Hitchens on ... History 

Hitchens on ... History

Christopher HItchens criticizes Francis Fukuyama's book, which I probably won't read (I never got around to reading The Last Man and the End of History).

Apparently, Fukuyama argues that the neo-cons who have been very influential in the Bush Administration have been driven by ideology, a belief that history can be speeded up in specific ways, and have therefore ignored reality. In fact, he apparently argues, they have acted as though there is really no reason to study such things as local conditions in Iraq, the cast of characters or major groups, or identify trustworthy people who speak the relevant languages.

How did 9/11 change things? By putting the neo-cons closer to the driver's seat than they had been before. Fukuyama attributes to the neo-cons the following view:

"...that the 'root cause' of terrorism lay in the Middle East's lack of democracy, that the United States had both the wisdom and the ability to fix this problem and that democracy would come quickly and painlessly to Iraq."

Hitchens says this is not "even half-true" as a summary of the neo-con position.

It wasn't that the Middle East "lacked democracy" so much that one of its keystone states was dominated by an unstable and destabilizing dictatorship led by a psychopath. And it wasn't any illusion about the speed and ease of a transition so much as the conviction that any change would be an improvement.


The three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer are these: Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering "yes" thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it? Fukuyama does not even mention these considerations. Instead, by his slack use of terms like "magnet," he concedes to the fanatics and beheaders the claim that they are a response to American blunders and excesses.

"Inevitable"? There's that faith in history again. Another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable? I thought Hitchens' contention was more that the two psychopathic sons would be worse than Saddam, and their expected reign would bring about some kind of crisis--maybe affecting only Iraqis, but possibly affecting, ahem, the oil supply. But: confrontation inevitable, so we might as well go in with 100,000 troops right away? I'm not sure. "Any change would be an improvement"? I'm doubly not sure--and I believe that faith in history is imbedded in that remark too. Surely quite a few of the possible changes could be for the worse?

But what I think most needs to be grappled with in Hitchens is the notion that every bad thing that Muslims do, anywhere in the world, is somehow connected to all the others, and to terrorism, and is therefore some kind of justification for what Bush has done and is doing.

Surely the huge spasm of Islamist hysteria over caricatures published in Copenhagen shows that there is no possible Western insurance against doing something that will inflame jihadists? The sheer audacity and evil of destroying the shrine of the 12th imam is part of an inter-Muslim civil war that had begun long before the forces of al-Qaida decided to exploit that war and also to export it to non-Muslim soil. Yes, we did indeed underestimate the ferocity and ruthlessness of the jihadists in Iraq. Where, one might inquire, have we not underestimated those forces and their virulence? (We are currently underestimating them in Nigeria, for example, which is plainly next on the Bin Laden hit list and about which I have been boring on ever since Bin Laden was good enough to warn us in the fall of 2004.)

Hitchens refers to all this as a "global threat"--that's right, singular. It is one, somehow all united, and it is global.

If there is a long-standing inter-Muslim civil war, isn't this somewhat different than a more or less coordinated threat to the West, or to the U.S. in particular? Isn't there some hope that a significant part of it is none of our business? Especially if there is a distinctive Iraqi battlefield in this civil war? Isn't it possible that the presence of U.S. troops is doing something to make this Iraqi civil war worse, instead of better? Isn't this one of the possible outcomes after deposing Saddam that is actually worse than Saddam? Doesn't it take something like ideological blindness to set these questions aside and go on speaking about one, more or less monolithic, global threat?

Hitchens also speaks of the the "recent and alarmingly rapid projection" of the one global threat "onto European and American soil." Many European countries have a substantial Muslim population that is not well assimilated. The newspapers that originally published the famous cartoons knew they were asking for trouble (as is often the case with people in the middle of a free speech case), and they got it. There has been no anti-cartoon violence in the U.S. or Canada, where the Muslim populations seem much better assimilated. Nor were there anti-cartoon riots, as far as I know, in Iraq. (Nor, I believe, is Iraq an important source of the Muslim immigrants to Western Europe). Of course, Iraqis may have other things on their minds. More serious things, but different ones. It's not clear the Muslims who deliberately fomented anti-cartoon riots are also plotting some kind of terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It's not impossible; but it seems unlikely that Hitchens somehow knows that it is all really the same worldwide threat.

(Canada's 9/11, for what it's worth, was probably the Air India bombing--which had nothing to do with Muslims).

Then, a subtle shift away from defending the multi-trillion dollar invasion of Iraq. Hitchens hints that the coming battles may be in "Kashmir or Kabul or Kazakhstan," and it will be helpful to have "a battle-hardened army that has actually learned from fighting in the terrible conditions of rogue-state/failed-state combat." So maybe the Iraq war, whatever its own merits, will turn out to be the best possible drill for the coming global conflagration. Hitchens can hope so, anyway.

Another shift: Hitchens praises the neo-cons this way: "they looked at Milosevic and Saddam and the Taliban and realized that they would have to be confronted sooner rather than later." Wow. So now these are all one global campaign as well? A Serbian nationalist ex-communist who was ethnically cleansing Muslims, a more or less secular tyrant in an Arab country who oppressed pious Muslims, and a fanatically Muslim regime that was in league with al Qaeda? All the same? That's truly brilliant.

On Milosevic vs. Saddam, I think there is a more sophisticated Bushie argument just below the surface. Many Republicans (although not Bush) opposed the U.S. intervention in ex-Yugoslavia as sentimental nonsense. They were probably inclined to retreat to their old isolationism: none of these foreigners can hurt us very much, so why should we bother? Now as Bushies they are committed to the war in Iraq, and the one rationale that they cling to more and more is that they are engaged in humanitarian intervention--not like those heartless Democrats who don't love Iraqis enough. How can humanitarian intervention now be good, whereas a few short years ago it was bad? It's a different kind. It doesn't work with the UN--the UN are a bunch of crooks. Oh, but not crooks like Ahmed Chalabi (Hitchens' drinking buddy)--a different kind of crook. And the new intervention isn't namby-pamby, hand-wringing, taking the ball down the field a few yards at a time. It uses force, it scores touchdowns, and it tells much of the world to do something anatomically challenging.

Hitchens even defends his "one-time Trotskyist comrades": "they saw Hitlerism and Stalinism coming—and also saw that the two foes would one day fuse together—and so did what they could to sound the alarm." On the parts of this that make sense, I guess the same is true of Churchill--and the point that too few people either saw or sounded the alarm is worth making. I've been thinking about how the Brits ignored the buildup of Prussian militarism before World War I--I'm talking decades--and this makes me sympathetic to the Bushie claim that it is better to do something rather than nothing.

But there is always something a bit crazy with Hitchens. Hitlerism and Stalinism "fused together"? What the hell?

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