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Machiavelli in Mesopotamia (Hitchens makes the case for "regime change" in Iraq.)
Slate ^ | 11/7/02 | Christopher Hitchens

Posted on 11/07/2002 4:26:38 PM PST by xm177e2

Part of the charm of the regime-change argument (from the point of view of its supporters) is that it depends on premises and objectives that cannot, at least by the administration, be publicly avowed. Since Paul Wolfowitz is from the intellectual school of Leo Strauss—and appears in fictional guise as such in Saul Bellow's novel Ravelstein—one may even suppose that he enjoys this arcane and occluded aspect of the debate. For those lacking a similar gift for hidden meanings, the best way to appreciate the unstated case for war may be to examine the criticisms leveled by its opponents. These criticisms, which rely on supposed inconsistencies and hypocrisies on the pro-war side, are themselves riddled with contradictions.

First, the opponents of war say, why choose Saddam Hussein when there are so many other bad guys? Second (and related), why exempt Saudi Arabia, which has proven ties to al-Qaida? Third, what about Palestine, for which we already bear a responsibility? Fourth, haven't the Republican establishment, from Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld, been the smiling patrons and financiers of Saddam in the past? There are other points, but you know the tune by now.

Accidentally, this liberal critique helps expose the fact that the chief opponents of a "regime change" strategy are in fact conservatives. They consist of the friends of Saudi Arabia and Turkey (who likewise oppose the strategy) and of the periphery, at least, of the Kissinger Associates. And they include, as far as we can tell, the president's father. The jeer about Dubya finishing what Daddy began has, you will notice, subsided lately, as 41's old foreign policy hands have been signing on with the peacemakers.

Taking the points in order, it's fairly easy to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy's bad guy. He's not just bad in himself but the cause of badness in others. While he survives not only are the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples compelled to live in misery and fear (the sheerly moral case for regime-change is unimpeachable on its own), but their neighbors are compelled to live in fear as well.

However—and here is the clinching and obvious point—Saddam Hussein is not going to survive. His regime is on the verge of implosion. It has long passed the point of diminishing returns. Like the Ceausescu edifice in Romania, it is a pyramid balanced on its apex (its powerbase a minority of the Sunni minority), and when it falls, all the consequences of a post-Saddam Iraq will be with us anyway. To suggest that these consequences—Sunni-Shi'a rivalry, conflict over the boundaries of Kurdistan, possible meddling from Turkey or Iran, vertiginous fluctuations in oil prices and production, social chaos—are attributable only to intervention is to be completely blind to the impending reality. The choices are two and only two—to experience these consequences with an American or international presence or to watch them unfold as if they were none of our business. (I respect those who say that the United States should simply withdraw from the Middle East, but I don't respect them for anything but their honesty.)

Once this self-evident point has been appreciated, it becomes a matter of making a virtue of necessity. If an intervention helps rescue Iraq from mere anarchy and revenge, some of the potential virtues are measurable in advance. The recuperation of the Iraqi oil industry represents the end of the Saudi monopoly, and we know that there are many Wolfowitzians who yearn for this but cannot prudently say so in public. The mullahs in Iran hate America more than they hate Saddam, while Iranian public opinion—notice how seldom "the Iranian street" is mentioned by peaceniks—takes a much more pro-American view. It's hard to picture the disappearance of the Saddam regime as anything but an encouragement to civil and democratic forces in Tehran, as well as in Bahrain, Qatar, and other gulf states that are experimenting with democracy and women's rights. Turkey will be wary about any increase in Kurdish autonomy (another good cause by the way), but even the Islamists in Turkey are determined to have a closer association with the European Union, and the EU has made it clear that Turkey's own Kurds must be granted more recognition before this can occur. One might hope that no American liberal would want to demand any less.

In Palestine and Jordan the situation is far more fraught, because loathing for the vile Ariel Sharon has often translated into sympathy for Saddam, and because Saddam has been cultivating the Palestinian rejectionists. However, with his demise this support will have literally nowhere to go, and Chairman Yasser Arafat's discredited entourage will have no serious "rejectionist" option left to them, either. This will be the ultimate test of statecraft: Will a realistic Palestinian acceptance of a territorial solution be acknowledged in the form of a dismantling of settlements? By "statecraft" I mean the word literally, since Bush is the first president to have employed the word "state" and "Palestinian" in the same sentence. It is not easy to be optimistic here, but then again there is little to lose, since the so-called "Oslo" process is a proven failure from the viewpoint either of principle or practice.

From conversations I have had on this subject in Washington, I would say that the most fascinating and suggestive conclusion is this: After Sept. 11, several conservative policy-makers decided in effect that there were "root causes" behind the murder-attacks. These "root causes" lay in the political slum that the United States has been running in the region, and in the rotten nexus of client-states from Riyadh to Islamabad. Such causes cannot be publicly admitted, nor can they be addressed all at once. But a slum-clearance program is beginning to form in the political mind.

Iraq is, for fairly obvious reasons, the keystone state here, and it is already at critical mass. Thus it seems to me idle to argue that a proactive policy is necessarily doomed to make more enemies. I have always disliked this argument viscerally, since it suggests that I should meekly avoid the further disapproval of those who hate me quite enough to begin with. Given some intelligence and foresight, however, I believe that an armed assistance to the imminent Iraqi and Kurdish revolutions can not only make some durable friends, it can also give the theocrats and their despotic patrons something to really hate us for.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: charlesmanson; christopherhitchens; clashcivilizations; donaldrumsfeld; helterskelter; iraq; kurds; lyndonlarouche; moshiach; palestinians; paulwolfowitz; racialholywar; richardperle; saddamhussein; samuelphuntington; saudiarabia; syria; turkey; whitesvnonwhites; wolfowitz; zbigniewbrzezinski; zionism
Christopher Hitchens will be on C-Span tomorrow morning with Andrew Sullivan from 8-10am Eastern taking your calls. I found this article via AndrewSullivan.com
1 posted on 11/07/2002 4:26:38 PM PST by xm177e2
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To: xm177e2
A rather refreshing honest admission by a hawk on the proposed war with Iraq and it has nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction" or Iraq as a threat to us at all but about hegemony for the entire region with Iraq as just the first in a long list of wars and interventions.
2 posted on 11/07/2002 4:33:21 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
it has nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction" or Iraq as a threat to us

Hitch never said that.

The actual subtitle of the article was "The case against the case against "Regime Change" in Iraq," this was meant to be an argument against the anti-war critics.

In any case, just because Hitch justifies this intervention on the moral level doesn't mean hawks in Washington are thinking solely on that level. There are plenty of other reasons to go to war, and WMD is one of them.

3 posted on 11/07/2002 4:47:23 PM PST by xm177e2
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To: xm177e2
However—and here is the clinching and obvious point—Saddam Hussein is not going to survive. His regime is on the verge of implosion. It has long passed the point of diminishing returns. Like the Ceausescu edifice in Romania, it is a pyramid balanced on its apex (its powerbase a minority of the Sunni minority), and when it falls, all the consequences of a post-Saddam Iraq will be with us anyway.

Pretty good argument for containment rather than proactive intervention.

4 posted on 11/07/2002 4:54:08 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
...until one considers the great liklihood that his replacement will be just as bad (if not worse) if we don't "assist" the customer in making the right "purchase."
5 posted on 11/07/2002 5:08:43 PM PST by Bonaparte
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To: xm177e2
"These "root causes" lay in the political slum that the United States has been running in the region, and in the rotten nexus of client-states from Riyadh to Islamabad. Such causes cannot be publicly admitted, nor can they be addressed all at once. But a slum-clearance program is beginning to form in the political mind. "

This is really the only arguement against interfering in Iraq. Given the State Departments miserable handling of the US's "client" states to date, what has changed to make it reasonable to assume that they will do better in the future?

I have no doubt that the US military can get rid of Saddam. I am not so confident that what follows will be any better.

We seem to have a penchant for helping people over there who a few years down the road turn on us, and become our biggest headaches. Compare this to what is happening in Iran where we have been conspiciously absent for the last 20 years?

6 posted on 11/07/2002 5:29:17 PM PST by monday
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To: Mitchell; Nogbad
Hitchens on Iraq ping.
7 posted on 11/07/2002 5:35:31 PM PST by keri
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To: Burkeman1
I find the article refreshing and honest. However, I don't take from it what you do. I see it as an intelligent and thoughtful position on what preemtion is really about. I also love his vocabulary.
8 posted on 11/07/2002 5:39:00 PM PST by Bahbah
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To: monday
Yes. It is quite the paradox isn't it? Where America has not had her influence felt in the Middle East for years (like Iran) they seem to love us. But where we do prop up corrupt ruling regimes they hate us. We are a beacon- our example alone is enough to topple these regimes without our interference. But if we go there we become the focul point of hate for every nutjob ideology in the region. Iran has had no contact with America or interference with us for 20 years. And yet the Iranians love us. Let the Middle East alone and they will all see what the Iranians see. In short- let them grow up by themselves. Otherwise we will give them decades more of excuses and bring ourselves more 9/11's.
9 posted on 11/07/2002 6:11:59 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Bahbah
I don't doubt the intentions of those who want to go to war with Iraq and that region generally. They have good inentions. But are they wise? Are they sound? Are they good for this nation? I don't think so and stand in opposition.
10 posted on 11/07/2002 6:13:57 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: xm177e2
Bump!
11 posted on 11/07/2002 6:24:31 PM PST by F-117A
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To: Burkeman1
Principled and thoughtful opposition is what I find so wonderful about this place. You give me the opportunity for espectful disagreement and constant rethinking of my position.
12 posted on 11/07/2002 6:43:42 PM PST by Bahbah
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To: xm177e2
Exactly. Iraq is the keystone of the arch. If you go in there first, then Iran will probably have a regime change from within, as the Iranians finally overthrow their puritan clerics. Then, once you have a stable grip on Iraq's oil, you can afford to deal with Saudi Arabia. To take on the Saudis without that handle on Iraqi oil reserves would be to risk an international economic catastrophe. Not only that, but the downfall of the Iraqi regime will probably destabilize the Saudi Royal family, giving us a good excuse to go in and straighten things out.

The remaining domino in this picture is Syria, which Hitchens neglects to mention. We will probably need to invade Syria, too, and free Lebanon from the terrorists who infest it. That will likely be the next step right after we finish with Saddam.
13 posted on 11/07/2002 6:58:27 PM PST by Cicero
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To: Cicero
Then why not be honest about it? Why not talk about these options in the open? Or are the American people too stupid to know all these secret plans? Whatever happened to the Weapons of Mass Destrution? Maybe little 18 year old Johnny in Alabama should know all this before he signs up for the marines and is put in harms way?
14 posted on 11/07/2002 7:14:55 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Bahbah
Me as well. I am solidly anti war with Iraq. But I bristle and get sick when I hear the Left "anti war" crowd talk. In fact- the left shows how much they hate this country in their "anti war" talk. They are not "anti war"- they are anti American. If Satan himself had a nation called Hell- and the United States was waging war against Satan's state the Left in this country would be protesting against our war effort!

Don't confuse patriotic opposition to any war against Iraq with the disgusting cliches and typical reactions of the Hate America Left. They have no credibility.

15 posted on 11/07/2002 7:46:23 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: xm177e2
A Bolshevik makes the case for invading Iraq. How come he sounds like Norman Podhoretz?
16 posted on 11/07/2002 9:46:17 PM PST by Justin Raimondo
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To: xm177e2
Thank you for the heads up, re C-SPAN! Both are formidable thinkers/writers. I shall set my self to arise and watch, maybe even participate with a call in. That will be a delightful two hours.
17 posted on 11/07/2002 9:55:48 PM PST by MHGinTN
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To: Justin Raimondo
He sounds that way to you because you do not understand the fundamentals of a contrarian.
18 posted on 11/07/2002 9:58:53 PM PST by MHGinTN
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To: MHGinTN
He was a Trotskyist, and he's still one.
19 posted on 11/07/2002 10:43:35 PM PST by Justin Raimondo
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To: keri; Mitchell
Hitchens is OK,
I just wish he didn't have to be so moralistically superior about everything.

Can't we just simply say we are going to bump off Saddam
because we don't like the way he looks?
That's good enough for me.

And also, it gets tedious and is so juvenile all this pontificating and 'geopolitical' analysis
and predictions about the course of events
that will occur thereafter.

No one can control the consequences of Saddam's removal
any more than they could control the consequences of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's removal
in 1914.

20 posted on 11/07/2002 11:22:20 PM PST by Nogbad
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To: Justin Raimondo
And thank God for contrarians who generate the 'opposition' point of view that keeps a democracy vibrant. Without freedom to be contrary, ours would fall into some monolithic state governed by an unopposed oligarchy. Give Hitch his due, he is an honest and vocal opposition with whom debate may occur, to resolve our own shortcomings while building our resolve. Labeling Hitchens as a Trotskyite is wasted rhetoric. He agrees with that characterization as his foundation, but he has evolved even as he has maintained a contrarian perspective which exposes the perfidy of our leaders. Do you doubt his proofs of the Kissinger/Nixononian cabals against, for instance, Chile?
21 posted on 11/08/2002 7:29:11 AM PST by MHGinTN
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To: xm177e2
Having just watched the C-Span program to which you alerted us, let me say thanks. It was an interesting program. Did you also get to watch, and do you have comments to share regarding the apparent agreement between Sullivan and Hitchens over war with the Iraqi dictator? (Hitch mentioned that we ought be careful to clarify our war as with Saddam, not the Iraqi people, and Sullivan gareed completely.)
22 posted on 11/08/2002 7:34:33 AM PST by MHGinTN
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To: MHGinTN
I just caught the last 15 minutes (I live on the West Coast, it's hard to be up that early)
23 posted on 11/08/2002 7:37:40 AM PST by xm177e2
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To: Burkeman1
Containment of the Soviet Union took 70 years or so. I'm willing to spend 70 years housebreaking the Arabs, but in the end, it took a massive amount of pressure and courage to topple the communists.

I suspect the bush administration hopes that jacking up the pressure a notch at a time will implode Saddam. Even if we quit now, there are 100,000 Iraqis no longer in prison. Hasn't that been worth the effort?

24 posted on 11/08/2002 7:55:34 AM PST by js1138
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To: Nogbad; keri
Hitchens is OK, I just wish he didn't have to be so moralistically superior about everything.

It goes with the leftist territory (not that there aren't examples of moralistic smugness on the right, but I think they're different in character). [Not a comment on Hitchens or this article, but there's an irony in that the left's moralism ends up being used to justify immoral means and leads ultimately to immoral ends, while the invisible hand of capitalism and its foundation of individual self-interest lead to better lives in a better society.]

Hitchens' position is understandable on a personal level, as well as being consistent with his politics. As he made clear in his final article in The Nation, friends of his were tortured and murdered by Saddam Hussein. Hitchens has described eloquently the brutality of Saddam Hussein's Iraq; Hussein has wrenched his society apart in much the same way Stalin did.

But this is not what pre-emptive action is really about, and it is not what is bringing us to war. Pre-emption is about protecting the rest of the world from Iraq's predation, from weapons of mass destruction and from secret, covert, untraceable attacks.

Hitchens' position is, in fact, the position that I would have expected the left to be taking in general: supporting the war, but ultimately for the wrong reason. It is scandalous that most of the left is simply winking at Saddam Hussein -- whether out of naivete or out of fear, or from misguided short-term political calculations. At least Hitchens doesn't fall into this category.

I do think that Hitchens' analysis is flawed. I'm not convinced that Iraq is the "keystone" here. It is serving more like a foundation, providing support for Islamic terrorists (as well as being dangerous in its own right), and part of the reason for military action is to knock this support out from underneath the terrorists. But that's different from a keystone; Iraq is, unfortunately, likely to be only our next step in a long war.

I also don't quite understand Hitchens' theory of military action just so that we'll be there when Saddam Hussein falls of his own weight. I don't believe that Hussein is about to fall of his own weight, but, if he were, and if regime change were the only goal, we would simply let it happen. The fact is that regime change in and of itself is not the only goal, or even the major goal; the true aim is to prevent covert attacks from his regime or any successor, as well as to undermine Iraq's support for terrorist activity.

No one can control the consequences of Saddam's removal any more than they could control the consequences of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's removal in 1914.

You're right about that, but one must make decisions anyway, based on one's best judgments.

25 posted on 11/08/2002 8:51:42 AM PST by Mitchell
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