“The case for overthrowing Saddam was unimpeachable. Why, then, is the administration tongue-tied?” Thus the Murdoch-owned September 5/12 Weekly Standard. If the Standard‘s editors can’t figure out the answer, let me help them. The Bush Administration is tongue-tied because it doesn’t know what lie to put out next. The Weekly Standard whistles up its Condé Nast scrivener, Christopher Hitchens, to try to make the arguments the White House can’t come up with. He offers us ten points in favor of the war. Let me deal with them one by one.
“(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.”
Few theories have been so generally discredited over the past two years as the supposed connection between the Taliban and the Baath Party in Iraq before the war in 2003. One of the supposed links–publicized by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker–was an Iranian Kurdish drug smuggler held in prison in Iraqi Kurdistan who claimed to have met bin Laden in Kandahar, in Afghanistan, and senior Baathists in Iraq. Before the war began, the smuggler had long been exposed as a liar. On Zarqawi Hitchens is all over the map. For example, Zarqawi was famously at odds with bin Laden in Afghanistan.
“(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.”
Long before the invasion of Iraq, Qaddafi was eager for rapprochement with the United States. Blair had already reopened relations with Libya. The scenario of a cowed Qaddafi suddenly abandoning secret plans to construct a nuclear arsenal is far less persuasive than the likelihood he’d never been serious about building WMDs and took whatever shipments from Pakistan were in the warehouse and surfaced them as an extra stimulant for the rapprochement he’s wanted for a long time.
“(3) The consequent unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network for the illicit transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.”
The A.Q. Khan network unmasked? This was so generally known that to put it in his list Hitchens is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel.
“(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.”
It would be far more impressive if the war led to the reform of the United States. Far more money has disappeared since the war than ever went missing before. At least $5 billion is missing from the Paul Bremer era alone.
“(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.)”
But most of the “cheating and concealment” alleged against Iraq turned out to be untrue, so why does the fact that Schröder and Chirac said so at the time (unlike Bush), and got this right, make their similar doubts about escalating the conflict with Iran so suspect for Hitchens? Anyway, the treaty under discussion is the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which permits development of an enrichment program. Iran has not violated the treaty.
“(6) The ability to certify Iraq as actually disarmed, rather than accept the word of a psychopathic autocrat.”
The UN inspectors had shown that Iraq had no usable WMDs posing a threat to anybody. There was no need to listen to the lies of a psychopathic autocrat. The reports of Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei sufficed.
“(7) The immense gains made by the largest stateless minority in the region–the Kurds–and the spread of this example to other states.”
The Kurds did benefit, though no thanks to Bush. In the weeks before the war the United States invited 40,000 Turkish troops into northern Iraq, to the horror of the Iraqi Kurds. Only when the Turkish Parliament rejected the presence of a US Army in Turkey invading Iraq from the north was the United States forced to ally itself with the Kurds.
“(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.”
This offers a truly amazing faith in the democratic process now under way in Egypt and elsewhere.
“(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.”
This is a peculiarly silly remark. Of course, there weren’t thousands of bin Laden militants before 2003. For video promos for Al Qaeda, bin Laden had to hire local tribesmen to take part in military exercises. If the implication is that all the trouble in Iraq is now caused by foreign infiltrators, then Hitchens is maintaining a position even the US Army in Baghdad has abandoned.
“(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.”
Ludicrous. What is meant by “hardening”? Getting young men and women used to killing or being killed, expert in torture? In reality, of course, what has happened in Iraq is likely to give the US Army and civilians a lasting distaste for such ventures. And a significant percentage of the “hardened” troops coming home will exact their protracted toll, in the usual currency of alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.