Although I left 90 minutes into the Galloway-Hitchens debate, I feel pretty confident that I had taken in the high points, such as they were. The event succeeded more as theater than as education, with both characters playing to the gallery and practically imitating themselves.
The basic problem is that a debate over the war in Iraq is a little bit like debating whether the earth is round or flat, or as Galloway put it, “Is there any sentient being on this planet who still believes that this war was just and necessary?” Apart from the inner circles of the Bush administration, Hitchens and the odd band of his admirers drawn to the debate, that is.
In his opening 20 minute presentation, Hitchens made the case for how much the better the world is since March 2003, when the USA invaded Iraq. This was basically a rehash of an article he wrote for the hardcore neoconservative “Weekly Standard” that can be read here:
Galloway responded with withering scorn, dwelling at length on Hitchens’s stance during the first Gulf War. All of the arguments he made for going into Iraq today could have been made in 1991, and even more strongly since most of Saddam Hussein’s depredations occurred during the 1980s, including the gassing of the Kurds. But this did not stop Hitchens from opposing the war. In a follow-up in the next round, Hitchens claimed that he was “mistaken” at the time and left it at that. But the most satisfying part of Galloway’s remarks, and what most people came to hear, was his characterization of Hitchens as an exception to the laws of evolutionary biology. He once was a butterfly, making beautiful speeches against the Gulf War in 1991, but has turned into a slug, leaving a trail of slime behind him.
When I was outside on the sidewalk before the event started, I noticed a shabby looking character passing out leaflets to people waiting on line to buy a ticket. After a few seconds, I realized it was none other than Hitchens himself and not some crazed Trotskyist sectarian calling for a New International. The leaflet was a screed against Galloway, accusing him of corrupt profiteering over the dead bodies of Iraqi children through the oil for food program. The charges found in the leaflet can be read at http://www.hitchensweb.com/ along with others just as baseless. The main impression I got from Hitchens is that he is rather crazed at this point. I tried to imagine Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman or some other fan of the war in Iraq resorting to mass leafleting in this fashion. I was unsuccessful.
Hitchens’s supporters in the audience were just as crazed as their hero. While Galloway’s supporters, including me, were content to absorb his rapier-like arguments, the opposite side seemed more like the sort of people who show up at athletic events, including one woman who kept screaming at the top of her lungs. Another Hitchens supporter, a young man in his mid-20’s I would guess, sat in the row in front of me and seemed determined to argue with everybody around him in what he must have considered a superior Socratic method: “So you would have not intervened against Hitler then?” But mostly he couldn’t sit still, jumping around in his seat like a monkey overdosed on Methamphetamines.
Amidst all the brawling, there were some educational points. When Hitchens mentioned the “Cedar Revolution” in Lebanon as a positive consequence of Bush’s war, Galloway replied that if there were elections in Lebanon tomorrow, the head of Hizbollah would likely be elected. However, since he is a Moslem that would be impossible since the constitution bars anybody but Christians from taking office. Where did that constitution come from, Galloway asked? It was imposed as the result of the invasion of the US marines in 1958. That was a valuable point and one worth following up on.
CSPAN2’s “BookTV” will be showing the debate this Saturday. Check it out for some lively entertainment and some useful arguments against the war in Iraq, as if any more were needed at this point.
LOUIS PROYECT writes for SWANS. He can be reached at: email@example.com
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005