I’m neither surprised nor disappointed that Hitchens refuses to budge from his initial position on the Iraq War. It should probably be noted that he has now become a self-contrarian; he has apparently forgotten that he demanded the firings of Rumsfeld et al over the feeding on information to certain reporters in Iraq, a sin I still find to be the least consequential yet committed by the Bush administration in Iraq.
I am surprised, though, by how relentless his apology is. He is desperately reluctant even to criticize the Bush administration on the merest of tactical questions. In his latest, he says that he wouldn’t have opposed the deployment of an extra hundred thousand troops, then blames the entire failure of the operation on the international community. That’s it. Not a bit of blame attaches to George W. Bush or his administration.
Compare Fred Kaplan’s assessment of the war with Hitch’s. Kaplan is a knowledgeable, sensible analyst of military affairs, and carefully lays out a series of critiques of the Bush administration’s performance. This isn’t the only place you’ll find such an analysis, because the failings of the administration are painfully obvious. Given that many who supported and continue to support the war have admitted these mistakes, you’d think that Hitch might at least allow that things could have been better executed. You’d be wrong.
Instead, we have a recounting of how Saddam probably did have WMDs, or would have in the future, and even if he didn’t, there’s no way we could have known about it at the time. This has been so thoroughly destroyed by so many people that I don’t think we need to spend much more time on it, and admits of a refusal on Hitch’s part to grapple with ANY aspect of the post-war situation, including the failure to find any substantial amount of WMD or the capacity to construct a future program. Then Hitch points to a series of Steven Hayes articles that have “laid out a tranche of suggestive and incriminating connections, based on a mere fraction of the declassified documents, showing Iraqi Baathist involvement with jihadist and Bin Ladenist groups from Sudan to Afghanistan to Western Asia.” Laid out a tranche of suggestive connections? That’s the best he can come up with? No effort to compare this set of connections to say, the same kind that you might find in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Egypt. No effort to grapple with the fact that the central contention of Cheney, that Iraq and Al Qaeda had an operational connection, remains utterly unsupported by any meaningful evidence.
I can see two possibilities with Hitch. First, he’s so bitter at the Left, and so unwilling to admit that he made a critical and stupid mistake on the single most important political judgement of his life, that he’s taken a position to the right of Jeff Goldstein. Goldstein, at least, allows for friendly tactical criticism of the Bush administration. It would seem that Hitchens won’t stand even for this. The notion that Hitch sees solidarity with the troops as a postive value is wholly implausible given his previous work. Second, perhaps Hitch has simply decided to accept his lot in the life as that of an uncritical apologist for an inept and corrupt President. The benefits are good, there’s plenty of scotch, the pay is solid, and you get to meet lots of nice people at AEI and the National Review.