Christopher Hitchens remains for many, a much admired contrarian, a title no doubt reinforced by his recent decision to leave The Nation magazine, for whom he has contributed a biweekly “Minority Report” since 1982. The contrarian avocation however, is not without its occupational hazards, principally, the need to constantly raise the bar in attempt to outdo one’s own sheer contrariness which sooner or later tests reason beyond its graded tensile strength.
It is one thing to dissect the less-than-saintly inner workings of a Clinton or Mother Theresa before an uninformed and unreasonably sympathetic public–a task Hitchens carried out with his characteristic eloquence and flair. It is quite another to take on the infinitely more daunting challenge of saying warm and fuzzy things about a globally recognized lout –a through and through despicable human being about whom any effort at thoughtful compliment must strike the ear as either jarringly insincere (to the point of satire), or as some Koreshian echo of delusion.
Such a man now takes his ease in the Oval Office or may be found squinting into the middle distance on his dude ranch, in the favored home state where so many of his domestic victims met their untimely end. Hitchens–much in the style of OJ’s defense team apparently figures–‘if I can get THIS creep off the hook, my rhetorical skills are truly unlimited!” That he fails prodigiously at the task of absolving our vermin-in-chief, is hardly a surprise (though something of a disappointment to us–his once-devoted fans). Even the best high jumper can not leap over a building–let alone the moon, (a more appropriate metaphor in this case).
While Hitchens doesn’t shy away from chiding the Taung Child from Texas, regarding his routine atrocities against the English language, he nonetheless seems to find much worthy of approval. Absenting any shred of decency, industriousness or literacy in the current president, one must assume Hitchens admires Dubya’s deeply contrarian streak. Indeed, among aspiring contrarians, it is Dubya, rather than Hitchens who ought rightly to be considered the Tiger Woods of the sport, as even a casual tour of our leader’s curious cosmology ought to make plain.
Bush rejects evolution-cornerstone of biological science, considers global warming (against the informed opinion of the best atmospheric and climate scientists on earth), to be a leftist hoax, regards 40-cell embryos as deserving of full citizenship, insists the way to best serve the environment is to wage unrestricted war on it, and the most appropriate means of fighting terrorism is to engage in it.
In a technological age at the dawn of the 21st century, the president appoints an Attorney General who declares that dancing is caused by evil spirits, a textbook psychotic who plainly belongs in a nut house. Among Bush’s other ‘non-partisan’ choices, the world-class atrocity denier Elliot Abrams and death squad cheerleader John Negroponte–oh not just for any old post, mind you. He is now our “human rights” ambassador to Honduras. Pretty contrarian stuff. These and other human disasters were described by Hitchens as “a series of more or less statesmanlike appointments.”
One could hardly expect someone like Hitchens, (whose desire to be an ideological maverick is only surpassed by his deep-seated need, bordering I believe on the pathological, to be the center of attention), to forego the opportunity presented by the events of 9/11. This need found its early expression primarily in print, though increasingly Hitchens has been making his signature bedraggled appearance on America’s medium of choice, television.
Following the attacks on Washington and New York, and given these preconditions, the ever-opinionated Hitchens had two possible avenues of response, each guaranteed to maintain his title of provocateur in good standing. He could advance the contention of many career leftists that America had–through at least a half century of disgraceful and murderous foreign policy, done nearly everything possible to ensure an event like September 11th (a stance certain to make him persona non grata in our lavishly praised “open society” and to excommunicate him rather definitively from the beckoning arms of CNN, NBC, and CBS (to say nothing of Fox). It was the principled stand taken by Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag, Edward Herman, Robert Fisk, John Pilger, Lewis Lapham, Noam Chomsky and many other courageous observers. Alternately, one could attempt to have his cake and eat it–that is, opt for maximum contrariness as well as maximum public exposure by attempting to out-Pentagon the Pentagon.
To my great disappointment and Hitchens’ lasting shame, this once invaluable polemicist has opted for the latter approach. Such shame and disappointment however, are as nothing beside Hitchens’ role, however minor, in abetting the injury and destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and the fomenting of incalculable human misery. Indifference to the all-too-human toll of America’s ‘war for civilization’ has of late, turned to uninhibited enthusiasm in Hitchens’ rich prose, with the horrific effects of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan apparently falling short of the effort needed to satiate his newfound bloodlust for the ‘evildoers’. Commenting on Bush’s war strategy in Afghanistan in The Nation on December 17, 2001, Hitchens lamented the undue restraint practiced by U.S. heavy bombers, referring to the carpet and cluster bombing forays in heavily populated areas as “an almost pedantic policy of avoiding ‘collateral damage.'”
A brief reconnaissance of the effects of these ‘pedantic’ policies is in order, and ought to include the repeated bombings of Red Cross facilities, the accidental near-murder of America’s interim puppet Karzai (in a botched attack which killed 3 Americans and injured 19 others), massacres of wedding parties in Mazar I Sharif (Oct 15), Niazi Qalaye (Dec 29th) Bal Khel (May 17th) Kakarak Village (July 1st) not to mention the scores of Afghan children in many areas of the country–raked by cannon fire from AC-130 gunships, mauled, disfigured and blinded by cluster bombs and blasted apart in numerous high intensity bombing raids, often carried out on the flimsiest suspicion of possible Taliban presence in the vicinity .
Some of these latter victims of our war for civilization were seen in a recent PBS film Afghanistan, Year 1380. They lay about, our helpless ‘enemies’ (who had likely known nothing but severe poverty and hunger during their short lives), too weak, too severely injured to move. Many were the sole survivors, their parents and remaining family having been obliterated in the aerial carnage. In a wretched facility in Kabul, these latest victims of Mr. Bush’s righteous struggle against “evil” were attended to by an Italian emergency team, whose chief surgeon Gino Strada reported that 85% of the victims treated were civilian–30% of these, children. Are you listening Christopher? Many were cluster bomb victims, whose shrieks punctuated the makeshift operating theater–a ‘theater of war’ our leaders, with the gracious assistance of friends like Hitchens, hope we’ll never learn of–or learning of, not care about. Hitchens described these indiscriminate weapons of terror as having a “heartening effect” when used against presumed Taliban positions, a comment the ruthless bastard Donald Rumsfeld would likely find too distasteful to use–at least in print.
Hitchens in his latest incarnation would doubtless also approve of his government’s decision Oct. 11th to purchase exclusive rights to high-definition Ikonos satellite pictures of Afghanistan, following the initial reports of heavy civilian loss of life north-west of Jalalabad. Who knows what mischief Hitchens’ enemies on the “soft left” could get into with detailed graphic evidence of American war crimes? Anyway, fear not–civilian access to these images has been shut down. The military by the way, have their own satellites with far more detailed imaging than that provided by the 1-meter resolution offered by the civilian Ikonos. They simply don’t want anyone else to have pictorial proof of their lethal transgressions –period. In any case, a “war on terrorism” is bound to sound better than it looks, a fact the American and camera-shy Israeli butchers have learned through painful trial and error.
Which brings us to what has come to be known as the Mid East question. Here we witness Hitchens’ final emergence from his oozing rightwing chrysalis. Improvising on a melody by Thomas Friedman, Hitchens opines in his final Minority Report:
“In case I should be accused of avoiding the question of Palestine, I should simply say that George W. Bush was right in making it plain to the Palestinians that suicide bombing, at this time or any other, would be suicidal for them. But this does not dissolve [sic] America’s longstanding promise to sponsor mutual recognition between equal populations–a promise that has been unkept for far too long and is now made more urgent rather than less.”
This worthless platitude and excuse for Israeli ruthlessness would not be out of place in the grotesque monologues delivered by Ari Fleisher. It gets worse, as Hitchens tells us, in the same article: “The Palestinian plight is being allowed to worsen (though the Palestinians do seem to be pressing ahead hearteningly with a “regime change” of their own).” That is a fine touch indeed. The Palestinian situation is “being allowed to worsen” as America continues to supply all the means (in the form of billions of dollars of leading edge weapons, and vetoes of resolutions demanding Israel be held to the standards of International law) and encouragement to the serial murderer Ariel Sharon, (whose name has been omitted through some oversight from the Hitchens/Bush list of terrorist culprits to be brought to justice).
Regardless, the trivial concerns of an entire people terrorized, dispossessed and violated for 35 years ought not sidetrack us from the important business at hand–the re-destruction of Iraq. Here however, Hitchens is willing to voice his adamant misgivings: “I am appalled that by this late date no proclamation has been issued to the people of Iraq, announcing the aims and principles of the coming intervention.” One wonders just what he has in mind. “Hey you..Iraq people..listen up! There’s no point wasting your time crawling in terror into some underground fortification with your friends, wives and children, once we start bombing. Our latest weapons (many ingeniously outfitted with depleted uranium) will make short work of you. You may as well relax and get on with your business, whatever that is, because there’s no defense for you anyway. If you survive, we’ll fix up what’s left of the country–good as new, if not better. So quit whining and get with the program. Show some spirit, and Uncle Sam is certain to reward you. He always does.”
As Bush’s latest willing executioner, Hitchens even climbs on board to reanimate the baseless accusations concerning a supposed meeting between lead highjacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague–allegations strenuously denied by both present and former heads of the FBI, CIA officials and just about everyone else active in anti-terror circles. Even Bush admitted recently to the Canadian Prime Minister that this farcical approach to furnishing a pretext for preemptive assault on Iraq was being abandoned, out of a total lack of evidence.
In the end, we have little hope of understanding the startling inconsistency of Christopher Hitchens, who has done a great service in further illuminating the vicious crimes of Henry Kissinger, while giving nearly unbridled support to our current president–a fellow traveler and kindred spirit on the genocide circuit. Indeed, Bush’s space-cold indifference to human life would meet with leering approval from just such scum as Kissinger and for precisely the same reasons.
Hitchens’ often valiant and always eloquent articles on behalf of human rights and decency and against the world’s tyrants and monsters can not alas absolve him of responsibility for supporting a campaign of murderous retribution in Afghanistan and encouraging the immanent slaughter of the long-suffering people of Iraq, the next victims in the crosshairs of Bush’s ‘war without end.’
The left has lost one of its most prolific and compelling voices.
RICHARD HARTH is a writer living in New Orleans, Louisiana. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org