As the World Burns

Alexander Cockburn eviscerates Operation Iraqi Fiefdomand Christopher Hitchens, the barstool bombardier

The peace movement stands as a politically significant factor if the U.S. is considering scorched-earth tactics with waves of B-52 attacks on urban areas of Iraq. If the movement remains strong, it will have an effect on U.S. Congress when it comes to votes on war appropriations. And they will hopefully hearten Democratic presidential candidates to stake out positions against the war.

Do you take seriously claims by Tony Blair and George Bush that they will force Israel to allow statehood for Palestine?

No. I don't think they can. Bush has no plan in the Middle East beyond giving Ariel Sharon exactly what he wants. Bush remembers one thing: his father lost the presidency in 1992 in part because he took some timid stands on Israel's intransigence toward the Palestinians. He angered the Jewish-American lobby. At the moment, the Republicans think they've got not just the Christians but have also made huge inroads into traditional Jewish support for the Democrats. Bush isn't going to throw that away with some plan to tell Sharon to curb settlements.

Will one of the long-term consequences of this war be a fortification of U.S. society, much like what we see in Israel?

We're pretty far down that road already. One shouldn't say everything in U.S. policy is new: we've been defying UN resolutions for years; there's a cruelty to Bush's international posture that in some ways owes more to manner than actual real substance. But it is true that in terms of world standing, the U.S. is vastly more unpopular than it was in the days of the Clinton era.

I think there is a fanatical element to Bush's foreign policy. I'm sure Bush remembers that in the Book of Daniel, when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a great stone destroying his image. Many people interpret that stone as being Israel. When George Bush said on March 19 that the day of reckoning has arrived, he might well have been thinking that this war is the Christian comeback on Islam. Bush makes Ronald Reagan look like Voltaire.

Your formerNation colleague Christopher Hitchens was a prominent voice in favor of a preemptive strike against Iraq. The war doesn't seem to have gone as well as he and other hawks were predicting, has it?

No, it hasn't. It's quite clear the expectation which actually underlay the whole U.S. strategy such as it is now lies in ruins. It's probably the most humiliating contradiction by reality in decades, and Hitchens looks as foolish and stupid and criminally responsible as anyone else. In fact, he's more to blame than most because for years now, he has been using the camouflage of a left uniform to bolster the plan of a right-wing clique in the White House. Just days before the invasion began, Hitchens was invited to the White House to bolster the staff with a lecture on the importance of their divine mission.

People including myself regard Hitchens as a barstool bombardier. I think one of the most pathetic things one can ever see is a supposed independent intellectual debasing himself as a major player in political events, and that's what Hitchens has done. In his recent visit to the Horowitz club in Beverly Hills, he pulled a usual Hitchens stunt by denigrating Berkeley as "Absurdistan." Berkeley is a city that, to my dismay, has been unusually hospitable to Hitchens in recent months. Mario Savio's foolish widow invited Hitchens of all people to give the inaugural Savio lecture on the UC Berkeley campus, and he has been a visiting professor at the UC Berkeley journalism school, giving practical demonstrations on the relationship between reporting and alcohol.

We haven't heard much from Hitchens about Iraq since the war started, have we?

Everything that has happened in Iraq since the very first day of the war has been an utter refutation of everything he was saying—particularly when it comes to the supposed instant hospitality of the Iraqi people to an armed incursion by the U.S. and Britain. I think he has had the prudence to remain silent.

What's the story behind your falling-out with Hitchens?

I have always said my problem with Hitchens began in the early 1990s. The thing that most shocked me was a piece he wrote about indigenous people. He said that the Indians in Brazil were objectively in an earlier stage of development and had to yield to the path of progress. I think I did see fairly early on which way he was headed. I was nauseated by his performance. He is an incredibly heavy drinker and an absolutely compulsive self-advertiser.

His hatred of Clinton even exceeds his hatred of Saddam Hussein. In the case of Clinton, this ended up with him trying to get his close friend Sidney Blumenthal cited for perjury and put in prison. I thought that was utterly disgusting and still do. He said he absolutely no longer believes in a left program. He has thought about what he's saying. He has said that George W. Bush is the hope of the whole world. This disgusting journey has ended with him giving lectures to George Bush and his staff on the eve of the unlawful, illegal and insane enterprise in which they are presently engaged.

Alexander Cockburn speaks on "The War and Beyond" at Chapman University, Beckman Hall Room 404, 1 University Dr., Orange, (714) 997-6556. Wed., 7 p.m.; and at UC Irvine, Social Science Plaza A, Room 1100, W. Peltason and Campus drs., Irvine, (949) 824-8687. Thurs., April 10, 3:30 p.m.
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