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.
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.