The War Over the Iraq War
In the debate over Iraq, few figures argue with more passion than pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens and the anti-war British Member of Parliament George Galloway. In this heated exchange, adapted from a recent debate, the two polemicists lock horns on the morality and wisdom of the mission in Iraq.
Christopher Hitchens: The War Is Both Just and Necessary
Imagine if we had listened to the counsel of the so-called anti-war movement. Saddam Hussein would be the owner and occupier of Kuwait. Bosnia would be part of Slobodan Milosevics greater Serbia. Kosovo would be ethnically cleansed and annexed. The Taliban would still be in power in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda would still be their guests. And Hussein would still be terrorizing people in a state most aptly described as a concentration camp above ground and a mass grave below.
If I had such a bad record, I wouldnt be demanding explanations from those of us who said its about time we stopped capitulation to dictatorship, racism, aggression, and totalitarian ideologies. We did not want to allow the failures of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and elsewhere repeated in Iraq.
The war is both just and necessary. Iraq had lost its sovereignty as far as a state can under international law. It participated in regular aggressions or occupations of territory, violated the letter and spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, violated the Genocide Convention, and played host to international terrorists. Its sovereignty was at an end.
Iraq was under international sanctions; it was a ward of the international community. Its people were being starved to build palaces for their psychopathic dictator. The Baath Party fueled ethnic hatreds with a policy of divide and rule. An imploded state would have made things worse. Do you know who would have invaded then? Turkey would have invaded to take Kurdistan. Iran would have invaded to support its extremist proxies, and Saudi Arabia would have intervened to do the same favor for the Sunni and Wahhabi extremists. In fact, all those powers are trying to meddle in Iraq now. But we are fortunate, as are the Iraqi people, that there is a coalition to hold the ring and prevent it from becoming another Rwanda or another Congo. Intervention was the only responsible course.
We know and we make no secret of the extraordinary difficulties that have attended this noble, risky, and worthwhile enterprise. We have seen the abysmal consequences of that, but we have the responsibility of imagining what the alternative would be. The positive consequences are many. A federal, democratic Iraqi constitution is being debated now on six television channels and in perhaps 100 newspapers, in a country where three years ago it was deathfor you and your familyto possess a satellite dish or to attempt to distribute a leaflet. Not a quick death either. A man who planned and ordered and supervised and took delight in genocide, torture, aggression, and the occupation of two neighboring states is in jail. He will follow Slobodan Milosevic and Augusto Pinochet into the dock quite soon. I know there are some people here who dont take delight in that, but I do. It is justice long overdue.
The Kurds, the largest stateless minority in the Middle East, who have suffered many years of oppression and occupation, have begun to scramble to their feet and assume their full height as a people. Even before the intervention, they were producing an autonomy, a democracy, and self-determination of their own in the provinces of northern Iraq, which when I saw them last, were a landscape of desolation and depravity. You could still smell the poison gas, the mass graves, the ruined cities, the burned hillsides. The women still had chemical wounds that burned. Out of that, the Kurds have begun to build and to help their fellow Iraqis when they could have easily chosen chauvinism. They could have said, Weve had enough of Iraq. Instead, theyve accepted their international responsibilities. President Jalal Talabani is a leader whom any country in the region could be proud of. That is an extraordinary, unarguable, and unambiguous gain.
Iraq used chemical and biological weapons against Iran and its own inhabitants several times. It went to great lengths to conceal its programs. Hussein lieutenant Tariq AzizGalloways best friendoffered then chief U.N. weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus $2 million to doctor his findings. Dummy sites were constructed for U.N. fools to inspect. Material was moved and buried, and scientists were intimidated and told that their families would be killed if they cooperated with any inspection. With this knowledge, who would have given Hussein the benefit of the doubt if he said hes no longer fooling around with weapons? What responsible leader of any democracy could face his people if that bet turned out to be wrong?
Also, dont forget about Libya. Not everything about Libyas abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction can be attributed to the intervention in Iraq, but it should be noted that when Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi wanted to capitulate, he did not approach U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan or that great French statesman Jacques Chirac, nor German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder. He came to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and to George W. Bush and said, Im out of this game now. Thats not nothing.
The moral leader of the Egyptian democracy movement, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, has told me that in his opinion, the new mood in the region would be unthinkable were it not for the removal of its single worst tyrant. Thats from deep within the bowels of the Egyptian prison system. He is echoed as far away as Malaysia by the dissident Anwar Ibrahim and by the leader of Lebanons Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt. They have said that this is the beginning of the endthe fall of the wall, so to speak.
It is a disgrace that Galloway, a member of the British House of Commons, went before the U.S. Senate subcommittee, declined to testify and insulted all those who tried to ask him questions with vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse. It is worse than a disgraceit is a crimethat Galloway has profited from the theft of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program, has told continuous lies about his profiteering and the foul associates that he made at a time when Iraqi children were dying and $11 billion went to Saddam Hussein. How can anyone who was a business partner of this regime show their face in New York?
In July of this year, Galloway turned up in Damascus! The mans search for a tyrannical fatherland never ceases. The Soviet Union let him down. Albanias communists are gone. The Red Army is out of Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia. The hunt persists! Saddam has been overthrown and his criminal connections with him have been exposed. Galloway went to Damascus, Syria, in front of Bashar al-Assad, whose death squads are cutting down the leaders of democracy in Lebanon, to tell the Syrian people they are fortunate to have such a leader. How anyone with an iota of socialist principle can speak in this way is beyond me.
George Galloway: This War Is All for a Pack of Lies.
Twenty-five years ago, Hitchens praised me and the city of Dundee, Scotland, for making the Palestinian city of Nablus our sister city. It was not easy in 1980. Only a few years before, the Palestinian resistance had committed what many deemed an act of mass terrorism at the Munich Olympics. Hitchenss courageous stand with groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), the hijackers of many an aircraft, was significant because it was rare.
I thank Hitchens for his stand against the Gulf War in 1991. One of the magic moments of that era was Hitchens on television with the gun-nut Charlton Heston. When Heston was fulminating to attack, Hitchens told him to keep his wig on and asked Heston to name four countries bordering the country he was so keen to invade. Heston, of course, could name none. That was important because it was very difficult to oppose the war against Iraq in 1991. After all, it was ruled by Saddam Hussein, who continued to govern it thereafter.
That war was only three years after chemical weaponswhich Hitchens says he could still smell on his last visitwere used against the Kurds in Halabja. And perhaps most significant, it was difficult to oppose that attack on Iraq in 1991 because Iraq had invaded and abolished, as Hitchens argued, a member of the Arab League, a member of the United Nations, a Muslim Arab country. Notwithstanding all those things, Hitchens bravely stood against the idea of U.S. President George H.W. Bush invading Iraq in 1991. Sometimes in life you have to choose between evil and more evil. On the road somewherewhether it was Vanity Fair or the lucrative contracts Hitchens landed sinceHitchens decided in 2003 to take the line that was the exact opposite of the one he took in 1991. Now he wants to gloss over that point. Was he wrong in 1991 or is he wrong now?
What we see in Hitchens is something unique in natural history: the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug. I mention slug purposely because the one thing a slug leaves behind it is a trail of slime. Hitchens is covered in the stuff he likes to smear onto others. Not just me. Its also people like Cindy Sheehan, a woman who gave the life of her son in the war in which Hitchens came to glory. Hes called her a sob sister and a flake. People like him are ready to fight to the last drop of other peoples blood, and it is utterly contemptible.
Hitchens makes much of the nature and character of those resisting the foreign invasion and occupation in Iraq. The late British Member of Parliament Charles James Fox was expelled twice from Parliament for supporting the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Some might say Fox was wrong to support the anticolonial struggle of the American people. After all, some might have said, be careful what you wish for, Charlie. Maybe one day, that independent free country whose birth you support will be ruled by such crazed fundamentalists as Pat Robertson, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John Ashcroft. They might have said, if this country becomes free, it might one day not even be able to collect its dead in one of its most important cities a week after theyve lain there. But Fox would have said no. He would have said that the American people have a right to be free. Who they choose to rule them is a matter for them. Let them make their own mistakes and have their own politics. My country has no right to occupy them any further.
The point is, for us in the United States and the United Kingdom, there is only one question: Are you with the foreign occupation of Iraq, or are you with the rights of the Iraqi people to be free and to resist the foreign armies who have violently invaded them?
Hitchens is eager to express sadness and outrage about car bombs, but he cant bring himself to mention the massacre by U.S. forces in Tal Afar. He doesnt want to know about the massacre in Fallujah, where the U.S. military destroyed a city and killed thousands of people.
This war that Hitchens glorifiesI wish hed go and fight himselfhas cost more than 100,000 lives, and hundreds of thousands have been maimed and wounded. And it was all for a pack of lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Iraq and al Qaeda. There was no link between Iraq and the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001. The neoconservatives said U.S. troops would be greeted with flowers. But there are 2,000 young Americans lying in the ground now as testimony to the fact that they were welcomed by something else. Thousands and thousands more wounded and maimed in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives as testament to the folly of the neocons. The international legal and political system has been defaced and disfigured. The world has been made a more dangerous place, not just for us but also for our children and their children. Hitchens asks us to believe that Western soldiers invading a Muslim country would reduce Islamic fundamentalism. There is scarcely a sentient being in those lands that any longer believes that the war in Iraq was either necessary or just. He asks us to believe that devastating Iraq and creating a Yugoslavia on the top of the worlds largest oil field would make the world a safer and more stable place.
Saddam Hussein committed real and serious crimes against the people of Iraq. Not only do I think Saddam committed crimes against the Iraqi people; I said so at the time he was committing them, and I was denounced for saying so and portrayed as a communist troublemaker. Most of those crimes took place in the 1980s, when he was the closest friend of the United States and Britain.
We may very well ask why so many people care about two British guys debating in the United States about a faraway war. I think the reason is this: Our two countries are the biggest rogue states in the world today. It is therefore important that those who oppose the crimes of our governments on both sides of the Atlantic link hands and stand shoulder to shoulder until we rid the world of George W. Bush and Tony Blair once and for all.
Hitchens: Praising the So-Called Resistance is Revolting
Ive never made a speech praising Dundees pairing with Nablus, and I did not support the hijackings and terrorist acts of the PFLP. It is true that I was an opponent of the first Gulf War. I dont know why that is a point against me. I daresay I might not have been invited here to participate in this clash of the titans if it wasnt tolerably well known that I was mistaken on that occasion. My articles and statements against the 1991 Gulf War are compiled in my book For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports. I later went to northern Iraq, where I saw what the real consequences of Saddam Husseins rule had been. I wasnt expecting to be told by so many people that the American intervention had saved their lives, and I didnt have a clever anti-war response to make to that point. So I began a process of reexamination.
To hear him tell it, one would think Galloway is a pacifist. When he was in Damascus this year, he referred to the heroic operations conducted in Iraq by the so-called resistance. How can anyone say they are anti-war and praise the operations of a resistance being run by a bin Laden ally and a former Baath Party secret police chief?
Let me remind you of what one of those operations was: the blowing up of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad a few months after the intervention. It was headed by Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the great international civil servants of our time. The jihadists who murdered de Mello put out a communiqu saying they put an end to the life of this disgusting man because he freed Timor from Muslim hands in Indonesia. These people are neither pacifists nor anti-imperialists. They call for the restoration of the Caliphate and the imposition of sharia law on all nonbelievers within its borders. To praise the people who do thisand to sully the name of Charles James Fox by associating him with such a squalid enterpriseis truly revolting. It is similar to Michael Moore saying that, for him, the resistance led by Abu Musab Zarqawi resistance in Iraq is the same as the Minute Men of the American Revolution. That is so self-discrediting that it requires no more comment.
Among the people killed by these heroic operations in Iraqsome of them run from Syria and paid for by Assad, Galloways new palwas specialist Casey Sheehan, who was trying to clean up the festering slum once known as Saddam City. I will put a simple moral proposition to you. Is it not rather revolting to appear in Damascus by the side of Assad and praise the people who killed Casey Sheehan and then to come to America and appeal to the emotions of his mother? I didnt think it could get as low as that. And yes, I did criticize the luckless Mrs. Sheehan because she made a very unfortunate political statement suggesting that she agreed with Osama bin Laden that George Bush was the murderer of her son.
We shouldnt really believe the crazed fabrications of the figure of 100,000 deaths in Iraq. If one thinks that deaths in Iraq are only caused by coalition forces, you can simply consult the work of my Slate colleague Fred Kaplan. He is a very stern and strong opponent of the war, and he says the 100,000 figure is so loose as to be meaningless.
Galloway claims that in the 1980s, he supported Iraqi democrats and denounced Saddam Hussein. That means that when he went to greet Saddam Hussein in 1994 to salute him for his courage, he went in full knowledge that he was dealing with a murderer and a monster.
If anything ignited the hatred and violence that has come to preoccupy us in the Muslim world, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistanwhich Galloway supportedis probably a better candidate as a provocation than the holding of a free election in Iraq. Its also a bit much to be told that these al Qaeda chaps wouldnt be this way if we werent so mean to them. Zarqawi was in Iraq before, and was well known to have been in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Regarding whos who in this war: President Talabani is not occupying Iraq. He was born there. Hes had to move a few times and hes seen his villages destroyed and his home bombed and his family shot at and murdered. I support the struggle of the Iraqi secular and democratic left against fascism. Those like Galloway who advocate jihad against British troops have turned their backs on the Iraqi left. They argue and hope for its defeat against an onslaught that would make Afghanistan seem tranquil. If you say Talabani is a puppet, what are the odds that those who killed de Mello and those who recently shot down a senior Sunni cleric in Baghdad represent the secret silent majority in Iraq?
Galloway: Western Policies Have Created This Swamp of Hatred
Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet produced the casualty estimate. Does anyone believe that academics from one of the finest U.S. universities, and the journal of the British medical association, are crazed fabricators? How far has this neocon rot seeped into Hitchenss soul? He talks about the death of soldiers in an occupation army at the hands of those resisting them. He supported the Algerian resistance in its bitter battle against French occupation, which cost a million lives.
The Iraqi people have only themselves to fight the foreign occupation. This hypocrite, crying tears for American soldiers in Iraq, supported the struggle of the Vietnamese people as they killed 58,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. He opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam and supported those fighting against it. Today, he supports the American occupation of Iraq and seeks to slander those fighting against it.
There are al Qaeda elements in Iraq. Whose fault is that? There were no al Qaeda in Iraq before Bush and Blair attacked it. Now, every Islamist in the world is either on his way or dreaming of being on his way. These terrorists will then spill around the world and spread their jihad exactly as his old friends in Afghanistan did. So, Hitchenss policy has succeeded in making 10,000 new bin Ladens.
Some may think that those airplanes on 9/11 came out of a clear, blue sky. I believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us. Should I run through the dictatorships the United States is supporting? I could start with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak got more votes in the so-called free election this year than in the election he admitted he rigged six years ago. And you call that democracy? You talk about democracy in Lebanon. If there were democracy in Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah would be president of Lebanon. By propping up the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world, Western policies have created this swamp of hatred against us. It wont matter how many fly swats we invest in. We have to drain that swamp by stopping support for Ariel Sharons Israel, his apartheid wall, and his crimes against the Palestinian people. Unless we stop propping up dictators and occupying Arab and Muslim countries, then we will be forced to endure terrorism again and again.
In Iraq, it doesnt look like the United States is planning to leave of its own volition. Its building massive and permanent military bases to station its forces there. Americans have engineered a puppet regime, which they intend to be a kind of lipstick on the ugly face of their occupation, which will allow the robber barons to privatize Iraqs industries. Are they forcing Iraqi farmers to buy patented seeds so that they can be free, or so that theyll be forever in debt to U.S. agribusiness? Hitchens slanders the Iraqi resistance as being comprised of foreign fighters. Which part of Iraq is Gen. Richard Myers from? Most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American uniforms.
The idea that the Iraqi resistance is made up of foreigners or Islamic fundamentalists is denied now even by the testimony of the U.S. generals themselves. According to the U.S. government, only 6 percent of prisoners taken from among the Iraqi resistance have been foreigners. That means 94 percent are Iraqis.
This issue of whether the Iraq war is necessary and just or not is already being adjudicated. The Elysian Fields Hitchens seeks to conjure up simply dont bear any resemblance to what we all see in the newspapers and on television every day. The situation in Iraq is not getting better. This war in Iraq is a disaster. It is worse than a crime. It has made us all more insecure, destabilized the world, and multiplied our enemies.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. George Galloway is author of Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington: The Brit Who Set Congress Straight About Iraq (New York: New Press, 2005). This exchange is adapted from a public debate hosted by Baruch College in New York, and sponsored by the National Council of Arab Americans, the New Press, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, and the International Socialist Review.