Christopher Hitchens is an Unpleasant Man

August 14, 2007

I dislike Christopher Hitchens. Really, I do. It’s hard for me to decide whether he was more wrong as a Trotskyite or as a bitter liberal-bashing hawk. I’m going to call it a tie. Anyway, his new Slate piece, “Foolish Myths about Al-Qaida in Iraq,” is a doozy. This should give you the gist:

The facts as we have them are not at all friendly to this view of the situation, whether it be the “hard” view that al-Qaida terrorism is a “resistance” to Western imperialism or the “soft” view that we have only created the monster in Iraq by intervening there.

I hate to point by point a guy like Hitchens, but here I go.

The first thing to notice about [Zarqawi] is that he was in Iraq before we were. The second thing to notice is that he fled to Iraq only because he, and many others like him, had been driven out of Afghanistan. Thus, by the logic of those who say that Afghanistan is the “real” war, he would have been better left as he was. Without the overthrow of the Taliban, he and his collaborators would not have moved to take advantage of the next failed/rogue state. I hope you can spot the simple error of reasoning that is involved in this belief. It also involves the defeatist suggestion—which was very salient in the opposition to the intervention in Afghanistan—that it’s pointless to try to crush such people because “others will spring up in their place.”

There is a pretty obvious point I think Hitchens misses here. Namely, that Saddam-era Iraq was not really ever a good staging ground for major acts of terrorism. If Zarqawi had become too much of a threat to Hussein, he would have been dead. Period. Obviously, Hussein’s propensity for killing people is not really one of his big selling points, but it did have a n undeniable dampening effect on domestic terror.

To say that the attempt to Talibanize Iraq would not be happening at all if coalition forces were not present is to make two unsafe assumptions and one possibly suicidal one.

Maybe I am missing something, but is anyone actually saying that the insurgents would quit if the coalition weren’t there? I haven’t heard that argument in any venue I would consider to be remotely mainstream, and indeed Hitchens fails to cite any examples.

We can not only deny the clones of Bin Ladenism a military victory in Iraq, we can also discredit them in the process and in the eyes (and with the help) of a Muslim people who have seen them up close.

This is where Hitch really drops the ball. He fails to make an important distinction, the same one many prominent war supporters continue to fail to make: a military victory isn’t even half the battle.

We cannot literally kill every insurgent, and if the political process does not make enough progress to stabilize society, eventually the insurgents will come back, and the result will be chaos. We can’t stay forever, nor should we feel obligated to do so. Now, I am no supporter of rapid withdrawal, but on the other hand, I would like to be out of Iraq before say, my still-unborn children reach adulthood. I just don’t think there are any easy answers here, and “stay the course” sure sounds like an easy answer to me.


More on FISA

August 7, 2007

The FISA amendments, (disgustingly titled the “Protect America Act”), which I discussed briefly yesterday, are still the big controversy today. Most of the buzz is pretty negative.

A New York Times editorial slammed PAA as “yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights.” Reason’s Julian Sanchez wonders if the country isn’t, “[l]ike Bill Murray’s hapless weatherman in Groundhog Day… locked in a perpetual September 12, 2001.” Obsidian Wings reminds Americans to “understand that FISA didn’t arise out of abstract policy debates. Congress enacted FISA in response to decades of well-documented, egregious abuses of secret, unchecked surveillance authority (generally in the name of fighting the enemy, who was then Communism).” TPM Muckraker also suggests that the Administration’s assurances of careful targeting should be taken with a grain of salt.

NRO Online’s Andrew McCarthy is apparently not a student of history. He argues that FISA allows judges to manage national security and that the law should be taken off the books altogether. He claims that the Constitution “empowers the chief executive to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign threats.” Ignoring the facts altogether, he even states that “a judge on the FISA court outrageously ignored the FISA statute.” In fact, that isn’t true at all, which was, in theory, the reason an amendment was needed in the first place. Know-nothingism at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.

Mayer on Torture, Plus FISA Updates

August 6, 2007

The big news today is, of course, the Jane Mayer piece in the New Yorker describing the secret CIA detention facilities used post-9/11. Some truly frightening stuff in there. Example:

Finally, [Rep Alcee Hastings] received some classified briefings on the Mohammed interrogation. Hastings said that he “can’t go into details” about what he found out, but, speaking of Mohammed’s treatment, he said that even if it wasn’t torture, as the Administration claims, “it ain’t right, either. Something went wrong.”

There’s much worse in there than that, too. Here‘s Marty Lederman’s pretty thorough discussion of the article.

On a related note, the Democrats capitulated to the Administration on an update to FISA. Jack Balkin is disgusted. TPM’s Greg Sargent responds by pleading with the Democrats to remember why they were elected. Orin Kerr isn’t as critical. I tend to agree with Balkin on this. Even if the amendment isn’t so bad on its face, the potential for abuse is enormous, and I remain unconvinced that this was the best (or even a particularly good) solution to the Administration’s FISA problems.

Democrats, Republicans, doesn’t seem to matter most of the time. All worthless. Being informed is such a drag.

The Rundown

August 6, 2007
  • Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff has an interesting piece on healthcare in the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” feature.
  • The Tenth Circuit held that Oklahoma may not treat out of state adoptions by gay couples differently than it treats such adoptions by straight couples.
  • Senior Senator of my home state Arlen Spector, has a pretty level-headed editorial about immigration in today’s WP. Unfortunately, he is probably not doing himself any favors in his next contest with this stance.
  • A challenge to the NSA wiretap program may have a chance, since the Department of the Treasury accidentally gave the defendant’s lawyers a copy of the NSA Call Log. Oops.
  • Stephen Bainbridge, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, demonstrates that the similarities between the president and his father are greater than they would seem, and not in a particularly flattering sense.
  • Matthew Yglesias conveys some foreign policy wisdom Obama dropped re: China at YearlyKos.

The Rundown

July 26, 2007
  • Marty Lederman makes a pretty convincing case that AG AG’s semantics games about the Terrorist Surveillance Program lack any substance.
  • Hell freezes over: Rudy writes an editorial I more or less agree with. Carbon sequestration is still a little pie-in-the-sky, IMHO, but that’s something of a quibble.
  • Even some of the “loyal Bushies” are uncomfortable with the executive order interpreting the Geneva Conventions. Marty Lederman follows up here.
  • More on postwar Iraq from Matthew Yglesias. This is very well-written.
  • Arlen Spector apparently feels betrayed by Chief Justice Roberts’s decisions this term. So much so that he has pledged to probe said decisions.
  • Brad DeLong posts an interesting story about Herbert Hoover in China.

The Rundown

July 25, 2007
  • Michael Gerson makes a pretty persuasive argument for close US and international attention to the resolution of the ongoing conflict in Uganda.
  • Alan Weber argues, not at all persuasively, that Detroit ought to be embracing stricter fuel standards. I am no lover of inefficient vehicles, but I think the comments showcase a number of critical flaws in his argument.
  • Tyler Cowen makes a provocative, if inconclusive, post questioning whether buying local produce is really all it’s cracked up to be.
  • David Bernstein points to some disturbing news about Hezbollah. As usual, he can’t resist the urge to make an absolutely ridiculous remark, but the content is newsworthy.
  • The Politico suggests that Obama’s campaign may be taking some cues from Ronald Reagan’s.
  • Bad news from the housing market (via TPM Cafe).

The Rundown

July 24, 2007
  • Foreign Policy‘ s Passport blog argues that Condoleezza Rice is well on her way to becoming a Powell-esque failure as Secretary of State.
  • Newt Gingrich goes off on an amusing/frightening rant at an American Spectator breakfast.
  • Anne Applebaum argues that Vladimir Putin benefits politically from doing nothing about corruption and criminality in Russia.
  • More anthropogenic climate change evidence in Nature.
  • The VA is being sued by a group of Iraq veterans claiming that mismanagement and incompetence has prevented them from obtaining medical care.
  • Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon argue in the NYT that the CIA should take charge of the counterterrorism operations that the military has repeatedly bungled.
  • Gene Sperling makes a case that stagnant/declining American funding for scientific research could spark a crisis in the near future.
  • Greg Mankiw posts on a Becker-Posner Blog tip I emailed him, but doesn’t show me any love. Oh well. I got a thank you email at least.