Thursday, March 22, 2007


Possibly because Vanity Fair and Slate must wonder why they feature Christopher Hitchens so prominently, considering how wrong he’s been on Iraq over so much time and with so many words, Hitchens has used this week’s Slate column to defend himself.

It almost seems he’s going to say something worthwhile; the column bears the headline “So, Mr. Hitchens, weren’t you wrong about Iraq?” and the subhead “Hard questions, four years later.” But the article is tough in the same way as those “town meetings” led by President Bush, where no one is allowed in unless they share Bush’s point of view and all questions are handed in on paper ahead of time. So Hitchens asks himself eight questions and answers them all.

Well, not really. For instance, he asks whether Colin Powell’s performance before the United Nations was a disgrace, but his answer, as brief as it is, is primarily about side issues. (“A few points of interest did emerge,” he writes, with one of the two being that “Iraqi authorities were caught on air trying to mislead U.N. inspectors (nothing new there).” It is left to the reader to decide whether saying there’s “nothing new” contradicts Hitchens calling it a point of interest. I decide it does. This is weak stuff.) He also defends the Iraqi terrorism defense of the war by saying, somewhat oddly, that the Bush administration “never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001.” It’s old news Bush and the Republicans linked Iraq and 9/11 by implication and rhetorical trick every chance they got, so this refutation is so gratuitous as to be counterproductive. The very act of bringing it up is damaging and silly — kind of the “I never promised you a rose garden” defense.

Save for introductory questions on Bush’s U.N. resolution and the prewar massing of forces in the Gulf, the other questions are answered in a similarly oblique and disingenuous fashion.

Two are downright offensive.

Hitchens asks if we should have known Iraq lacked weapons of mass destruction, and in answering employs the same trick the Bush administration used so many times: He cites information supplied by Hussein Kamel, the brother-in-law of Saddam Hussein and leader of the country’s weapons program for a decade, without noting that Kamel, as far back as 1995, said Iraq destroyed its WMD after the Gulf War and that the presence of U.N. inspectors prevented its revival. Powell did the same before the U.N. Vice President Cheney misrepresented Kamel’s testimony in a Veterans of Foreign Wars speech in 2002. But no Bush administration official or apologist ever acknowledged this publicly to claim Iraq reconstituted its arms when U.N. inspectors were gone after 1998. They just ignored it. That Iraq’s lack of weaponry was confirmed repeatedly by the inspectors, Iraqi scientists, their families and Saddam Hussein himself made no difference.

I’ve been citing Kamel’s testimony, courtesy of Newsweek, as far back as September 2003. The idea that Hitchens isn’t aware of what Kamel said, four years after me and 12 years after British and U.S. intelligence, is absurd. It’s information he chooses to ignore.

In Slate, Hitchens also belittles the work done by U.N. inspectors, saying their work wasn’t reliable so long as Iraq’s Baath Party was in power. Yet Powell himself, on ABC-TV’s “This Week” in 2003, acknowledged that the government had relied on information from the inspectors between the Gulf War and 1998.

“From 1998 until we went in earlier this year, there was a period where we didn’t have benefit of U.N. inspectors actually on the ground, and our intelligence community had to do the best they could,” he said.

So the government relied on inspectors’ information until 1998 but couldn’t when inspectors returned in 2002? Before slipping in a total non sequitur about Libyan weapons — more answering of questions no one asked, even himself — Hitchens makes the indefensible charge that “To call for serious and unimpeachable inspections was to call, in effect, for a change of regime in Iraq.” This is Hitchens again ignoring that, shortly before the beginning of the war, Saddam Hussein not only gave U.N. inspectors access, but invited “direct U.S. involvement on the ground in disarming Iraq,” as reported in The New York Times and British Daily Telegraph in November 2003, an entreaty our government rejected in its all-out drive for war.

Hitchens defends himself weakly, and is able to do so only by ignoring widely available information. While not a very long piece, “So, Mr. Hitchens, weren’t you wrong about Iraq?” could have been much, much shorter.

Yes, he was.

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