Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

September 1, 2007

Hitchens and the Iraq War

Filed under: politics — codesmithy @ 8:34 am

I stumbled upon some of Christopher Hitchens writings about the Iraq War and found them troubling. I’ve never considered Hitchens the most lucid of thinkers, however he does come off as intelligent. Here is one piece that he wrote for the Weekly Standard called “A War to Be Proud Of.” And here is another by Slate called “What if we lost in Iraq.”

The theme of “What if we lost in Iraq” is that the Muslim fundamentalist movement as evidenced by the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad cartoon controversy, and Rushdie death sentence represent a threat to Western liberalism and enlightenment and needs to be confronted. The Iraq War is a front of this war of cultures.

First, I have to disagree with Iraq being a good case for the war of cultures. If it is really a fight between radical Islam and the West, you’d invade Saudi Arabia. Not that I’m advocating this, but controlling religious sites so central to the Islamic faith could be expected to have the same effects as the Romans had destroying the Temple of Jerusalem over the Jews. Or occupying the holy lands and the crusades. Quite simply, you invade a holy site and then watch the fundamentalists come to reclaim it. Or destroy it. Again, I’m not advocating this position.

For each of the offenses Hitchens lists, we find that there are few that the West didn’t have a role. For example, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a oppressive regime and although Hitchens likes to highlight the atrocities Hussein committed against the Kurds. However, he fails to mention that those weapons were given to him by the United States.

The Iran regime that issued the death threats rose to power because the CIA helped topple a more moderate regime Mosaddeq and backed the brutal dictatorship of the Shah.

The Mohammad cartoon controversy is the equivalent of a race riot. Muslims have been treated as second class citizens in the West. The cartoon was merely a tipping point. Although, I don’t condone the use violence and certain not the appeasement policies many European governments enacted in its wake, acting as if the sole cause was the cartoon and deeper socio-economic factors had no part in the riots is ludicrous.

Hitchens asks “losing the Iraq War, can the left really want us to?” I hate how the question is framed. “Winning” is seen merely a matter of will and losing is a matter giving up without any notion of sacrifice. As if we should be able to pay any price and bear any burden. Easy to say when you are not the one being shot at. Victory is ultimately a political outcome not a military outcome. Put simply, the U.S. is now seen as an occupying force. I have not seen a single case in history where the type of adventure the U.S. has currently embarked on has worked. Although, I would be open to someone suggesting such an example. There are large lists of counter-examples including the American Revolution, American Reconstruction, American-Filipino war, Soviet-Afghanistan war, and the Vietnam War.

The models that tend to work are instituting a dictator in the region, although tend to be unstable and can have serious repercussions later. The other is a displacement colonization model such as American manifest destiny or the Israeli-Palenstein situation. Basically, an expansion of surrounding territory and subsequent occupation backed by superior military might of one nation into another.

In short, the United States cannot win the war the way that we are currently fighting it. “Winning” would require a such barbarity on the side of the West we’d quickly find ourselves guiltier of acts of inhumanity than those we condemn and are fighting against, if that is not already the case. If Hitchens’s only way of saving Iraqi’s is by killing all of them, then yes, I don’t think we should do that. If one chooses to call that a “losing” mentality, then fine. If you think that that there is a degree of American-British exceptionalism in this war and that we can win simply by doing more of the same (and yes, the surge is more of the same), then I suggest that you enlist to fight it. I’ll hold down the home-front.

In “A War to Be Proud Of” Hitchens gives 10 reasons that the Iraq War is a good war. I’ll give responses underneath.

(1) The overthrow of Talibanism and Baathism, and the exposure of many highly suggestive links between the two elements of this Hitler-Stalin pact. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who moved from Afghanistan to Iraq before the coalition intervention, has even gone to the trouble of naming his organization al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Although I agree with the rationale of invading Afghanistan, suggesting the two wars are fundamentally linked stretches credibility already in need of dire repair from a Hitler reference. Secondly, the analogy is fundamentally flawed, since the Russians became valuable allies in fighting Germany during WWII. The Iraq War is a distraction and seriously hurt U.S. interests in defeating terrorist training camps by diverting attention away from where the dangerous training camps are located. As such, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack has not been brought to justice.

(2) The subsequent capitulation of Qaddafi’s Libya in point of weapons of mass destruction–a capitulation that was offered not to Kofi Annan or the E.U. but to Blair and Bush.

Fine. Libya hasn’t really been on the U.S. radar since Reagan bombed them.

(3) The consequent unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network for the illicit transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

(4) The agreement by the United Nations that its own reform is necessary and overdue, and the unmasking of a quasi-criminal network within its elite.

Although, in turn, the U.S. in turn has suffered massive corruption in Iraq reconstruction efforts.

(5) The craven admission by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of cheating and concealment, respecting solemn treaties, on the part of Iran, that not even this will alter their commitment to neutralism. (One had already suspected as much in the Iraqi case.)

Lookup the Iran-Contra affair. Pot. Kettle. Black.

(6) The ability to certify Iraq as actually disarmed, rather than accept the word of a psychopathic autocrat.

Wouldn’t have been a need if the U.S. hadn’t undermined the inspection process originally. The subsequent invasion of Iraq proved that the inspections were actually successful. Funny how the history was truncated.

(7) The immense gains made by the largest stateless minority in the region–the Kurds–and the spread of this example to other states.

Yes, and we’ll see if Turkey can remain territorially sovereign.

(8) The related encouragement of democratic and civil society movements in Egypt, Syria, and most notably Lebanon, which has regained a version of its autonomy.

As long as they vote the right way, correct?

(9) The violent and ignominious death of thousands of bin Ladenist infiltrators into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the real prospect of greatly enlarging this number.

We are not fighting a fixed number of enemies. Every father we kill emboldens a son. Every mother, a daughter. If you go looking for and start killing enemies, you are sure to find them and it never stops.

(10) The training and hardening of many thousands of American servicemen and women in a battle against the forces of nihilism and absolutism, which training and hardening will surely be of great use in future combat.

Spoken like a true chickenhawk.

Honestly, Hitchens loses all credibility by not mentioning oil. Oil is a key motivating factor in the invasion of Iraq and its absence is conspicuous. Although, Hitchens would probably accuse me of blaming the West first, or some such nonsense. I’m not blaming the West first, however we cannot ignore our role in radicalizing the Middle East. We have back brutal dictators when it has suited our interests and overthrown democracies that have done things we didn’t like. We have ignored International law, consensus and lost the aura of righteousness which makes it harder to achieve the diplomatic victories that are keys to lasting peace.

The way to fight the backwardness of the Middle East is raise the consciousness. The best place to start is Iran. Show that populace the benefits of a Western ideology. Not through a point of gun, but rather diplomatically. If they want nuclear power, then offer to help. Share the technology to make safer nuclear reactors, and also come up with mutually agreeable means to guarantee that the nuclear materials are not being weaponized. History has shown Iranians have more to fear from the U.S. than vice-versa. Iran can become guiding light of Middle East democracy that Bush wishes Iraq to be but will never become. All it requires is to approach the problem in the right way, through the power of ideas not the might. Bombing Iran ends all hope of reconciliation and peace for my lifetime.

Right now, the United States is suffering from a foreign policy that is based on hubris and military overreach. We are fighting wars without end that we cannot afford. We are straining the social structure between civilian and soldier, and the inequities of society are being exaggerated. The U.S. government needs to start acting in good faith, both to its citizens and to the rest of the world. Hitchens, as a member of the elite, is an advocate of a disastrous policy that is systemic to modern Western decline. The American hegemony is based on oil. America has a choice, energy independence and sustainability or more resource wars and catastrophe. Personally, I don’t consider men with death wishes macho, just crazy.


  1. This is a well observed and reasoned piece. Hitch is supremely elegant, lucid and a hyper smart debater. But he is better at pointing out the weak arguments of the anti-war lobby (i.e. their petulance over the red herring issue of WMD) rather than facing up to the wrongheaded historical and strategic reasons for going to war in Iraq. He latches on to anything he can find to justify the case (such as Abu Graib being better as a sadistic American jail than an Iraqi chamber of horrors) but can’t really justify the overall strategic failures as they are built on fundamentally rotten foundations from the start.

    Comment by Fred B — September 14, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  2. […] A Counterinsurgency That Worked Filed under: history, politics — codesmithy @ 8:48 am I asked the question a while back whether anyone could point to a campaign in which a counterinsurgency campaign worked. I have not […]

    Pingback by Malayan Emergency: A Counterinsurgency That Worked « Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind — October 11, 2007 @ 8:48 am

  3. […] such, it is unlikely that one that there will be complete consensus on every issue. For example, I’ve criticized Hitchens for his stance on the Iraq war. I’ve also criticized Shermer for his assertions about free market capitalism. I was disappointed […]

    Pingback by Atheist Behaving Badly « Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind — April 14, 2009 @ 9:11 am

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