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A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq
reviewed by Nathan Alexander
12 February 2004A Long Short War

Christopher Hitchens’ articles in A Long Short War are broadly linked by the belief that the war against Saddam Hussein was a radical or progressive action, and that those opposed to it are allied with the forces of reaction.

Christopher Hitchen’s A Long Short War is a collection of articles written in the build up before the outbreak of the US war against Iraq on March 19, 2003. The articles are preceded by a preface that was written before the invasion began, and followed by a conclusion written after major combat operations were declared over, on May 1, 2003.

Much of the public debate about the war preceding the invasion (and continuing up to the present), consisted in positioning oneself vis a vis one slogan or another. One was “for peace,” one was “for international law,” one was “against terrorism” and so on. Hitchens’ take-no-prisoners style doesn’t permit his critics a refuge in airy abstractions.

Should Saddam have been overthrown? The question, Hitchens says, was not should he be, but how. And this meant either the United States stabilized a post-Saddam Iraq -- or the Iranian fundamentalists would be involved. Permitting Saddam to stay in power was not a realistic possibility. The absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction? “The best moral argument for regime change in Iraq is based upon the horrific way in which the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples have been treated. . . .” To the slogans “No War in Iraq,” Hitchens responds: “No there was barely a ‘war’ at all.”  “No Blood for Oil?” Hitchens writes, “the oil wealth of Iraq had been duly rescued from attempted sabotage (by Saddam Hussein’s troops) with scarcely a drop spilled.  And “Give the Inspectors more Time?” The rapid Coalition military victory provided precisely that.

Peaceniks fare poorly under Hitchens’ pen, who dispatches them along with European war critics and former US President Jimmy Carter with wit and characteristic sarcasm. To Carter’s professed concern about violence and the offense an Iraqi war would be to his Christian faith, Hitchens writes: “It was the Carter administration that green-lighted, and later armed and aided, Saddam Hussein’s . . .unilateral invasion of Iran in 1979, an invasion that cost about a million and a half casualties, many of them civilian.” “As a member of Atheists for Regime change,” he writes, “. . .I can’t say [that Carter’s] pious euphemism, illogic and moral cowardice distresses me. It shows yet again that there is a fixed gulf between religion and ethics.”

Though Hitchens’ articles cover a wide range of subjects, they are broadly linked by the belief that the war against Saddam Hussein is a radical or progressive action, and that those opposed to it are allied with the forces of reaction. Al Quada is a “multinational corporation,” Hitchens argues, and the Arab countries most vociferously opposing US intervention in Iraq -- Saudi Arabia, Iran -- are theocracies. In recent years the political left has come to make anti-Americanism part of its global image. However, Hitchens points out, traditionally the far right has been rabidly anti-American as well. The de facto alliance of fundamentalist Islamic leaders with right wing European leaders such as Jorg Hadar and Jean-Marie Le Pen finds a common root in hostility towards modernism, cosmopolitanism and liberal society.

Whatever one made of the Iraqi war, Hitchens’ book is most thought provoking for its tentative exploration of American power. First, despite seemingly global opposition, the war took place more or less according to the United States’ timeline. France-led Europe proved incapable of uniting Europeans against the war, and Europe split along old fracture lines.  Second, the wide range of apocalypses (“enraging the Muslim world,” “quagmire”) invoked by the Peace Movement didn’t materialize and the peace movement itself proved short lived. Thirdly, and perversely, one may now speak meaningfully of the “effective and efficient use of force” -- an idea deemed insane by the generation marked by the Vietnam War.

These things all suggest that it is necessary to rethink the nature of power and the nature of opposition in the world today. Is it useful to distinguish between “opposition” to the government -- defined as the systematic and effective resistance to a government policy -- and the “culture of dissent,” that amorphous aspect of any modern society which comes from the simple fact that modern society by nature possesses differing views on most anything?  As American power emerges in the twenty-first century unchecked, it appears we still have yet to seriously understand what this means, let alone how to stop it. 

A Long Short War is available on Amazon.com. Visit Christopher Hitchens' web site here.

Nathan Alexander is a Lecturer in the Department of History and Literature at Harvard University.

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