion, emphatically stated, is practically guaranteed to silence opponents of the Iraq war. I disagree, because the evidence does not support their conclusion.
Naturally, this chant is led by vulgar apologists for the Bush Blunder, but they are not alone. Like the architects of Iraq policy in the administration, most of the major pundits have some interest in fostering this argument too, because they mindlessly supported the invasion of Iraq like cheer leaders at a sporting contest. In fact I wrote a commentary the day after operation “Shock and Awe,” that spectacular bombing of Baghdad by the U.S. Air Force.
Titled “March Madness,” it was a parody of the college basketball tournament that goes by that name, and was intended to point out that the reporters and commentators were behaving like basketball fans rooting for their team in a harmless game of sport, not raining a cloud of fire and steel down upon the people and property of Iraq, wreaking wide spread death and destruction. I remember wondering if any of those smiley faced wags took a moment to consider what it would be like if Arabs were raining bombs on their home towns, injuring and killing their kin folks, while listening to the aggressors attempt to justify their fate as “collateral damage.”
If the principle of universal humanism amounted to something more than a slogan to western intellectuals like Hitchens, who love to pay lip service to this noble ideal during fits of self-righteousness, they would recognize that the difference between their glee over the bombing of Baghdad and Zacarias Moussaoui’s response to the 9/11 attacks; which was by turns gleeful and sneering, is all a matter of who’s ox is being gored. Thus rather than a wide ethical chasm between two positions, what we are actually witnessing is a distinction without a difference.
No matter how much some Americans may despise George Bush – which I would wager borders on something akin to visceral hatred for millions of US citizens – or how dangerous they think his leadership is to the whole world, they would be outraged if Iraqis or anybody else were bombing an American city in order to get Bush out of office. They would continue to feel this way even if someone made the case that George II is far more dangerous to the well being of the world than Saddam and Osama put together! And given his policies on the environment, preemptive war, and America’s use of nuclear weapons it wouldn’t be a hard case to make.
Listening to these pro-war journalists talk it was not hard to discern that most of them either didn’t know, or didn’t care, that thousands of Iraqi children had already died because of the American boycott, which had been in effect for a decade. To his credit Hitchens readily admits this fact, although he uses it as a cudgel to batter those who oppose the war by arguing that it’s better to overthrow Saddam and end the boycott. This is a lot like going to a doctor seeking a cure for a pain in your toe and his solution is to amputate your leg!
As I write virtually all of the nation’s premiere pundits have either apologized to their readers for not having asked “the right questions,” or, unable to admit that they were bilked by a cock and bull story, are doggedly defending the thesis that Saddam and Osama were down together in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. And this evidence now includes the revelation by ABC News last April, around the time of our debate in fact, that Saddam can be heard on tape telling his cabinet he had warned the US about impending terrorist attacks.
This was five years before the 9/11 disaster. And he can also be heard to say: This story is coming, “but not from Iraq.” Hence not only were the pugnacious pundits wrong about Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” and Iraq’s role in terrorist acts against the US, but they played a critical role in whipping up war hysteria with their loose talk and purple prose.
For example, a month and a half before the Bushmen launched the invasion of Iraq, the influential Washington Post columnists Richard Cohen, Mary McGrory and Jim Hoagland seemed on the verge of hysteria. In his response to Colin Powell’s bogus testimony before the United Nations Richard Cohen wrote in aFebruary 6, 2003column: “The evidence he presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.” Aside from the fact that history has proven him wrong as two left shoes, notice the childish resort to nationalist chauvinism.
Mary McGrory, a highly respected commentator who is still going strong in her eighties, tried to resist the onslaught of pro-war propaganda emanating from the Bush Administration. She had even defended the anti-war demonstrators in January. But like Cohen she was as mesmerized by Colin Powell as Emmanuel Kant was by the church steeple, and could not resist the power of his testimony; a tale which seemed to her was undeniable.
She tells us in a column written the day after Powell testified before the UN: “His voice was strong and unwavering. He made his case without histrionics of any kind, with no verbal embellishments…. The cumulative effect was stunning. I was reminded of the day long ago when John Dean, a White House toady, unloaded on Richard Nixon and you could see the dismay written on Republican faces that knew impeachment was inevitable… I’m not ready for war yet. But Colin Powell has convinced me that it might be the only way to stop a fiend, and that if we do go, there is reason.”
Jim Hoagland, whose magisterial posture and learned airs cast an aura of authority about him, writes a column that is widely syndicated, but his analysis was no better. “Colin Powell did more than present the world with a convincing and detailed X-ray of Iraq’s secret weapons and terrorism programs yesterday. He also exposed the enduring bad faith of several key members of the UN Security Council when it comes to Iraq and its ‘web of lies,’ in Powell’s phrase.”
Having invoked the authority of the honorable Othello, a noble black warrior who has “done the state some service and they know it,” Hoagland issues this warning to the remaining doubters and dissenters: “To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don’t believe that. Today, neither should you.”
But now we know that Powell – whom I would dub “Colin the Impotent” because of his obsequiousness in the face of the PNAC cabal – did lie, and that he was at best suspicious of the “evidence” he was presenting, and at worse engaged in a willful deception. However the final verdict on this must be left to future historians, who will investigate the question un-encumbered by the political passions of the moment.
Still, I was amazed as I read this gale of commentary egging the nation on to war at the time, and I remain fascinated by the great confidence the nation’s leading pundits, a normally suspicious if not cynical crowd, had in the intelligence and integrity of Colin Powell – a colored officer and gentleman of humble Caribbean origins who hob nobs easily with right-wing plutocrats. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.
Alas the failure of the Post’s pundits – and writers at other major media organizations who followed their shoddy lead – to interrogate the claims of the Bushmen with a jaundiced eye contributed mightily to the present disaster in Iraq. As the hometown paper in the Capitol of the world, the 21st century equivalent of Rome at the high point of empire, The Washington Post carries enormous weight among leaders of opinion. Thus Hitchens was in distinguished company when he wrote a few days later on February 13, 2003, “Those who are calling for more time in this process should be aware that they are calling for more time for Saddam’s people to complete their humiliation and subversion of the inspectors.”
This proclamation by our friend The Sophist echoes a statement made four months earlier on November 15, by PNAC stalwart Richard Perle, at an “all party” conference attended by Members of Parliament in Britain: “All Blix can know is the results of his own investigations. And that does not prove Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction.”
Considering the fact that Perle was speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the Defense Advisory Board, which counseled the Pentagon on national security matters, it is safe to assume that the cabal was committed to invading Iraq no matter what the UN weapons inspectors reported. This was obvious to me at the time, but has since been confirmed by the Downing Street Memos and other sources.
Whether honestly convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction or simply parroting the PNAC line, Hitchens’ voice was prominent among opinion makers calling for war. And he was joined in that effort by the most widely projected voices in the print and broadcast media from Chris Matthews and Brit Hume to Rush Limbaugh and Tom Friedman.
For example Friedman, a three time Pulitzer Prize winning writer on foreign affairs, told the world in a February 5, 2003 column in the New York Times, “Talking with Bush administration officials of late I am struck by an incredible contrast. It is the contrast between the breathtaking audacity of what they intend to do in Iraq—an audacity that, I must say, has an appeal for me—and the incredibly narrow base of support that exists in America today for this audacious project.”
Here Freidman admits that although he favored the impending invasion, most Americans were against it. He goes on to tell us: “I’ve had a chance to travel all across the country since September, and I can say without hesitation there was not a single audience I spoke to where I felt there was a majority in favor of war in Iraq.” However to my mind Freidman’s position is the moral equivalent of supporting tyranny. I saw the situation differently then and I see it differently now.
On March 3, twenty days after Hitchens wrote his hysterical screed, I published a commentary of a couple of thousand words titled “The Iraq Attack,” Bush’s March of Folly,” on Tom Joyner’s online magazine Blackamericaweb.com. The sub-title of my critique was taken from the unique study by historian Barbara Tuchman, in which she defines folly in terms of the policies great nations pursue which are clearly not in their best interest and results in disaster for the aggressor. Since Ms. Tuchman’s intention was to study a class of phenomena she selected examples that ranged far apart in time and space in order to demonstrate a pattern of behavior common to all.
It seemed to me that the Bush policy toward Iraq – that invasion was the only option – was premised on lies and hyperbole and clearly had all the characteristics of folly as Ms. Tuchman defined it! Hence I wrote: “As I watched the President threaten war I was reminded of the vital lessons in The March of Folly, a great book written by two time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman.
In this text Ms. Tuchman convincingly argues that ruling princes and powers throughout history have courted disaster by pursuing a course of action that all the available facts suggests is against their best interests. Her examples of this ultimately self-destructive behavior range from the renaissance popes to America’s invasion of Vietnam.” As it was beginning to look like we were heading down the same road that took us into Vietnam, it was quite clear to me that many Americans had failed to learn the lessons of history and were about to repeat it’s mistakes.
Thus I argued “The self-righteousness, even hubris, with which Bush announced America’s intention to attack Iraq with a motley collection of countries – which he calls ‘a coalition of the willing’ but is really a coalition of the bribed and bullied – gives the impression of great certainty of both his cause and it’s outcome. But this President’s projection of certitude in a situation where the arguments for war don’t add up brings to mind the recent confessions of Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense who presided over the United States’ expansion of the war in Vietnam.
McNamara now admits that the policy makers in the Johnson Administration knew that their rationale for inflicting massive carnage on the Vietnamese people, while wrecking the lives of thousands of young Americans, was a lie. What connects the arguments of these men is that the reasons Bush now gives for an American invasion of Iraq make no more sense than Johnson’s reasons for expanding the war in Vietnam.”
Having stated my doubts about the veracity of the Bushmen’s argument – which was authored by the PNAC cabal – I explained the basis for my dissent from the official version of events. “The core of the Bush administration’s case against Iraq is that they are manufacturing weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical and nuclear – and they are planning to give these weapons to the terrorist in Al Qaeda for an attack on the USA.
So committed is the Bush administration to promoting this view of Iraq it has shown a willingness to engage in a disinformation campaign, including falsifying evidence, to manufacture popular support for an invasion of Iraq. Sometimes this disinformation campaign is down right embarrassing, such as Colin Powell’s recent presentation before the United Nations where he attempted to pass off…documents the US claims proved that Iraq had purchased components for building nuclear weapons, but the UN inspectors said were forged. Added to this is the skepticism expressed by ex-CIAofficers who question the reliability of the evidence offered by the US government in defense of its apparent decision to take military action.”
On the other hand in a November 17, 2003speech at the University of Delaware, nine months after I published my suspicions about the Bushmen’s claims, our friend The Sophist continued to parrot the PNAC line. Furthermore, if we compare his hysterical claim about Saddam’s possession of WMD published in the September 25, 2002edition of the Mirror, a London paper, with his argument at UD, we get a clear example of the duplicity and obscurantism that has characterized the arguments of the cabal.
On that occasion he wrote: “It must be obvious to anyone who can think at all that the charge against the Hussein regime are, as concerns arsenals of genocidal weaponry, true….Saddam has been willing to risk his whole system and his own life rather than relinquish this goal.”
However fourteen months later when no WMD was found in Iraq Hitchens, true to his scurrilous character, attempts to mislead the UD students, my daughter Makeda among them, just as he had previously mislead the nation. With no hint of shame or contrition, he charges ahead like the man who stumbled over the naked truth and ran on as if nothing had happened.
He offered this extraordinary bit of special pleading: “There is the inference that because they have not been found by any of our specialists, they were not there…That cannot be the case, because we know they were there, and the inference that they were destroyed by a panicked Iraqi regime makes the reputation of Saddam’s regime even more toxic than it already is, because other U.N. resolutions specifically forbade Iraq to destroy those weapons.”
Added to this spurious polemic is the assertion that “No president could responsibly face the U.S. public, nor could any unimpeachable president after 9/11 face the public and say, ‘We did have some evidence involving Saddam Hussein, but we did not think it was worth fighting over…” This line of argument clearly demonstrates the extent to which Hitchens had become an unprincipled PNAC parrot, regurgitating any putrid nonsense they came up with.
The former CIA officers I referred to above was the group who had gathered around Ray McGovern, a man who had more than three decades experience in the Middle East and had briefed Ronald Reagan and George I on the region. Their opposition to the war was published in a March 15, Associated Press story by John Lumpkin and they pulled no punches, candidly stating that the Bush Administration’s arguments for attacking Iraq “lacked credibility.”
In fact, they said the administration’s evidence had been “cooked to a recipe.” Which is policy-wonk speak for arranging the facts to support a foregone conclusion! In view of these dissenting voices from the UN inspectors and the formerCIA experts I argued: “These facts should create enough skepticism to cause all Americans to question the pro-war propaganda emanating from the Bush administration. Especially since their contention that there is an alliance between Saddam and Bin Laden does not accord with the facts.”
I then went on to offer other compelling reasons why the Bushmen’s rationale for war didn’t add up, reasons that were deeply embedded in the historical evolution of the region. “Since the emergence of modern Arab Islamic states in the mid-twentieth century there has been a struggle between Theocrats, fundamentalists who wanted to establish an Islamic theocracy and secularists who are committed to a separation of church and state similar to the governments in the west. The most persistent opponent of the fundamentalist theocrats – from whom the Islamic Jihadists terrorists are recruited – is the professional military caste in the Arab world. These modern secular strong men, Saddam Hussein among them, have consistently opposed attempts at takeovers by the Islamic Jihadists.”
I extended my analysis to show that this struggle had been going on for half a century and crossed all ideological lines: “This conflict became evident in the mid-1950s when Abdel Gamal Nasser, leader of the independence movement and first President of modern Egypt, was forced to crush the Muslim Brotherhood/The political history of Egypt since Nasser is one of perpetual conflict between fundamentalist theocrats and the secular military caste. Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists, and Honsi Mubarak, Egypt’s present leader, has ruthlessly suppressed them… This pattern of military men suppressing militant Islamicists holds true throughout the Muslim world and it does not matter if the military leader is right or left leaning in their political ideology.”
“For instance, the Shah of Iran was a right-wing creation of the American Central Intelligence Agency, but his opposition to the Islamic fundamentalists was just as vehement as the left-wing FLN of Algeria, who overthrew a the results of a national election that was clearly won by the Islamic party. Hence whether we are talking about General Musharif in Pakistan, or Colonel Mummar Quadafi of Libya, these secular men of arms fervently oppose the takeover of government by Islamic fundamentalists. And so does Saddam Hussein!”
After deconstructing their theory that Saddam and Osama were allies, I pointed to the essential role of oil in the decision to invade Iraq. “Fundamental to understanding the Bush policy on Iraq is recognizing the fact that the highest echelons of the executive branch of the US government are controlled by oilmen… and estimates of the value of Iraqi oil, the largest reserves outside of Saudi Arabia, range as high as three trillion dollars!” However I also pointed out the ideological influence of the PNAC eggheads: “Aside from the oil deposits there is the matter of the strategic doctrines conjured up by cold warriors with imperial ambitions, inside and outside of the government, like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz for instance.”
I also identified the weaknesses and dangers in the analysis of Wolfie and the PNAC crowd. “However there are some dangerous blind spots in the strategic vision of Wolfowitz and Perle, for they are ignoring the two most combustible hot spots in the world in order to pursue the oil and ego-gratification that would result from a vanquished Saddam Hussein. Yet even if the conquest of Iraq goes just as the Bush administration has planned, certain deadly problems remain on the immediate horizon. The reckless rhetoric of George Bush, employing self-righteous epithets like “axis of evil,” has sparked a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Korea that threatens to get out of hand. And so long as the Palestinians and Israelis remain locked in a protracted war, while Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons with scientists who are also Islamic fundamentalists, these weapons of mass destruction will eventually find their way into the hands of the Islamic Jihadists. Woe be unto the world when that happens.”
Of course, all of these things have proven true. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and therefore, just as I had argued, no intention of using such weapons by Saddam against the US. The Bush administration has long since admitted that there is no evidence of a relationship between Saddam and Osama, and the major source of nuclear proliferation is Dr. Kahn in Pakistan.
Relations between the US and North Korea deteriorated and they resumed their atomic weapons program; now it’s really going to cost us to get them to disarm their nuclear weapons. “On the other hand,” I observed, “Pakistan’s neighbor, the massive republic of India, has even more nukes and is training the world’s finest engineers in enormous numbers. Hence they appear to have a limitless capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction – like those in the US arsenal for instance.” And, let me hasten to add, the deals made on Bush’s April 2006 visit to India has greatly enhanced their nuclear capabilities.
And finally I warned: “Not only is the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq preventing them from addressing these far more pressing issues, but an American attack on Iraq will set a precedent in international relations that India – which is currently in the clutches of Hindu nationalists – might use to justify a preemptive nuclear attack on Pakistan – or vice versa. Hence this cavalcade of horrors may well become the inevitable and lasting legacy of George Bush’s March of Folly in ordering an attack on Iraq in defiance of the world.”
The commentary discussed here is but one of many that I have written on terrorism – i.e. the Islamic Jihad – and the war in Iraq since 9/11. A selection of them can be read on this blog, and they have taken a distinctly different position from the militant chicken Hawks that are legion among the punditocracy – those warriors of the pen, those keyboard killers like Charles Krauthammer who cry out for war and more war ad-infinitum, and does not seem to be able to find happiness until tens of thousands of our youths are wheelchair bound like him! However I invite the careful reader to compare my commentaries with the drivel that Hitchens and the crowd campaigning for war were writing.
Since I believe in debate as a method of uncovering truth as well as unmasking charlatans, I welcomed this encounter with Christopher Hitchens, but it was a truncated debate. Hence I have invited him to appear on WBAI radio, which is located in New York City but streams Online around the world, and debate me on the issues and charges made in this essay. Should he agree to show up, the Program Director Bernard White has offered to make our debate a “Special Event,” which means it will be vigorously promoted and broadcast in prime time.
Considering his former political postures it is fascinating to witness how Hitchens has emerged as one of the most passionate boosters of this war, a first class warmonger if ever there was one. As I listen to him blather on I often find myself wondering “What’s it all about Christopher?” I sometimes think the bloke has a subconscious yearning for the power and glory of empire, which is why he has taken up residence and sought his fortune in the United States, the new Anglo-Saxon colossus that has replaced Britain as the dominant empire in the world. Although he does not acknowledge it, there is a certian pathos in his reveries about witnessing the collapse of the British Empire from the perspective of a Royal Navy base.
After all, “Rule Britannia” – the anthem “Iron Maggie” sang in the streets of London with such passion as the royal Navy bombarded the Malvinas Islands, their last colonial possession in Los Americas, which Hitchens still refers to by the old colonial label “The Falklands” – is a panegyric to British dominance of the seas: “Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves.” It was this dominance that made possible the creation of an empire on which “the sun never set.” Christopher’s father and Grandfather were navy men who defended the Queen’s far flung empire, and I just get the feeling that he kinda misses all that….sometimes.
Finally, having thus established myself as a prophet among pundits, as least in so far as the politics of the Iraq war is concerned, I feel a responsibility to share my vision of where we are, where we are headed and what we should expect to find, a glimpse of the future so to speak. To begin with we need to understand that we are in a real war against an enemy with global reach. Their sociological characteristics are such that it is safe to say that it is also reasonable to label this movement a modern Islamic Jihad.
Without belaboring the varieties of meanings one can give to the concept of Jihad, it is enough to say that the goal of the Islamic Jihadist to whom this analysis is addressed is to wreak havoc on the US, “The Great Satan,” and other western Christian countries that are allied with the US, especially in regard to Israel and the invasion of Arab lands. Al Qaeda has said on numerous occasions “We are over in America because Americans are over here!”
No one who wishes to be taken seriously in this debate can deny these basic facts. It may be true that the Islamicists want to restore the Caliphate that was abolished by the Turkish republican modernizer Kemal Atataturk in 1924, as Hitchens and George II love to point out ad neuseum, but it is also true that they have real grievances against the US and Western Europe because of the vulgar and violent imperialist policies they have practiced against them. In other words they have “a history” and it is stained with blood, oppression and massive thievery of resource wealth. Thus as I pointed out in the debate, the present war in Iraq is product of that history. Just as the tragic Vietnam War resulted from the US attempting to shore up a failed colonial project, the Iraq war is an attempt to appropriate the prerogatives of a failed British colonial project.
Although Hitchens attempted to deny that these two conflicts are analogous, historically or morally, he conceded that these transgressions against the Islamic world actually happened. Yet he is reluctant to admit the Muslim Fundamentalists’ grievances are justified. And he has virtually accused anybody who says that Osama bin Laden has legitimate grievances of being a traitor to western liberal values, and an enemy of secularism, even if this admission of western culpability is accompanied with a swift and unambiguous repudiation of the terrorists’ tactics. This is a ridiculous argument that reminds me of Orwell’s “doublethink,” which he describes in 1984 as “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them.” Such muddled and dishonest thinking, which is becoming Hitchen’s forte, can only lead us into a moral cul de sac and an endless war with the Islamic world.
One of the major reasons why commentators of Hitchen’s ilk can get away with such dangerous nonsense is that few Americans understand the real world consequences of their delusions. “Boobus Americanus,” as the influential Homme de Letteurs H. L. Mencken called the American public, knows next to nothing about the nature of the jihadists; which means that they believed the so-called “war on terror” is merely a contest between the overwhelming power of the US and her allies vs. a few weak Arab countries. But the fundamentalist theocrats don’t see it that way.
Sayeed Qutb, author of the 20 volume treatise “In the Shade of the Koran” and one of the most influential theologians of the Islamic Fundamentalist movement, argued that Islamic civilization was “never an Arab civilization for one day.” Although an Egyptian Arab himself, Qutb nevertheless believed that Islam is a universal religion that is the spiritual heritage of all mankind, and that this is the main reason why Islamic civilization is destined to rule the world again – a global Caliphate under Sharia law where devotion to a common religious ideal trumps race, ethnicity, or nationality. A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – the organization to which the Jihadists trace their beginnings – who was hung by Adel Gamal Nasser in 1966 after years of imprisonment and torture for his subversive activities against the secular government and promotion of Sharia law, Gutb is a martyr of the Islamic movement. A devoted theocrat, Gutb believed the separation of church and state was apostasy.
When the Brotherhood began in 1928 it was a purely religious organization, but they became increasingly antagonistic to British imperialism. It could not have been otherwise considering the decadence and corruption that marked British colonial rule – not the least of which was a heroin plague that was as rampant among the decadent upper classes as among the poor, and whose origins lay in the widespread opium trade conducted by the British between India and China. That’s why Lyndon Larouche, quack tho he may be, is right on the money when he says “The British Royal family are the greatest dope dealers in history!”
The wide spread popular support that the Brotherhood enjoyed forced Nasser to seek their support when his band of military officers overthrew King Foruk, and their desire to rid Egypt of British influence inspired the Brotherhood to support Nasser’s secular socialist Revolutionary Council. However, as with all broadly based national liberation struggles, this coalition soon fell apart once the nationalist gained power. This is because nationalist struggles by their very nature must accommodate factions with differing ideologies; which means, as the old adage goes: “They were sleeping in the same bed dreaming different dreams.”
Once the British and their puppets were out of the picture the contradictions in the Egyptian nationalist movement came to the fore, and when the Muslim Brotherhood failed in an attempt to assassinate Nasser he crushed and banned them. Thus it was Nasser, a modern secular military man trained at Sandhurst – an elite military academy that is the British equivalent of West Point – who launched the first assault against the Muslim fundamentalist movement.
This disastrous turn of events caused many of the great Muslim religious scholars to flee Egypt and settle elsewhere in the Islamic world, most importantly at King Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. One of the most influential of these Egyptian theologians was Muhammad Gutb, the brother of Sayeed. Under his guidance Saudi Arabia became a hot bed of Islamic fundamentalism as is verified by the prominence of Whabism, one of the most virulent forms of Islam.
One of Muhammad Gutb’s most famous Saudi students was a multi-millionaire construction engineer named Osama bin Laden. For years the US and Saudi governments supported these radical Islamic trends because they, like the Pope in embracing fascism, figured it would be an effective counterweight to Communism. And of course, in both instances – the cure has turned out to be much worse than the disease!
As a result of US support the fundamentalist movement was able to mobilize and train Muslims from all over the Islamic world for the Jihad in Afghanistan. But when the Taliban took over the country after the Russians retreated and the indigenous left was destroyed, Afghanistan became the home base for Al Qaeda. When they attacked the US on 9/11 they became a big inspiration to militant Islamicists around the world who view America as the enemy of Islam – mainly as a result of US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, but here lately the invasion of Iraq.
In its most militant expression this movement is hostile to all secular societies. In fact Siyyad Gutb calls the liberal ideal of a separation of church and state, a principle that is an essential feature of modern western society, “the hideous schizophrenia of modern life.” Hence from this perspective Baathism, the Pan-Arab socialist ideology to which Saddam Hussein was committed, is an atheistic ideology practiced by hypocrites and apostates, whom the Jihadists feel duty bound to remove from power and put to the sword.
This is the world view of Osama bin Laden. Thus it was dangerous folly to argue that Saddam and Osama were in bed together. For this bogus argument, based on official lies and deception, seduced the untutored mob into supporting a strategy that took out a major ally in the war against the Islamic Jihadists, and has thus made victory in the “war on terror” all the more illusive. The present strategy will contribute to the growth of the militant fundamentalist movement.
To understand why one need only consult the Gerlachian model of movement dynamics. Luther P. Gerlach, an Anthropologist who enjoyed a long tenure as a Professor at the University of Minnesota, spent many years studying how movements grow and develop. In his treatise People, Power, Change he analyzed the social organization and dynamics of “transformative movements” as a universal class of phenomena.
According to his model all of the factors that are essential for a movement to grow – a complex ideology that can be communicated in power packed slogans; commitment rituals, face to face recruiters, propaganda organs, sources of finance, charismatic revivalist, etc – are present in the Jihadist movement. Charismatic revivalists are inspiring orators who give voice to the hopes and dreams of a people and inspire them to struggle for change; and few have played this role more effectively than Osama bin Laden.
Gerlach’s model helps clarify the essential role played by these dynamic personalities in the development of a movement. However the most important revelation about such movements, for the purposes of our present argument, is that when these factors are in place the major stimulus to continued growth is a visible opposition to the goals of the movement. That has been the great contribution of the Bush administration to the Islamic fundamentalist movement; their strategy has been tailor made for Al Qaeda.
The US has put on a great show of fighting the Jihadists, which the leaders can use to recruit new members, without actually attacking them. Rather American forces have set out on a mission that, as near as any honest analyst can tell, has nothing at all to do with the fight against Al Qaeda. Thus I predict that they will wreak havoc against American interests around the world for years to come!
I also predict that there will never be a liberal capitalist society in a united Iraq. It has become so obvious that even radio clowns and muddle-heads like Howard Stern and Don Imus are calling for a reinstatement of Saddam to restore some semblance of order. Yet Republican ideologues spawned by the PNAC continue to proffer a vision of a liberal democratic peaceful Iraq. This is the vision of the future that Hitchens fantasizes about. But all of the objective evidence I see augers against it.
In any case it should be abundantly clear to anyone who has studied its history with any degree of objectivity; Hitchens and George II has made a fetish of democracy that is as irrational as a foot fetish. To listen to them talk one would think that democracy is synonymous with freedom. But the historical record will verify that more often than not democracies have been associated with slavery and caste oppression.
From it’s first appearance in Greece and Rome democracy coexisted quite comfortably with slavery. Furthermore, the “Patrician Democracy” of Rome confined the vote to an elite among its free citizens. And the much celebrated democracy that was ushered in by the American Revolution of the 18th century resembled that of Rome in striking ways. It was born in a society based on slavery and genocide, practices which continued long after the nation was established, and whose unacknowledged legacy persist as I write.
Like ancient Rome, American slavery co-existed with democratic institutions, and the right to vote was denied to women until the 20th century, with “free” African Americans not being fully enfranchised until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Furthermore, ethnic cleansing and terrorism were standard policies toward the Native American and African American populations for most of this nation’s history.
New scholarship such as, Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, by the law Professors Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen, convincingly demonstrates that the major impetus for the American Revolution was the preservation of slavery, not the expansion of freedom. This is a major reason why there is no mention of the institution of slavery in the US Constitution, the founding document of the American Republic, except where it restricts Congress from outlawing the slave trade before 1808.
What the Blumrosens show is that the transplanted Englishmen who populated the thirteen colonies along the eastern seaboard that became the United States of America after the ratification of the Constitution during the dog days of August 1787, were spurred to sever relations with England because it was clear that the British were moving to outlaw slavery!
One does not have to be an economic determinist to recognize the logic in this, since all of the Founding Fathers except John Adams were slave holders! And the history of slavery in the British Empire demonstrates that their concerns were justified; slavery was outlawed in England before the end of the 18th century as a result of the Somerset decision of 1722 – which as the Blumrosens show terrified American slaveholders and set them on the course of treason against their mother country – and was abolished in the West Indies by 1838.
Whereas in the United States chattel slavery, a massive crime against humanity, persisted until 1865, and it took the most destructive war in the history of the world up to that time to end it. Thus one could convincingly argue that the US fought not one but two wars – a revolution and a counter-revolution – over the attempt to preserve human slavery on American soil.
Although it was never specifically referred to in the Constitution, the institution of African slavery shaped the basic character of the US polity far more than considerations of individual freedom. For instance the Three Fifths Compromise, which determined how membership in the House of Representatives would be apportioned by the states, is a case in point.
This whole process was occasioned by the existence of slavery. It is a source of constant amazement to me that white American pundits, politicians, preachers and professors routinely ignore this fact. Yet all black Americans who are neither ignoramuses nor quislings see it clearly. This is what Dr. Dubois meant when he said black folks are “gifted with a second sight in this American world.”
As I told Hitchens from Jump Street, I always view the American experience from the perspective of that second sight! Hence while white Americans boast about the freedom and equality that American society has always stood for, I think of the slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing, state and popular terrorism, and racial caste discrimination that characterize the Afro-Indian experience in America.
Frederick Douglass called white America’s self-celebratory attitude “brass fronted impudence” and “hollow mockery,” and when he was forced to flee the country after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, he sarcastically noted the grand irony of fleeing American democracy in search of freedom under the British monarchy. I imagine the thousands of black Americans who flocked to the Ranks of Lord Dunmore – which is well documented in the Bancroft Prize winning historian, Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Call (and Gerald Horne’s “Negro Comrades of the Crown” – and fought against the white American independence movement, must have felt the same way.
The fact is that despite the Bushmen and their shills claims that democracy equals freedom, justice and equality, the election returns from those Muslim nations that decided to experiment with “democracy” and allowed the population to have their say at the ballot box tell a different story. There is a clear trend toward the puritanical repressive Islamic parties emerging from the elections: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Syria, Hamas in Palestine, the Shiite triumph in Iraq etc.
All of these forces favor Sharia law, a draconian medieval code which is the antithesis of western notions of freedom – especially for women, whose fate has not been of particular concern to the type-A white males in the PNAC. Hence the mindless fetish George II has about “promoting democracy” around the world has added insult to injury – especially since the Bushmen are only interested in supporting democratically elected leaders if they are willing to become instruments of American policy!
This is why America, a pragmatic business oriented society with a predatory economic system that increasingly borders on social Darwinism in spite of boisterous egalitarian rhetoric by our leaders, has traditionally preferred to deal with pro-US dictators. In fact our government trained many of them during the last half of the Twentieth Century in places like The School of the Americas, a US run torture academy that trained military dictators all over Latin America under the guise of fighting Communism, before Father Bourgeois succeeded in his efforts to close them down.
The fact is that US policy makers have tended to distrust democracy in Third World countries. Historian Gerald Horne has observed: “Traditionally white Americans have favored democracy for themselves, quasi-fascism for African Americans and out right fascism for Third World peoples.” Anyone who is tempted to dismiss Dr. Horn’s statement as hyperbole need only read Confessions of an Economic Hit man, by the former international banker John Perkins, and Overthrow: America’s Century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq, by the New York Times foreign affairs writer Steven Kinzer.
This is also a pretty accurate description of Europe’s relations with her African and Asian colonial possessions too. That’s why the formidable Afro-Trinidadian intellectual, activist/organizer George Padmore, who was selected to sit on the Moscow Soviet by Stalin himself because of his theoretical writings, quit the communist movement when Moscow decided to form an alliance with Britain and France against Hitler.
From Padmore’s vantage point as the Comintern’s Director of Negro Affairs, he had first hand knowledge of the crimes committed by the European colonial powers in Africa – of which Britain and France were the worst offenders. In Padmore’s view, as expressed in his farewell to the Communist International Pan-Africanism or Communism – where he explains why he rejected the “Popular Front” against fascism – what Hitler was doing to Europeans was no worse than the crimes those European nations had committed in Africa; therefore he was unwilling to put the black liberation struggle on hold in order to form a popular front against German fascism.
Alas, in spite of the lip service paid to democracy as an abstract concept, the Bush Administration, like their European cousins, remain ambivalent about democracy in practice. Bitter experience has taught them if the people are allowed to speak they do not always say what we want to hear. But hear them we must. And I’m not hearing anything that makes me think that the Iraqis, or any of the Arab Muslim countries, will soon establish a liberal democratic society; which is the stated goal of the Bush Administration’s effort at nation building in Iraq
If this is true, then the critical question becomes under what circumstances can the US ethically pull out of Iraq? Given the fact that we have wrecked the economic infrastructure – for instance the astronomical rise in the price and scarcity of gas in a country with the world’s second largest proven oil pool – and destroyed all the means of maintaining public order and security in that society, what is our obligation to the Iraqi people?
Hitchens argues that we owed it to them to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but now that we have overthrown Saddam and created chaos in that country what more do we owe them? The most thoughtful treatise I have seen on the subject is Noah Feldman’s book, What We Owe Iraq. A law Professor at New York University, in 2003 Feldman was the Senior Constitutional Advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority that ruled Iraq after the US overthrow of their government. Thus he had a bird’s eye view of the situation on the ground in the aftermath of the invasion.
Although Bush tells the American people that once the Iraqi’s elect and install a new government with an American trained and equipped army at its command, the US role will be reduced to an advisory capacity – military and otherwise. Thus their obligation to Iraq will have effectively ended. But Professor Feldman disagrees: “The nation builder’s obligation will not lift just because, for one discrete moment in time, a new, legitimate government in a country like Iraq has the temporary capacity to monopolize force.”
This is a critical question, as I attempted to explain to Hitchens during our debate. In response to his effusive praise for the virtues of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish rebel army – I argued that rather than singing their praises he should be singing their swan song if he is committed to a stable, unified, democratic Iraq. For such a polity as the pro-war crowd envisions to emerge from the bloody carnage of war, all independent militias must be disbanded in Iraq, and that fact is specifically recognized in the new Iraqi Constitution.
No government can hope to govern if it does not have a monopoly on the use of organized violence. This is because while governments must be regarded as legitimate in the opinion of the majority of the people in order to achieve viability, in the final analysis all political power rests on the ability of the state to coerce recalcitrant elements into going along with the program.
Indeed, as Chairman Mao astutely noted: “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun!” Yet this is not enough to insure long term stability, which is the avowed aim of those who launched this war to reconstruct Iraq. Hence Feldman argues “If the institutions underlying the state are very weak, or the security forces poised to overthrow the government, or violent succession just waiting in the wings, then the nation builder’s duty will not have ended.
It is a compelling argument but, given the realities of Iraq’s situation, American forces could be tied up there for the next fifty years! If that sounds incredible just consider the three other instances where the US has had some success at nation building – Japan, Germany and South Korea – US forces are still garrisoned on their soil although half a century has passed!
This scenario seems all the more feasible for Iraq if we follow Feldman’s reasoning because as late asMay 5, 2006thousands of American trained Sunni soldiers in the so-called “national army of Iraq” cast off their uniforms and went home upon being told that they would not be garrisoned in Sunni dominated areas of the country. This is because they know that the Shities who dominate the security forces are carrying out sectarian murders against Sunnis.
As Iraq collapses into civil war, the American Generals tasked with pacifying the country so that a government of national unity can take control are wringing their hands in futility. Alas, in arguing for the PNAC cabal’s vision of a modern democracy in Iraq Christopher Hitchens, a militant atheist, is presenting us with a faith based analysis. He is asking us, like the evangelical television preachers, to “Walk by faith not by sight!”
If further proof is needed to convince you that our friend The Sophist is deeply committed to faith based analysis gentle reader, we need look no further than the record of the Bush Administration in managing the murderous mess they created in Iraq, or the way they have bungled the war against the Islamic Jihadists, or their wholesale violation of democratic principles at home, or their mismanagement of the economy, and the Republican party’s widespread penchant for corrupt financial practices, including the shameless buying and selling of political favors like super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and “The Dukester,” a US Congressman and former military officer. Both of these Republican big shots are now serving serious jail time, but there is reason to believe we have only just begun.
One of the truly miraculous political achievements of our time is the way Republican’s have managed to cast themselves as the party of virtue. In spite of all the moral outrage about Bill Clinton’s sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and his refusal to fess up, the Republican pledge to “return honor to the White House” has proven to be all blow and no show.
However, during the impeachment proceeding launched against Clinton by rabid right-wing Republicans led by the duplicitous Newt Gingrinch – which Hitchens enthusiastically supported – the polls consistently showed that most Americans thought the whole thing was a personal issue between a husband and wife that should never have become a political issue in the first place.
On the other hand as regards matters of state, which involves issues of public morality that should be the yardstick by which elected officials are judged, The Republicans have a far worst record – and George II could well end up as the worst ever! In a learned and revealing essay in the April edition of Rolling Stone titled The Worst President in History? Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz takes a hard look at Bush’s place in the history of the American presidency.
Professor Wilentz shows that prior to the Nixon Administration all the previous presidential “scandals produced no indictments of cabinet secretaries and only one White House aide, who was acquitted. By contrast the most scandal-ridden administration in the modern era, apart from Nixon’s, was Ronald Reagan’s, now widely remembered through a haze of nostalgia as a paragon of virtue.”
However Wilentz confronts America’s persistent historical amnesia and shows that the truth is dramatically different from the romantic mythology that too often substitutes for history. “A total of 29 Reagan officials – including white house Security Advisor Robert McFarlane and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, were convicted of charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, illegal lobbying and a looting scandal inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Three Cabinet officers – HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, Attorney General Edwin Meese and Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger – left their post under clouds of scandal. In Contrast, not a single official in the Clinton administration was even indicted over his or her White House duties.”
Professor Wilentz goes on to argue that the reason George II has avoided close scrutiny is because the Republicans control both Houses of Congress. In spite of this advantage however, Wilentz shows that the indictments of I. Lewis Libby, a top aide to Vice President Cheney, and David Safavian, the White House’s top federal procurement official, could be just the tip of the iceberg of corruption in the present administration.
Aside from questions of outright crime and corruption there is the issue of incompetence. The case against George II – which involves the subversion of science in favor of corporate and religious interests, and fiscal mismanagement – is too extensive to recapitulate here, but one statistic will demonstrate the extent of their financial profligacy.
As Wilentz points out, “the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combination of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001, and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all the previous presidents combined.” He then goes on to emphasize how bush squandered the spectacular fiscal success of the Clinton presidency. “Having inherited the largest surplus in American history in 2001,” Wilentz writes, “he has turned it into the largest deficit ever…”
Based on such a record at home how can intelligent people believe the Bushmen are going to succeed in their stated objectives of building a liberal secular democracy dedicated to social justice, economic equity, and racial/ethnic harmony in Iraq? Yea, it is a matter of abiding faith. Every aspect of the Iraq affair has been marked by gross incompetence.
To begin with, there is unimpeachable evidence that the Bushmen were so obsessed with implementing their preconceived plans for “regime change” in Iraq, and establishing a Pax-Americana as the new world order, that they failed to heed the FBI’s warnings of an impending Al Qaeda attack inside the US.
George II left no doubt where his head was at in a speech given in Alabama on June 22, 2001, less than four months before the 9/11 attack, where he declared: “It’s time to come together and to think about a new security arrangement that addresses the threats of the 21 century. And the threats of the 21st century will be terrorist in nature, terror when it comes to weaponry. What we must do – freedom-loving people must be willing to think differently and develop anti-ballistic missile systems that will say to rogue nations and leaders who cannot stand America, or what we stand for: you will not blackmail us, nor will you blackmail our allies.”
It is abundantly clear from this statement of priorities that the guy was clueless. First of all nuclear blackmail is their game! It is reasonable to ask how it is possible for the President of the US to be so badly informed. The answer to that question must lay with his counselors, the most important of whom, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, was clearly asleep at the wheel.
For instance, Richard Clarke, the leading Administration expert on terrorism, says that Condi just wasn’t interested when he tried to discuss the Al Qaeda threat with her, dismissing him with a disdainful attitude that implied he was attributing too much importance to some towel head camel driver in the desert. This was a predictable response from a cold war era Russian specialist who was obsessed with building doomsday machines.
In fact, on that fateful day, 9/11, she was scheduled to deliver what was billed as a major speech on national security; the subject of which was building an anti-ballistic missile system in clear violation of theABMTreaty! On several occasions Clarke practically begged Condi to call a joint meeting of the various intelligence agencies so that they could compare notes about Al Qaeda and see what they come up with.
Now we know that they had all the pieces to the puzzle in their hands and could have wiped out the Al Qaeda cell and changed the course of history; all they had to do was sit down and put the pieces together. And that’s the least we should expect from an intelligence regime that – according to a recent slip of the tongue by national security Czar John Negroponte – employs 100,000 agents and analysts, and cost American taxpayers $44 billion a year!
While the civilian chicken hawks in thePOG– the “Party of God” that was formerly known as the GOP, and as Kevin Phillips points out, has become the first religious party in American history – blather on ad-nauseum about the Al Qaeda puzzle being impossible to decipher, I have no doubt if Condi had done her job and convened a sit down with agency heads or special agents who could present their agency’s best intelligence on the subject, they would have put the puzzle together.
Hence I believe the unanimous vote by the 9/11 Commissioners in support of the report concluding that no one in the Bush Administration could be held to account for the disaster was coerced by the Republican majority in exchange for allowing the report to go forward without controversy or rejection. Hence I regard the assumption of Republican innocence of culpability in failing to uncover the 9/11 plot as a historical fiction on par with the claim that Austria was Hitler’s first victim, rather than an enthusiastic ally.
An even more damming indictment are the charges made by a loyal black Republican with the improbable name of Clark Kent, the former Inspector General of the Homeland Security agency – a post 9/11 creation – in a new book titled, Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Terrorism. This book exposes an epidemic of ignorance and incompetence on the part of those invested with the responsibility of protecting our nation against terrorist attacks that is far beyond anything we ever suspected. Due to my experience with high level security systems during a stint in the Strategic Air Command, I can readily see the sham in much of what passes for serious security measures.
It has long been obvious to me that our rail system, nuclear plants, sea ports, toxic chemical producing factories and transport of hazardous waste, water supply and airlines are all vulnerable to attack by clever terrorists who don’t mind dying. But according to Clark Kent it’s worse than I had imagined. “The Homeland Security Department has made the nation only marginally safer than it was before the 2001 terror attacks that spawned its creation…to a large degree, the same old security gaps remain” says Kent.
But what is most frightening is his description of how Tom Ridge, the powerful Republican who was Director of the Home Land security, responded to constructive criticism from his inspector General very badly: “Instead of taking the terrorists on, he would take me on.” This is the kind of incompetence that has been at the helm of the agency that is supposed to protect us from the global Jihad. It is the same kind of incompetence that allowed 8/11 to happen.
After the attack Bush went bonkers and ended up biting off more than the US can chew. Instead of securing Afghanistan and relentlessly pursuing Osama been Forgotten, the hapless Commander In Chief let the PNAC cabal bullshit him into invading Iraq. It’s as if Canada bombed Washington but we decided to bomb Mexico City because we don’t like Vicente Fox. However the ability to wage war simultaneously in several theaters is a cardinal objective of the PNAC strategic plan spelled out in Redesigning America’s Defenses. Hence one could argue that their war plans were driven by ideology rather than the objective facts of the situation.
The present state of affairs in the new Afghanistan, reconstructed under American tutelage, is a bizarre reflection of a political vision divorced from the realities on the ground. It is enough to note that Afghanistan has reemerged as one of the world’s top producers of opium poppies, the Taliban rebels are reconstituting and killing Americans, and the “democratically elected” President is guarded by Americans because he does not trust his fellow Afghans in so sensitive a position.
Viewed from this perspective it should come as no surprise that almost from the moment they set boot on Iraqi soil a tragic comedy of errors began. They failed to seize and secure the ammo dumps which supplied the ordinance the insurgents are using to wreak havoc on American forces and the civilian population; then they mindlessly dismantled the army and put hundreds of thousands of professional soldiers out of work; then they dismissed the professional bureaucracy who know how to manage the country, they bungled the job of restoring essential services quickly; they also grossly underestimated the scope and intensity of the resistance and are thus undermanned
Paul Bremer, a preppy Yalie like Bush, was given the dictatorial power of a Roman Pro-Counsel as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and he quickly issued order 39, which put two hundred state owned enterprises up for sale to private owners and allowed 100% of Iraq’s banks, mines and factories to be purchased by foreign interest who could also repatriate their profits to their home countries.
Not only will such a plan do little to alleviate the approximately 70% of Iraqi’s who are unemployed, but according to numerous legal experts, these decrees are considered a violation of international laws that govern the activities of occupation forces. But America writes her own laws and keeps her own counsel; even forcing Iraqi’s to write these policies into article 25 of their new Constitution!
Once the privatization of Iraq’s oil industry became a fait accompli, Bremer then became a conduit brazenly directing reconstruction funds to American corporations like Halliburton while cutting Iraqi contractors out of the reconstruction effort – just like they did black Americans in New Orleans after Katrina. And their accountability procedures were so shoddy and dishonest that nine billion dollars disappeared on Bremer’s watch, forty cents out of every dollar of Iraqi oil revenues during his tenure! And these were revenues the Bushmen had pledged to husband in behalf of the Iraqi people.
The Bushmen have disgraced the nation and violated the human rights of Iraqi citizens by adopting a policy of torturing detainees, many of whom were guilty only of being Iraqi’s, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, now the US Attorney General, sought to justify these practices with lawyerly double talk. Gonzales even went so far as to advise the President of the United States that the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war might be obsolete.
It was so outrageous a suggestion that Senator John McCain, who is more of an authentic right-wing militarist than George II, arose in protests, even authoring a bill to prohibit torture. Of course the difference between McCain and the PNAC cabal is not so much a question of political philosophy – like them he favored the invasion of Iraq and is also prepared to bomb Iran – as the difference in perspective between a bunch of “candy-ass” civilians who have never served under arms, and a former combat officer who was a prisoner of war.
In any case it is enough to know that Bush elevated Gonzales to the exalted position of Attorney General of the United States, in order to weight the moral gravitas of the administration we have in Washington. And if his father’s decision to briefly garrison troops in Saudi Arabia produced Al Qaeda, we can only imagine what the decisions of the idiot son hath wrought.
Yet it is this rogue’s gallery of fools, charlatans and scoundrels that Hitchens would have us believe, motivated by a fit of altruism, invaded Iraq in order to build an egalitarian democratic society – a leap of faith indeed. As Hitchens crisscrosses the country like an energizer bunny arguing the Bushmen’s case for this hideous war the Generals continue to emerge from their civilian comforts – six so far – and denounce Donnie Rumsfeld, the Secretary of War.
The call him an arrogant incompetent old fool! These General officers, some of whom actually commanded combat troops in Iraq – are speaking out in unison: Fire this arrogant charlatan before he gets everybody killed! Due to Rumsfeld’s overbearing personality, like Adolph Hitler, he constantly overrules the generals and causes the deaths of thousands with his incompetent military strategies, compliments of the PNAC whose master plan called for revamping of the armed forces into smaller more mobile units suited to lightning strikes.
However the military men, often citing “the Powell Doctrine,” which called for deploying overwhelming force, tried to tell Rummy that the invasion force was too small for the mission. And his failure to heed the advice of the professional military officers is largely responsible for the bloody quagmire our troops find themselves in at the moment. As one of the disillusioned Generals put it, the most dangerous missions are always conceived by those who have never been charged with carrying them out. After all is said and done however, George II has decided to stick with the bungling old fart.
Hence if the Democrats don’t take over the Congress in the next elections and rein them in by tightening the purse strings and initiating impeachment proceedings against George II, these power crazed maniacs will compound the Iraq disaster by attacking Iran – a reckless decision that could set the entire Middle East aflame.
Given the bloody mess they have made of Iraq, the destruction they have wreaked on international institutions, the subversion of democratically elected regimes they don’t like such as the Chavez government in Venezuela, or the Iranian and Palestinian governments, the hostility toward democracy at home and the introduction of the dangerous precedent of “preemptive war,” even if the dream scenario Hitchens holds for Iraq materialized in whole cloth, I don’t think it is worth the price. So there, I’ve said it!
In spite of the rosy perspectives and eternal optimism of The Sophist, Murphy’s Law is in full effect here; everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and will continue to go wrong, at home and abroad, so long as American forces remain in Iraq. Professor Jeff Record of the Army War College makes it tragically clear that the myriad disasters we are now experiencing in Iraq are the predictable outcome of incompetent planning by the Bushman, who elevated ideology and wishful thinking over serious historical analysis and military science.
“In conflating Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda,” Record argues, “the administration unnecessarily expanded the Global War On Terror by launching a preventive war against a state that was not at war with the United States and that posed no direct or imminent threat to the United States at the expense of continued attention and effort to protect the United States from a terrorist organization with which the United States was at war.
Opponents of preventive war against Iraq, including former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Ziegbniew Brzezinski and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, made a clear distinction between the character, aims, and vulnerabilities of al-Qaeda and Iraq, correctly arguing that the al- Qaeda threat was much more immediate, dangerous, and difficult to defeat. They feared that a war of choice against Iraq would weaken a war of necessity against al-Qaeda by distracting America’s strategic attention to Iraq, by consuming money and resources much better applied to homeland defense…” My feelings exactly!
Record presents a comprehensive portrait of the anatomy of Iraq debacle, and he makes it clear that the fault lays with the civilian architects of the war i.e. the PNAC cabal, who ignored sound advice from experts, and the unquestioning media who disseminated their pro-war propaganda to a panicked public in the wake of 9/11. But the intelligence pros always understood that the Bushmen’s charges against Iraq were Bullshit.
Record points out that “Terrorism expert Jessica Stern in August 2003 warned that the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was ‘the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one’… Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director of counterterrorism operations and analysis, Vincent Cannistraro, agrees: ‘There was no substantive intelligence information linking Saddam to international terrorism before the war. Now we’ve created the conditions that have made Iraq the place to come to attack Americans’”
In view of this kind of expert testimony it is hard to see how any honest and intelligent analyst who remains sober enough to study the evidence can continue to support the policies that led the nation into this tragedy. Alas, while posing as a serious commentator Christopher Hitchens, ubiquitous wag, prolific scribe, and highly literate heir to the traditions of Chaucer and Shakespeare, remains a unrepentant charlatan and a supreme sophist who can’t even get his literary allusions right.
In a clumsy attempt to sum up the American predicament in Iraq with poetic flair, he alludes to Macbeth in his August 19, 2002Nation essay, Macbeth in Mesopotamia: “Mesopotamia means ‘between two rivers,’ and we are, like Macbeth himself, ‘in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.’
If he really had a clue however, or perhaps was just willing to tell the truth if he saw it, The Sophist would have turned to the Bard’s earlier tragedy, Othello. For there are no lines better suited to explaining how we got, and yet remain, bogged down in this latter day tragedy in Iraq, than Iyago’s comment to Rodrigo evaluating Othello’s selection of Cassio as his Lieutenant. With the slightest adjustment of a word or two, the text describes the architects of the Iraq war with uncanny precision: “Mere theorics who know no more of war than spinsters!”
Yet if Mr. Hitchens, white paternalist that he is, finds it too difficult to embrace a play starring a noble tragic black male hero, and thus Macbeth it must be, if to be or not to be is the question, then let me suggests another quote that with no more tweaking than the first not only captures the absurdity of this war, but is especially suited to Hitchens’ narration of the imbroglio: “Life is a twisted tale told by an idiot / all sound and fury/signifying nothing.”
Double Clickon Link below to see my debete with Hitchens
P.G.Bejamin, originaly Written in Februrary 2006
Posted on Februrary 26, 2012
Harlem, New York