CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS & TARIQ ALI
debate the Iraq War
Tariq Ali is author of Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq, and editor of the New Left Review. Christopher Hitchens's latest book is called, Blood, Class, and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship. This interview is published with the permission of Democracy Now.
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AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don't we start off with Christopher Hitchens. Your assessment, Christopher, right now, of what's happening in Iraq.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I think that the United States and coalition forces are not militarily defeatable in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you mean?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Yes. I mean, I think it's important to know first what can't happen. I've been mocked for saying this in an earlier report from Iraq, but I'm reprinting it in my upcoming collection. Military superiority is something you have to see to -- to believe. Unless the United States chooses to be defeated in Iraq, it cannot be. Therefore, the insurgency, so-called, will be defeated. And all logical and moral conclusions you want to draw from that, should be drawn.
TARIQ ALI:Well, I think Christopher is right on this, that militarily, it is virtually impossible to defeat the United States. After all, they were not defeated militarily in Vietnam, either. It was a big military offensive by the Vietnamese. But had there not been a growing opposition to the war in the United States, a big anti-war movement which penetrated and percolated into the heart of the American army, that war could have gone on. What brought the Vietnam War to an end was the combination of the Vietnamese military offensive and just a refusal by the American public, and in large sectors of the army to accept that this war was winnable. The question is this: The United States army cannot be defeated militarily; they're incredibly powerful, but can the Iraqi people be defeated? Can Iraq be anything else but a lame colony mixture of Gaza and Guantanamo under foreign occupation? So it's -- it's a difficult one, this. And I think a low-scale, low-level intensity guerilla war could carry on for years; and the attrition finally could reach such a stage that the United States would say, it's not worth it. I mean, as it is today, many conservative people, Edward Luttwak, the Brookings Institute are saying we should cut and run. It's not been worth it. It's going to end extremely badly; and we should leave before we are humiliated. They don't mean a military humiliation. What they mean is a failure to achieve the goals which this administration set itself. I mean, we shouldn't forget that early on we were told it would be a cakewalk. Rumsfeld said, maximum, this war would only last for six months. Pro-U.S. administration Arabs in Washington said they'd be welcomed with sweets and flowers. None of that has happened. And what has become obvious is that the Iraqi people don't like being occupied. They may have loathed Saddam, but they don't like being occupied by the United States. And so one has to move to a situation of U.S. withdrawal, and the emergence of an elected Iraqi government, which will determine its own future, including control of its own oil. There's no other way out.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, I mean just as a point of honor, because this is so often used as a taunt, you would have to call me a liar if you said there was no greeting of American troops. I can't actually vouch for the sweets. But I can sure vouch for the flowers. And for mass outpouring of rejoicing and welcome. I've seen it myself. I'm not going to be persuaded it didn't happen. It may be an unimportant thing; but it seems to have become a regular jeer. It did happen. I saw it myself a lot in all parts of the country. Second, the nature of the enemy is what defines this war, I believe, and makes all comparisons with Vietnam ridiculous. Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, said about Najaf, the struggle over the mosque there, that if this was the Vietnam War, the Najaf moment would be remembered as its Tet offensive. And I therefore presume -- I have to presume -- he means that the ridiculous mullah involved would be, I'm not quite sure, Ho Chi Minh? At any rate, Mr. Sadr has now been isolated, discredited; his forces have been killed in very large numbers, without pity or compunction, I'm glad to say, by American and British forces. He's been broken and they've been broken morally, too. They're rattled. They're shattered. And they're -- Even today we read, in Sadr City itself, the heartland, so-called, in Baghdad, they're cueing up either to sell or give away their heavy weapons. Now that may be a bluff. That's been promised before. But it is not where the Vietcong were six months after the Tet offensive. So all of this is nonsense, in other words. The United States will not break domestically. Edward Luttwak represents nobody; I'm not sure he even represents himself in this point. The Brookings Institution is virtually irrelevant. People know they're looking down the gun barrel of theocracy of a particularly violent, disorderly, cruel, sectarian, fanatical kind, somewhat worse than the Taliban. Since this is an enemy across the globe and in our own society, there is no possibility of surrender with it or of negotiation with it. So that's another respect in which the Vietnam analogy is futile.
TARIQ ALI: In the first place, I think it's extremely important to understand that the people fighting the United States in Iraq are not exclusively religious groups. The religious groups, in fact, are barely involved in the armed struggle. The armed struggle in Iraq today, as any Pentagon analyst will tell you, is being carried out by former members of the Iraqi army, many of them dissidents even during the Saddam years, who decided that Saddam was utterly useless, wasn't going to do anything to defend the country, was incapable of doing so; and months before the invasion happened had prepared that they would wage a long, hard, scorched-earth guerilla resistance. These are not religious people. The religious groups which Christopher is talking about, the Shia groups, in many cases, not in the case of Al Sadr, but in some cases were actually very pro the United States, during the Saddam years. They were being backed by the United States. They were being given money by the United States. And some of these Shia groups are still allied to the United States. Others aren't. So you can't pick and choose your theocrats. If they're with us, they're fine; if they're against us, they're a problem. This is a decision, unfortunately, which does not -- or fortunately -- which does not lie in Christopher's hands or mine. This is something the Iraqi people will decide and determine for themselves when they are given the chance to vote. Now what happens if, in a genuine election, not an election carried out under occupation, the Iraqis decide to vote the Shia parties into power. Are we going to challenge that militarily? Are we going to crush them pitilessly? Are we going to kill them because this is what they want? And I think the whole point of toppling Saddam, I was told by Christopher and others, was to liberate Iraq so that the people could determine their own future. Now we are being told that the only people who can determine their future is the United States army and the Bush administration. And I disagree with Christopher that there won't be a price to pay inside the United States if casualties carry on, at this rate, even. There will be opposition in the United States, as there is, which is beginning to percolate through even to the Democratic Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Tariq is the author of, among other books, his latest, Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq. Also editor of the New Left Review. Christopher Hitchens is the author of Blood, Class, and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: The people I feel sorry for are those who are genuinely anti-war, such as yourself and Tariq, who find themselves having had to hope for team that's committed to carrying on the war, except without the sense of
AMY GOODMAN: I want to get your response to a comment made by Richard Perle, former Pentagon advisor. He made this comment at a conference organized by the American Enterprise Institute.
RICHARD PERLE: And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.
TARIQ ALI: Well, what can one say? I mean, it's utterly ridiculous. I would suggest, however, that when the foreign occupiers finally are forced to leave Iraq, that a tiny public toilet in the big square in Baghdad is named after Richard Perle in memory of that remark.
AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Hitchens?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: In a way, I feel pity for -- I seem to be expressing sympathy for everyone this morning -- it's not my usual style. Genuine pity for Richard Perle because he does or did have quite a good mind. He's become, as you know, a figure of ridicule and contempt because of his endless double-dipping of consultancies with the Turks, consultancies with the Israelis, consultancies now with the long-lamented Lord Black, the newspaper tycoon. I don't think it's as important a remark to detain us for long. President Bush doesn't want a square named after himself in Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you say, Christopher, that you've joined the ranks now of the neo-cons, the neo-conservatives?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I couldn't quite say that. I mean, there is a division within the neo-conservative movement, which is, by the way, one of the tests of its authenticity as a tendency. I would say I was a supporter of Paul Wolfowitz, though, if you want that answer from me.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: And I feel I can illustrate what I think is the difference. There was a lot of argument about the relationship between Iraq and the Palestinian question. Now there are some of the neo-conservatives, I think, thought by taking out the main rejectionist dictatorship in the region, they would make Eretz Israel, or Greater Israel, more secure, or more feasible, alternatively, whether you think Greater Israel has been achieved or not. There were others of the same kidney, if you wish, where Wolfowitz and others took exactly the opposite feeling. If you took out the rejectionist dictatorship, you were in a stronger position to bring the leverage on Israel about the settlements and about expansionism, especially at a time when the Likud party itself is beginning to abandon the ultimate dream of Eretz Israel.
TARIQ ALI: Well, I must say what Christopher said on this is undeniable. The Democrats have over the last 20 years been completely uncritical of every single Israeli government, which has continued to press the Palestinians and crush and kill on a daily basis. What I dispute is whether a Bush would be of any benefit in this particular direction, because the whole thing has now been subsumed under the war against terror, so-called. And Sharon became a valued ally of the Bush administration because he was regarded as absolutely central in the war against terror. And every single struggle is now characterized as a struggle against terrorism. I mean, Putin has destroyed half of Chechnya in the name of the so-called war against terror. And Sharon continues to do that in Palestine. And I think unless this administration abandons this whole concept and this whole notion, we're in trouble. And that of course, applies to Paul Wolfowitz himself. I mean, I don't know how Christopher sees Wolfowitz as different to, for instance someone who I know he still disagrees with violently, which is Henry Kissinger. I mean, what makes Wolfowitz different from Henry Kissinger in terms of projecting America power? They have different tactics, they have, to do this. But by and large they are very similar people, I would have thought.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Can I recommend a book by James Mann, Jim Mann of the Los Angeles Times written a very good book. It's got the rather vulgar title of The Rise of the Vulcans. It's an examination of the neo-conservative tendency in Washington and within the Republican party. And actually it takes on the question of Wolfowitz versus Kissinger very well. It's the only book I know of that properly does do it. Wolfowitz and Kissinger disliked each other and disagreed very strongly with each other for a long time. I think the origin of the disagreement and the origin of Wolfowitz's political career is that he argued it was important to dump the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Base or no base, let it go and take the chances that this would have a ripple effect in the rest of Asia, which was just what Kissinger didn't want. As a result, there were outbreaks of democratic insurgency, starting with the Aquino election, in South Korea, in Taiwan, eventuating in Tiananmen Square, in fact, in 1989, which of course, Kissinger also opposed and took the side of the Chinese Stalinists. On the Middle East, the victory of the neo-conservatives is very paradoxical, because contra Bush, Eagleburger, Bush Sr., Scowcroft -- I've just mentioned, by the way, the two leading members of Kissinger Associates -- and others, Colin Powell. The argument of the neo-conservatives, or at least of the Wolfowitz wing, was, "We can't go on like this, running the Middle East as a kind of political slum of client states. We have to take the chance that destabilization would be worth it in the long run." That's what, that's still why the extreme right in the country, people like Buchanan and others, oppose it. Precisely for that reason. They and the pro-Saudi conservatives. To the extent I'm a neo-conservative, it would be because they're the only ones willing to take the radical risk of regime change.
AMY GOODMAN: Christopher, you've written in a piece in Slate talking about Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, Tariq Ali as "fellow travelers" with fascism.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Yes. I think that the ideology espoused by people like Zarqawi deserves the comparisons with fascism. It's fanatical, it's irrational, it's dictatorial, it's racist, and it's a product of a terrible psychological and sexual repression. It gashes me more than I can easily say, or probably even have time to say, to hear it called a resistance or an insurgency, or to have people call, as Tariq, I'm sorry to say did in the pages of New Left Review some time ago, for solidarity with it. That is something that I've never heard properly justified or explained. Michael Moore in his film compares these people in Iraq, who as you know are the murderers and rapists and torturers, to the founding fathers of the American revolution. This to me is inexplicable. Well, I'm sorry to say in the case of Michael Moore, it's not inexplicable. But in the case of Tariq, I thought you would offer a better explanation.
TARIQ ALI: I think words like fascism shouldn't be thrown about lightly, leave alone accusing people you disagree with of being "fellow travelers" with fascism. I mean, Christopher, from that point of view, is a fellow traveler with imperialism. He's a fellow traveler with people who are carrying out tortures in Iraq. The side he's on has killed several thousand innocent Iraqi civilians. But he supports that war, so you take, you know, what you get. You support a side of the war and you accept all of this as collateral damage, including the tortures, which are part and parcel of every single colonial war. And I would urge Christopher, very seriously, to go back and look at the war that was fought in Algeria. We have a mythology about this war that it was exclusively secular. It wasn't. There was a very strong, whether we like it or not -- and I don't like it, because as Christopher knows full well, I'm an atheist, I'm not a believer in any religion. But if you have countries where a large part of the population are Muslims, obviously Islamic groups play a part in it, as they did in Algeria. As for thinking that Zarqawi –
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Which Algerian war are you talking about?
TARIQ ALI: I'm talking about the war against the French.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Ah. Not the Islamic insurgency against the FLN, which was put down by people who were defending the Algerian state from Islamic insurgency.
TARIQ ALI: I know, Christopher. And the reason that that particular insurgency started in Algeria is because the military interrupted a democratic election halfway because they were told that their opponents were going to win, rather than letting them win and putting firm demands on the table that they wouldn't accept any tampering with the constitution. That triggered off the insurgency. That's a different story. Now, to pretend that the entire resistance in Iraq is Zarqawi and his group is just completely false. This is a tiny group, built up in the western media largely. Attacked by most Iraqis, dissidents of every sort, who are opposed to the occupation. And you've got to just accept this. And I don't even support Zarqawi. I've never said I support him. I've criticized him in public and in interviews with Arab television networks, saying this is not the way. But the resistance in Iraq is much, much broader and much deeper than that. And incidentally, as far as talking about these people having repressive sexual attitudes, this is, of course, absolutely true, which I have denounced many a time, openly and publicly. But what about the Christian majority inside the Republican party which you support, Christopher? Whatever else you say about Bush, you can't say his attitudes on homosexuality are particularly enlightened, not to mention capital punishment.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I actually couldn't say that I knew what the President's attitudes on homosexuality was. I know what his attitude on gay marriage is. I think it's slightly strange. Well then, I should simply say this. The only really organized rebel force in Iraq, worthy of the name insurgent force, force of people's army, guerilla warfare, is and has been the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and its allies whose flag I'm happy to wear on my lapel. They deserve the name of a true rebel people's army. They of course are fighting for regime change, and as long as they do, so will I.
TARIQ ALI: I think the Iraqi resistance continues to grow because a colonial occupation has that effect, that even people who might have initially been indifferent or even halfway sympathetic, seeing the effects of a colonial occupation, where large numbers, several thousands of innocent civilians are being killed -- when you see the pictures from Samarra, of women fleeing with their children -- it stokes the resistance. Zarqawi is neither here nor there.