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Chew On This My Leftist Comrades

by Christopher Hitchens Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003 at 1:00 PM

TheStranger.com January 21 2003

Dear brothers and sisters, boys and girls, comrades and friends,

The editor of this rag [TheStranger.com] told me of your upcoming "Potlucks for Peace" event and invited my comments, and at first I couldn't think of a thing to say. For one thing, why should I address a Seattle audience (or even suppose that I have a Seattle audience, for that matter)? I daresay that I can claim a tenuous connection, because I have always had a good crowd when reading at the splendid bookstores of the city, and because it was in Seattle that I stayed when grounded on September 11, 2001, a date that now makes some people yawn.

I had been speaking to the students of Whitman College in Walla Walla about the crimes of Henry Kissinger and had told them that 11 September--which was then tomorrow--was a symbolic date. On that day in 1973, the civilian government in Chile had been drowned in blood by an atrocious military coup. On the same day in 2001, a group of Chilean survivors proposed to file a lawsuit against Kissinger in a federal court in Washington, D.C. I showed a film illustrating this, made some additional remarks, and closed by saying that the date would be long remembered in the annals of the struggle for human rights. I got some pretty decent applause--and this from the alma mater of Henry "Scoop" Jackson, whose family was present. On the following morning I got a very early call from my wife, who was three hours ahead of me. She told me to turn on the TV, and she commented mordantly that the anti-Kissinger campaign might have to be on hold for a while. (Oddly enough, and as recent events have shown, she was mistaken about that.) Everyone knows what I saw when I turned on the TV.

Now hear this. Ever since that morning, the United States has been at war with the forces of reaction. May I please entreat you to reread the preceding sentence? Or perhaps you will let me restate it for emphasis. The government and people of these United States are now at war with the forces of reaction.

This outcome was clearly not willed, at least on the American side. And everybody with half an education seems to know how to glibly dilute the statement. Isn't Saudi Arabia reactionary? What about Pakistani nukes? Do we bomb Sharon for his negation of Palestinian rights? Weren't we on Saddam's side when he was at his worst? (I am exempting the frantic and discredited few who think or suggest that George W. Bush fixed up the attacks to inflate the military budget and abolish the Constitution.) But however compromised and shameful the American starting point was--and I believe I could make this point stick with greater venom and better evidence than most people can muster--the above point remains untouched. The United States finds itself at war with the forces of reaction.

Do I have to demonstrate this? The Taliban's annihilation of music and culture? The enslavement of women? The massacre of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan? Or what about the latest boast of al Qaeda--that the bomb in Bali, massacring so many Australian holidaymakers, was a deliberate revenge for Australia's belated help in securing independence for East Timor? (Never forget that the Muslim fundamentalists are not against "empire." They fight proudly for the restoration of their own lost caliphate.) To these people, the concept of a civilian casualty is meaningless if the civilian is an unbeliever or a heretic.

Confronted with such a foe--which gladly murders Algerians and Egyptians and Palestinians if they have any doubts about the true faith, or if they happen to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if they happen to be female--exactly what role does a "peace movement" have to play? A year or so ago, the "peace movement" was saying that Afghanistan could not even be approached without risking the undying enmity of the Muslim world; that the Taliban could not be bombed during Ramadan; that a humanitarian disaster would occur if the Islamic ultra- fanatics were confronted in their own lairs. Now we have an imperfect but recovering Afghanistan, with its population increased by almost two million returned refugees. Have you ever seen or heard any of those smart-ass critics and cynics make a self-criticism? Or recant?

To the contrary, the same critics and cynics are now lining up to say, "Hands off Saddam Hussein," and to make almost the same doom-laden predictions. The line that connects Afghanistan to Iraq is not a straight one by any means. But the oblique connection is ignored by the potluck peaceniks, and one can be sure (judging by their past form) that it would be ignored even if it were as direct as the connection between al Qaeda and the Taliban. Saddam Hussein denounced the removal of the Sunni Muslim-murdering Slobodan Milosevic, and also denounced the removal of the Shiite-murdering Taliban. Reactionaries have a tendency to stick together (and I don't mean "guilt by association" here. I mean GUILT). If the counsel of the peaceniks had been followed, Kuwait would today be the 19th province of Iraq (and based on his own recently produced evidence, Saddam Hussein would have acquired nuclear weapons). Moreover, Bosnia would be a trampled and cleansed province of Greater Serbia, Kosovo would have been emptied of most of its inhabitants, and the Taliban would still be in power in Afghan-istan. Yet nothing seems to disturb the contented air of moral superiority that surrounds those who intone the "peace movement."

There are at least three well-established reasons to favor what is euphemistically termed "regime change" in Iraq. The first is the flouting by Saddam Hussein of every known law on genocide and human rights, which is why the Senate--at the urging of Bill Clinton--passed the Iraq Liberation Act unanimously before George W. Bush had even been nominated. The second is the persistent effort by Saddam's dictatorship to acquire the weapons of genocide: an effort which can and should be thwarted and which was condemned by the United Nations before George W. Bush was even governor of Texas. The third is the continuous involvement by the Iraqi secret police in the international underworld of terror and destabilization. I could write a separate essay on the evidence for this; at the moment I'll just say that it's extremely rash for anybody to discount the evidence that we already possess. (And I shall add that any "peace movement" that even pretends to care for human rights will be very shaken by what will be uncovered when the Saddam Hussein regime falls. Prisons, mass graves, weapon sites... just you wait.)

None of these things on their own need necessarily make a case for an intervention, but taken together--and taken with the permanent threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the oilfields of the region--they add up fairly convincingly. Have you, or your friends, recently employed the slogan "No War for Oil"? If so, did you listen to what you were saying? Do you mean that oil isn't worth fighting for, or that oil resources aren't worth protecting? Do you recall that Saddam Hussein ignited the oilfields of Kuwait when he was in retreat, and flooded the local waterways with fire and pollution? (Should I patronize the potluckistas, and ask them to look up the pictures of poisoned birds and marine animals from that year?) Are you indifferent to the possibility that such a man might be able to irradiate the oilfields next time? OF COURSE it's about oil, stupid.

To say that he might also do all these terrible things if attacked or threatened is to miss the point. Last time he did this, or massacred the Iraqi and Kurdish populations, he was withdrawing his forces under an international guarantee. The Iraqi and Kurdish peoples are now, by every measure we have or know, determined to be rid of him. And the hope, which is perhaps a slim one but very much sturdier than other hopes, is that the next Iraqi regime will be better and safer, not just from our point of view but from the points of view of the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples. The sanctions policy, which was probably always hopeless, is now quite indefensible. If lifted, it would only have allowed Saddam's oligarchy to re-equip. But once imposed, it was immoral and punitive without the objective of regime change. Choose. By the way, and while we are choosing, if you really don't want war, you should call for the lifting of the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. These have been war measures since 1991.

What would the lifting of the no-fly zones mean for the people who live under them? I recently sat down with my old friend Dr. Barham Salih, who is the elected prime minister of one sector of Iraqi Kurdistan. Neither he nor his electorate could be mentioned if it were not for the no-fly zones imposed--as a result of democratic protest in the West--at the end of the last Gulf War. In his area of Iraq, "regime change" has already occurred. There are dozens of newspapers, numerous radio and TV channels, satellite dishes, Internet cafes. Four female judges have been appointed. Almost half the students at the University of Sulaimaniya are women. And a pro al Qaeda group, recently transferred from Afghanistan, is trying to assassinate the Kurdish leadership and nearly killed my dear friend Barham just the other day.... Now, why would this gang want to make that particular murder its first priority?

Before you face that question, consider this. Dr. Salih has been through some tough moments in his time. Most of the massacres and betrayals of the Kurdish people of Iraq took place with American support or connivance. But the Kurds have pressed ahead with regime change in any case. Surely a "peace movement" with any principles should be demanding that the United States not abandon them again. I like to think I could picture a mass picket in Seattle, offering solidarity with Kurdistan against a government of fascistic repression, and opposing any attempt to sell out the Kurds for reasons of realpolitik. Instead, there is a self-satisfied isolationism to be found, which seems to desire mainly a quiet life for Americans. The option of that quiet life disappeared a while back, and it's only coincidence that for me it vanished in Seattle. The United States is now at war with the forces of reaction, and nobody is entitled to view this battle as a spectator. The Union under Lincoln wasn't wholeheartedly against slavery. The USA under Roosevelt had its own selfish agenda even while combating Hitler and Hirohito. The hot-and-cold war against Stalinism wasn't exactly free of blemish and stain. How much this latest crisis turns into an even tougher war with reaction, at home or abroad, could depend partly upon those who currently think that it is either possible or desirable to remain neutral. I say "could," even though the chance has already been shamefully missed. But a mere potluck abstention will be remembered only with pity and scorn.
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The only Leftist

by 7 Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003 at 1:55 PM

Worthy of any respect: Hitch.
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If only..

by George Floros Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003 at 2:07 PM

If the "counsel of the peaceniks" had indeed been followed then the breakaway republics of the former Yugoslavia wouldn't be recognised as sovereign states overnight starting that brutal war,Kosovo would be the home for Albanians and Serbs alike and the Taliban wouldn't have weapons and assets to control anything.As the direct consequences of the bright apprentice wizards of the State Department meddling with people lives what do we have now?A Sarajevo turned from multicurtural haven to a fundamentalist capital where it's prohibited to even smoke on the streets(never mind alcohol),a Kosovo ethnically cleansed of it's Serbs inhabitants and polluted with DU bombs and Afghanistan where the so-called President controls about 2 square miles of territory and all infrastructure built by the evil Soviets destroyed.
A peace movement "with any principle" as you declare stands for the people living in peace and understanding of mutual differences.Not for the imposement of yet another short-lived,puppet government and the creation of fresh lines of division.The French and the Germans have managed to bury the hatchet after 200 years of war after war.And it sure as hell wasn't because of the will of the US administration but of the people who grew tired of artificial animosities and ethnic cleansings.
Give peace a chance.We dont want your bloody wars no more.
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SUCH IDIOCY

by JAY lowe Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003 at 4:35 PM

"The French and the Germans have managed to bury the hatchet after 200 years of war after war.And it sure as hell wasn't because of the will of the US administration but of the people who grew tired of artificial animosities and ethnic cleansings. "

Someone seems to forget the US involvement in WWII.

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Fortunately, most of us are not so ignorant.
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yeah, such ideocy

by Jay Jay Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003 at 4:58 PM

And North and South Korea have been able to burry the hatchet as a result of American Military involvement too.

Yeah, American military might always is a recipe for peace making.

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Did evryone forget?

by mymicz Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003 at 11:40 AM

did anyone forget the waste of war, did anyone forget that we caused the problem with our money, did we forget that we sold the weapons, not only for WWII but for every war after we made the weapons!!! It's about time someone turned them on us, maybe that'll teach us a lesson not to sell weapons!! Hitler was a friend of Henry Ford's, Sadam was a Friend of Henry Kissinger's and Osama's family bailed DUI Bush out 3 times when his companies failed. You can say whatever you want about the glory of America, my family still died from Henry Fords support of Hitler having weapons, and he is a very American American. American's will be blamed for guilt by association when history comes clear, just as Ashcroft focuses on Muslims, someone will crack Bush's watergate soon. Every time we tried to make it better we made it worse, even in WWII we didn't do anything good until it was 12 million people too late. Don't pat American's on the back for raping the rest of the world. We may be civilised and free, we may indeed have the best standards, but only because "potluck peacenicks" gave us whole foods, desegregation, cleaner air, and minimum wage!!!!! And if the current abuse of a "good" capitalist system continues, the potluck peacnicks are the only ones to protect people from straight up military highway robbery!! We want no more cheap impermanent earth destroying goods from slave labor in China and we want better products, we don't need the government to open the doors for companies to give us half assed resources because of their bottom line!! We don't want Afghani's or Iraqi's to take more American jobs for 50 cents a fucking day!! We want them to have their own balls and ask for more themselves, and work for themselves and leave us the hell out of it except for weapons inspectors. We want to raise up Martin Luther Kings around the world, so that we don't have to be the only ones fighting for good. We want people in Iraq and Afghanistan to take back their own government peacefully. Without our stupid weapons dealers getting in the way. War on Weapons distributors, not on babies.
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Did evryone forget?

by mymicz Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003 at 11:40 AM

did anyone forget the waste of war, did anyone forget that we caused the problem with our money, did we forget that we sold the weapons, not only for WWII but for every war after we made the weapons!!! It's about time someone turned them on us, maybe that'll teach us a lesson not to sell weapons!! Hitler was a friend of Henry Ford's, Sadam was a Friend of Henry Kissinger's and Osama's family bailed DUI Bush out 3 times when his companies failed. You can say whatever you want about the glory of America, my family still died from Henry Fords support of Hitler having weapons, and he is a very American American. American's will be blamed for guilt by association when history comes clear, just as Ashcroft focuses on Muslims, someone will crack Bush's watergate soon. Every time we tried to make it better we made it worse, even in WWII we didn't do anything good until it was 12 million people too late. Don't pat American's on the back for raping the rest of the world. We may be civilised and free, we may indeed have the best standards, but only because "potluck peacenicks" gave us whole foods, desegregation, cleaner air, and minimum wage!!!!! And if the current abuse of a "good" capitalist system continues, the potluck peacnicks are the only ones to protect people from straight up military highway robbery!! We want no more cheap impermanent earth destroying goods from slave labor in China and we want better products, we don't need the government to open the doors for companies to give us half assed resources because of their bottom line!! We don't want Afghani's or Iraqi's to take more American jobs for 50 cents a fucking day!! We want them to have their own balls and ask for more themselves, and work for themselves and leave us the hell out of it except for weapons inspectors. We want to raise up Martin Luther Kings around the world, so that we don't have to be the only ones fighting for good. We want people in Iraq and Afghanistan to take back their own government peacefully. Without our stupid weapons dealers getting in the way. War on Weapons distributors, not on babies.
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Did evryone forget?

by mymicz Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003 at 11:41 AM

did anyone forget the waste of war, did anyone forget that we caused the problem with our money, did we forget that we sold the weapons, not only for WWII but for every war after we made the weapons!!! It's about time someone turned them on us, maybe that'll teach us a lesson not to sell weapons!! Hitler was a friend of Henry Ford's, Sadam was a Friend of Henry Kissinger's and Osama's family bailed DUI Bush out 3 times when his companies failed. You can say whatever you want about the glory of America, my family still died from Henry Fords support of Hitler having weapons, and he is a very American American. American's will be blamed for guilt by association when history comes clear, just as Ashcroft focuses on Muslims, someone will crack Bush's watergate soon. Every time we tried to make it better we made it worse, even in WWII we didn't do anything good until it was 12 million people too late. Don't pat American's on the back for raping the rest of the world. We may be civilised and free, we may indeed have the best standards, but only because "potluck peacenicks" gave us whole foods, desegregation, cleaner air, and minimum wage!!!!! And if the current abuse of a "good" capitalist system continues, the potluck peacnicks are the only ones to protect people from straight up military highway robbery!! We want no more cheap impermanent earth destroying goods from slave labor in China and we want better products, we don't need the government to open the doors for companies to give us half assed resources because of their bottom line!! We don't want Afghani's or Iraqi's to take more American jobs for 50 cents a fucking day!! We want them to have their own balls and ask for more themselves, and work for themselves and leave us the hell out of it except for weapons inspectors. We want to raise up Martin Luther Kings around the world, so that we don't have to be the only ones fighting for good. We want people in Iraq and Afghanistan to take back their own government peacefully. Without our stupid weapons dealers getting in the way. War on Weapons distributors, not on babies.
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Christopher Hitchens is not a liberal / person of the left (not anymore, at least)

by the truth Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003 at 6:37 PM

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