Saturday, October 02, 2004

In enemy territory?

An interview with Christopher Hitchens

Islamofascism and the Left


To many of Christopher Hitchens' old friends, he died on September 11th 2001. Tariq Ali considered himself a comrade of Christopher Hitchens for over thirty years. Now he speaks about him with bewilderment. "On 11th September 2001, a small group of terrorists crashed the planes they had hijacked into the Twin Towers of New York. Among the casualties, although unreported that week, was a middle-aged Nation columnist called Christopher Hitchens. He was never seen again," Ali writes. "The vile replica currently on offer is a double."

This encapsulates how many of Hitchens' old allies - a roll-call of the left's most distinguished intellectuals, from Edward Said to Noam Chomsky - now view him. On September 10th, he was campaigning for Henry Kissinger to be arraigned before a war crimes tribunal in the Hague for his massive and systematic crimes against humanity in the 1960s and 1970s. He was preparing to testify in the Vatican - as a literal Devil's Advocate - against the canonisation of Mother Theresa, who he had exposed as a sadistic Christian fundamentalist, an apologist for some of the world's ugliest dictatorships, and a knowing beneficiary of corporate fraud. Hitchens was sailing along the slow, certain route from being the Left's belligerent bad boy to being one of its most revered old men.

And then a hijacked plane flew into the Pentagon - a building which stands just ten minutes' from Hitchens' home. The island of Manhattan became engulfed in smoke. Within a year, Hitchens was damning his former comrades as "soft on Islamic fascism", giving speeches at the Bush White House, and describing himself publicly as "a recovering ex-Trotskyite." What happened?

When I arrive, he is reclining in his usual cloud of Rothmans' smoke and sipping a whisky. "You're late," he says sternly. I begin to flap, and he laughs. "It's fine," he says and I give him a big hug. On the morning of September 11th, once I had checked everybody I knew in New York was safe, I thought of Hitch who had become a friend since he encouraged my early journalistic efforts. He had been campaigning against Islamic fundamentalism for decades. I knew this assault this would blast him into new political waters - and I buckled a mental seatbelt for the bumpy ride ahead.

I decide to open with the most basic of questions. Where would he place himself on the political spectrum today? "I don't have a political allegiance now, and I doubt I ever will have again. I can no longer describe myself as a socialist. I miss it like a lost limb." He takes a sip from his drink. "But I don't regret anything. I'm still fighting for Kissinger to be brought to justice. The socialist movement enabled universal suffrage, the imposition of limits upon exploitation, and the independence of colonial and subject populations. Its achievements were real, and I'm glad I was part of it. Where it succeeded, one can be proud of it. Where it failed - as in the attempt to stop the First World War and later to arrest the growth of fascism - one can honourably regret its failure."

He realised he was not a socialist any longer around three years ago. "Often young people ask me for political advice, and when you are talking to the young, you mustn't bullshit. It's one thing when you are sitting with old comrades to talk about reviving the left, but you can't say that to somebody who is just starting out. And what could I say to these people? I had to ask myself - is there an international socialist movement worth the name? No. No, there is not. Okay - will it revive? No, it won't. Okay then - but is there at least a critique of capitalism that has a potential for replacing it? Not that I can identify."

"If the answer to all these questions is no, then I have no right to go around calling myself a socialist. It's more like an affectation." But Hitch - there are still hundreds of causes on the left, even if the ?socialist' tag is outdated. You used to write about acid rain, the crimes of the IMF and World Bank, the death penalty... It's hard to imagine you writing about them now. He explains that he is still vehemently against the death penalty and "I haven't forgotten the 152 people George Bush executed in Texas." But the other issues? He seems to wave them aside as "anti-globalisation" causes - a movement he views with contempt.

He explains that he believes the moment the left's bankruptcy became clear was on 9/11. "The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy? And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists." He cites the cover of one of Tariq Ali's books as the perfect example. It shows Bush and Bin Laden morphed into one on its cover. "It's explicitly saying they are equally bad. However bad the American Empire has been, it is not as bad as this. It is not the Taliban, and anybody - any movement - that cannot see the difference has lost all moral bearings."

Hitchens - who has just returned from Afghanistan - says, "The world these [al-Quadea and Taliban] fascists want to create is one of constant submission and servility. The individual only has value to them if they enter into a life of constant reaffirmation and prayer. It is pure totalitarianism, and one of the ugliest totalitarianisms we've seen. It's the irrational combined with the idea of a completely closed society. To stand equidistant between that and a war to remove it is?" He shakes his head. I have never seen Hitch grasping for words before.

Some people on the left tried to understand the origins of al-Quadea as really being about inequalities in wealth, or Israel's brutality towards the Palestinians, or other legitimate grievances. "Look: inequalities in wealth had nothing to do with Beslan or Bali or Madrid," Hitchens says. "The case for redistributing wealth is either good or it isn't - I think it is - but it's a different argument. If you care about wealth distribution, please understand, the Taliban and the al Quaeda murderers have less to say on this than even the most cold-hearted person on Wall Street. These jihadists actually prefer people to live in utter, dire poverty because they say it is purifying. Nor is it anti-imperialist: they explictly want to recreate the lost Caliphate, which was an Empire itself."

He continues, "I just reject the whole mentality that says, we need to consider this phenomenon in light of current grievances. It's an insult to the people who care about the real grievances of the Palestinians and the Chechens and all the others. It's not just the wrong interpretation of those causes; it's their negation." And this goes for the grievances of the Palestinians, who he has dedicated a great deal of energy to documenting and supporting. "Does anybody really think that if every Jew was driven from Palestine, these guys would go back to their caves? Nobody is blowing themselves up for a two-state solution. They openly say, ?We want a Jew-free Palestine, and a Christian-free Palestine.' And that would very quickly become, ?Don't be a Shia Muslim around here, baby.'" He supports a two-state solution - but he doesn't think it will solve the jihadist problem at all.

Can he ever see a defeat for this kind of Islamofascism? "This kind of theocratic fascism will never die because we belong to a very poorly-evolved mammarian species. I'm a complete materialist in that sense. We're stuck with being the product of a very sluggish evolution. Our pre-frontal lobes are too small and our adrenaline glands are too big. Our fear of the dark and of death is very intense, and people will always be able to profit from that. But nor can I see this kind of fascism winning. They couldn't even run Afghanistan. Our victory is assured - so we can afford to be very scrupulous in our methods."

But can he see a time when this kind of jihadist fever will be as marginalised as, say, Nazism is now, confined to a few reactionary eccentrics? "Not without what that took - which is an absolutely convincing defeat and discrediting. Something unarguable. I wouldn't exclude any measure either. There's nothing I wouldn't do to stop this form of fascism."

He is appalled that some people on the left are prepared to do almost nothing to defeat Islamofascism. "When I see some people who claim to be on the left abusing that tradition, making excuses for the most reactionary force in the world, I do feel pain that a great tradition is being defamed. So in that sense I still consider myself to be on the left." A few months ago, when Bush went to Ireland for the G8 meeting, Hitchens was on a TV debate with the leader of a small socialist party in the Irish dail. "He said these Islamic fascists are doing this because they have deep-seated grievances. And I said, 'Ah yes, they
have many grievances. They are aggrieved when they see unveiled woman. And they are aggrieved that we tolerate homosexuals and Jews and free speech and the reading of literature.'"

"And this man - who had presumably never met a jihadist in his life - said, ?No, it's about their economic grievances.' Well, of course, because the Taliban provided great healthcare and redistribution of wealth, didn't they? After the debate was over, I said, ?If James Connolly [the Irish socialist leader of the Easter Risings] could hear you defending these theocratic fascist barbarians, you would know you had been in a fight. Do you know what you are saying? Do you know who you are pissing on?"

Many of us can agree passionately with all that - but it is a huge leap to actually supporting Bush. George Orwell - one of Hitchens' intellectual icons - managed to oppose fascism and Stalinism from the left without ever offering a word of support for Winston Churchill. Can't Hitch agitate for a fight against Islamofascism without backing this awful President?

He explains by talking about the origins of his relationship with the neconservatives in Washington. "I first became interested in the neocons during the war in Bosnia-Herzgovinia. That war in the early 1990s changed a lot for me. I never thought I would see, in Europe, a full-dress reprise of internment camps, the mass murder of civilians, the reinstiutution of torture and rape as acts of policy. And I didn't expect so many of my comrades to be indifferent - or even take the side of the fascists."

"It was a time when many people on the left were saying ?Don't intervene, we'll only make things worse' or, ?Don't intervene, it might destabilise the region.'", he continues. "And I thought - destabilisation of fascist regimes is a good thing. Why should the left care about the stability of undemocratic regimes? Wasn't it a good thing to destabilise the regime of General Franco?"

"It was a time when the left was mostly taking the conservative, status quo position - leave the Balkans alone, leave Milosevic alone, do nothing. And that kind of conservatism can easily mutate into actual support for the aggressors. Weimar-style conservatism can easily mutate into National Socialism," he elaborates. "So you had people like Noam Chomsky's co-author Ed Herman go from saying ?Do nothing in the Balkans', to actually supporting[ital] Milosevic, the most reactionary force in the region."

"That's when I began to first find myself on the same side as the neocons. I was signing petitions in favour of action in Bosnia, and I would look down the list of names and I kept finding, there's Richard Perle. There's Paul Wolfowitz. That seemed interesting to me. These people were saying that we had to act." He continues, "Before, I had avoided them like the plague, especially because of what they said about General Sharon and about Nicaragua. But nobody could say they were interested in oil in the Balkans, or in strategic needs, and the people who tried to say that - like Chomsky - looked ridiculous. So now I was interested."

There are two strands of conservatism on the US right that Hitch has always opposed. The first was the Barry Goldwater-Pat Buchanan isolationist right. They argued for "America First" - disengagement from the world, and the abandonment of Europe to fascism. The second was the Henry Kissinger right, which argued for the installation of pro-American, pro-business regimes, even if it meant liquidating democracies (as in Chile or Iran) and supporting and equipping practitioners of genocide.

He believes neoconservatism is a distinctively new strain of thought, preached by ex-leftists, who believed in using US power to spread democracy. "It's explicitly anti-Kissingerian. Kissinger hates this stuff. He opposed intervening in the Balkans. Kissinger Associates were dead against [the war in] Iraq. He can't understand the idea of backing democracy - it's totally alien to him."

"So that interest in the neocons re-emerged after September 11th. They were saying - we can't carry on with the approach to the Middle East we have had for the past fifty years. We cannot go on with this proxy rule racket, where we back tyranny in the region for the sake of stability. So we have to take the risk of uncorking it and hoping the more progressive side wins." He has replaced a belief in Marxist revolution with a belief in spreading the American revolution. Thomas Jefferson has displaced Karl Marx.

But can we trust the Bush administration - filled with people like Dick Cheney, who didn't even support the release of Nelson Mandela - to support democracy and the spread of American values now? He offers an anecdote in response. There is a new liberal-left heroine in the States called Azar Nafisi. Her book ?Reading Lolita in Tehran' documents an underground feminist resistance movement to the Iranian Mullahs that concentrated on reading great - and banned - works of Western literature. "And who is this book by an icon of the Iranian resistance dedicated to? [US Deputy Secretary of Defence] Paul Wolfowitz, the bogeyman of the left, and the intellectual force behind [the recent war in] Iraq."

With the fine eye for ideological division that comes from a life on the Trotskyite left, Hitch diagnoses the intellectual divisions within the Bush administration. He does not ally himself with the likes of Cheney; he backs the small sliver of pure neocon thought he associates with Wolfowitz. "The thing that would most surprise people about Wolfowitz if they met him is that he's a real bleeding heart. He's from a Polish-Jewish immigrant family. You know the drill - Kennedy Democrats, some of the family got out of Poland in time and some didn't make it, civil rights marchers? He impressed me when he was speaking at a pro-Israel rally in Washington a few years ago and he made a point of talking about Palestinian suffering. He didn't have to do it - at all - and he was booed. He knew he would be booed, and he got it. I've taken time to find out what he thinks about these issues, and it's always interesting."

He gives an account of how the neocon philosophy affected the course of the Iraq war. "The CIA - which is certainly not neoconservative - wanted to keep the Iraqi army together because you never know when you might need a large local army. That's how the US used to govern. It's a Kissinger way of thinking. But Wolfowitz and others wanted to disband the Iraqi army, because they didn't want anybody to even suspect that they wanted to restore military rule." He thinks that if this philosophy can become dominant within the Republican Party, it can turn US power into a revolutionary force.

I feel simultaneously roused by Hitch's arguments and strangely disconcerted. Why did Hitch so enthusiastically back the administration's bogus WMD arguments - arguments he still stands by? I think of the Bush administration's denial of global warming, the hideous ?structural adjustment' programmes it rams down the throats of the world's poor (including Iraq's), its description of Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace"? Why intellectually compromise on all these issues and back Bush?

Bosnia was not the only precedent for Hitch's reaction to 9/11. He was disgusted by the West's slothful, grudging reaction to the fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie. Back in 1989, he was writing about the "absurdity" of "seeing Islamic fundamentalism as an anti-imperial movement." He was similarly appalled by the American left's indulgence of Bill Clinton's crimes, including the execution of a mentally disabled black man and the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that led to the deaths of more than 10,000 innocent Sudanese people. This brought him into close contact with the Clinton-hating right - and made him view their opponents with disgust.

And so the separation of Hitch and the organised left occurred. Is it permanent? Nobody was a better fighter for left-wing causes than Hitch. Nobody makes the left-wing case against Islamofascism and Ba'athism better than him today. Yet he undermines these vital arguments by backing Bush and indulging in wishful thinking about the Republicans.

As I luxuriate in the warm bath of his charisma, I want to almost physically drag him all the way back to us. He might be dead to the likes of Tariq Ali but there is still a large constituency of people on the left who understand how abhorrent Islamic fundamentalism is. Why leave us behind? I stammer that I can't imagine him ever settling down on the American right. He pauses, and I desperately hope that he will agree with me. "Not the Buchanan-Reagan right, no," he says. There is a pause. I expect him to continue, but he doesn't.

Back in the mid-1980s, Hitch lambasted a small US magazine called the Partsian Review for its "decline into neoconservatism". I don't think Hitch is lost to the left quite yet. He will never stop campaigning for the serial murderer Henry Kissinger to be brought to justice, and his hatred of Islamic fundamentalism is based on good left-wing principles. But it does feel at the end of our three-hour lunch like I have been watching him slump into neoconservatism. Come home, Hitch - we need you.

Friday, October 01, 2004

John Kerry Made At Least 16 Inaccurate Statements

John Kerry Made At Least

16 Inaccurate Statements

During Last Night's Debate

  1. Kerry Inaccurately Claimed Cuts In Homeland Security Funding Caused NYC Subway To Be Closed During The RNC Convention. "In an early exchange about homeland security, Kerry got it wrong when he claimed President Bush's cuts in funding for infrastructure protection was 'why they had to close down the subway in New York when the Republican Convention was there.' The only problem is that no subway service beneath Madison Square Garden was suspended during the convention, even as buses were diverted and gridlock ruled the streets." ("Subway Flub Derails Challenger," The New York Post, 10/1/04)
  2. Kerry Falsely Claimed He Had “Made A Mistake In How” He Talked About His Vote Against The $87 Billion, Despite Previously Saying It Would Be "Irresponsible" To Vote Against Funding For Our Troops. (CBS’ “Face The Nation,” 9/14/03)
  3. Kerry Claimed He's "Never, Ever" Used Word "Lying" In Reference To President Bush On Iraq, But In December 2003 Kerry Told A New Hampshire Editorial Board Bush "Lied" About Reasons For Going To War In Iraq And In September 2003 Kerry Said Bush Administration "Lied" And "Misled." (Patrick Healy, "Kerry Camp Lowers N.H. Expectations Behind In Polls, Senator Now Seeks Spot In 'Top Two,'" The Boston Globe, 12/8/03; Sen. John Kerry, Campaign Event, Claremont, NH, 9/20/03)
  4. According To FactCheck.Org, Kerry's "Cost" For The Iraq War Is Off By $80 Billion. ("Distortions And Misstatements At First Presidential Debate,", 10/1/04,, Accessed 10/1/04)
  5. According To FactCheck.Org, Kerry "Overstated The Case" On Osama Bin Laden's Alleged Escape At Tora Bora. ("Distortions And Misstatements At First Presidential Debate,", 10/1/04,, Accessed 10/1/04)
  6. Kerry Made Assumption The UN Was Willing To Continue Sanctions Against Iraq Despite The Fact They Were Becoming "Increasingly Unpopular With Key Nations." (Glenn Kessler And Walter Pincus, "Few Factual Errors, But Truth Got Stretched At Times," The Washington Post, 10/1/04)
  7. Kerry Misspoke And Said Weapons Of Mass Destruction Were "Crossing The (Iraq) Border Every Single Day." "The AP noted that Kerry misspoke when he said 'we got weapons of mass destruction crossing the (Iraq) border every single day, and they're blowing people up.' Kerry meant terrorists were crossing the border, not nuclear weapons." ("Distortions And Misstatements At First Presidential Debate,", 10/1/04,, Accessed 10/1/04)
  8. Kerry Claimed U.S. Soldiers Are "90 Percent Of The Casualties In Iraq," But The Wall Street Journal Puts U.S. Casualties Closer To 50% When You Include Iraqis Helping To Secure Their Own Country. (Editorial, "Our Kerry Iraq Guide," The Wall Street Journal, 9/30/04)
  9. Kerry Falsely Claimed President Bush Diverted Forces From Afghanistan To Iraq; Gen. Tommy Franks Said It's "Absolutely Incorrect" That Resources Were Diverted From Afghanistan. (General Tommy Franks, ABC Radio's "The Sean Hannity Show," 9/21/04)
  10. Kerry Falsely Claimed The Bush Administration Has Not Organized An International Summit To Discuss Iraq. "Reality Check: The administration has, in fact, organized just such a conference, in consultation with Iraqi and other Arab allies. It will be held in Cairo late in November, with the foreign ministers of the G8 countries (i.e. including antiwar countries such as France, Germany and Russia), China, the countries of the Arab League, Turkey and Iran invited to attend. If it goes ahead, it will mark the most significant attempt to forge a political consensus on Iraq since the war." (Tony Karon, "Reality Check: John Kerry,",,18471,703913,00.html, 10/1/04)
  11. Kerry Falsely Claimed The President Is "Cutting The COPS Program," When The Truth Is President Bush Has Already Met And Exceeded The COPS Program's 100,000 Officer Goal By 18 Percent. (
  12. Kerry Claimed Gen. Shinseki Was Retired For Testimony On Iraq When In Fact Shinseki's Retirement Was Announced In April 2002, Long Before He Testified About Potential Conduct Of Iraq War. (Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough, "Inside The Ring," The Washington Times, 4/19/02)
  13. Kerry Misleadingly Claimed He Can Bring More Allies Into Iraq. "Reality Check: It wasn't the President's credibility that kept most of the international community out of Iraq; it was, and is, the policies pursued by the U.S. in Iraq. But Kerry is broadly committed to the same policies. And if, as he says, other countries will participate because they have a stake in the outcome, the presumably they would do so no matter who was President of the United States." (Tony Karon, "Reality Check: John Kerry,",,18471,703913,00.html, 10/1/04)
  14. Kerry Claimed To Have His Own Four-Point Plan For Iraq, But It Mirrors The President's Plan. "Kerry's plan… is pretty much a checklist of recent initiatives adopted by the Bush Administration." (Tony Karon, "Reality Check: John Kerry,",,18471,703913,00.html, 10/1/04)
  15. Kerry Falsely Stated The Agreement With North Korea Broke Down Because The President Didn't Continue The Clinton Administration's Policy. "Reality Check: While the Yongbon facility was under scrutiny and the fuel rods were sealed, North Korea has since admitted to running a secret parallel uranium-enrichment program to create weapons-grade fissile material in the years following the agreement reached with the Clinton administration, in violation of that agreement." (Tony Karon, "Reality Check: John Kerry,",,18471,703913,00.html, 10/1/04)
  16. Kerry Falsely Claimed The "Reason For Going To War Was Weapons Of Mass Destruction, Not The Removal Of Saddam Hussein," But The 2002 Use Of Force Resolution Kerry Voted For Specifically Recognized Longstanding Regime Change Policy. (Public Law No. 107-243, Signed Into Law 10/16/02)

Masked revelers prefer Bush

Get this one: Halloween mask sales predictor says incumbent will beat Kerry in November.


NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Forget about the guesswork from the political pundits and ignore all those election polls.

The real key to predicting the outcome of the presidential election is this year's face-off of the Halloween masks.

It's as unscientific as it gets, but the theory, according to some people in the costume business, is that the winner in every election since 1980 has been the candidate whose masks were most popular on Halloween.

So far this year, Bush masks have been outselling those of

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin, according to one outfit,, the online arm of Wisconsin-based costume marketer Buyseasons Inc. says Halloween sales figures from manufacturers, national store chains and its own efforts have accurately picked the last six presidential elections.

So does this mean W. gets a second term in office?

"It hasn't failed us yet," Daniel Haight, chief operating officer at Buyseasons, said in an interview. "The masks are a great way for people to express their political leanings at a Halloween party or at a political gathering."

Haight declined to disclose just how many Bush and Kerry masks the company has sold so far, saying only that several thousand had been sold of each candidate.

The company's most popular presidential mask? That of former president Ronald Reagan in 1984, Haight said.

"Bill Clinton masks are still very popular and masks of Bush cabinet members such as Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell are also gaining popularity."

"As a company, we're neutral in terms of affiliation," Haight said. "We're just having lots of fun with the mask predictor. We're not here to influence people one way or the other on how to vote. We want the customer to influence the outcome through their wallets."

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Flirting With Disaster

The vile spectacle of Democrats rooting for bad news in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Sept. 27, 2004, at 11:35 AM PT

There it was at the tail end of Brian Faler's "Politics" roundup column in last Saturday's Washington Post. It was headed, simply, "Quotable":

"I wouldn't be surprised if he appeared in the next month." Teresa Heinz Kerry to the Phoenix Business Journal, referring to a possible capture of Osama bin Laden before Election Day.

As well as being "quotable" (and I wish it had been more widely reported, and I hope that someone will ask the Kerry campaign or the nominee himself to disown it), this is also many other words ending in "-able." Deplorable, detestable, unforgivable. …

The plain implication is that the Bush administration is stashing Bin Laden somewhere, or somehow keeping his arrest in reserve, for an "October surprise." This innuendo would appear, on the face of it, to go a little further than "impugning the patriotism" of the president. It argues, after all, for something like collusion on his part with a man who has murdered thousands of Americans as well as hundreds of Muslim civilians in other countries.

I am not one of those who likes to tease Mrs. Kerry for her "loose cannon" style. This is only the second time I have ever mentioned her in print. But I happen to know that this is not an instance of loose lips. She has heard that very remark being made by senior Democrats, and—which is worse—she has not heard anyone in her circle respond to it by saying, "Don't be so bloody stupid." I first heard this "October surprise" theory mentioned seriously, by a prominent foreign-policy Democrat, at an open dinner table in Washington about six months ago. Since then, I've heard it said seriously or semiseriously, by responsible and liberal people who ought to know better, all over the place. It got even worse when the Democratic establishment decided on an arm's-length or closer relationship with Michael Moore and his supposedly vote-getting piece of mendacity and paranoia, Fahrenheit 9/11. (The DNC's boss, Terence McAuliffe, asked outside the Uptown cinema on Connecticut Avenue whether he honestly believed that the administration had invaded Afghanistan for the sake of an oil or perhaps gas pipeline, breezily responded, "I do now.")

What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around? Americans are patrolling a front line in Afghanistan, where it would be impossible with 10 times the troop strength to protect all potential voters on Oct. 9 from Taliban/al-Qaida murder and sabotage. We are invited to believe that these hard-pressed soldiers of ours take time off to keep Osama Bin Laden in a secret cave, ready to uncork him when they get a call from Karl Rove? For shame.

Ever since The New Yorker published a near-obituary piece for the Kerry campaign, in the form of an autopsy for the Robert Shrum style, there has been a salad of articles prematurely analyzing "what went wrong." This must be nasty for Democratic activists to read, and I say "nasty" because I hear the way they respond to it. A few pin a vague hope on the so-called "debates"—which are actually joint press conferences allowing no direct exchange between the candidates—but most are much more cynical. Some really bad news from Iraq, or perhaps Afghanistan, and/or a sudden collapse or crisis in the stock market, and Kerry might yet "turn things around." You have heard it, all right, and perhaps even said it. But you may not have appreciated how depraved are its implications. If you calculate that only a disaster of some kind can save your candidate, then you are in danger of harboring a subliminal need for bad news. And it will show. What else explains the amazingly crude and philistine remarks of that campaign genius Joe Lockhart, commenting on the visit of the new Iraqi prime minister and calling him a "puppet"? Here is the only regional leader who is even trying to hold an election, and he is greeted with an ungenerous sneer.

The unfortunately necessary corollary of this—that bad news for the American cause in wartime would be good for Kerry—is that good news would be bad for him. Thus, in Mrs. Kerry's brainless and witless offhand yet pregnant remark, we hear the sick thud of the other shoe dropping. How can the Democrats possibly have gotten themselves into a position where they even suspect that a victory for the Zarqawi or Bin Laden forces would in some way be welcome to them? Or that the capture or killing of Bin Laden would not be something to celebrate with a whole heart?

I think that this detail is very important because the Kerry camp often strives to give the impression that its difference with the president is one of degree but not of kind. Of course we all welcome the end of Taliban rule and even the departure of Saddam Hussein, but we can't remain silent about the way policy has been messed up and compromised and even lied about. I know what it's like to feel that way because it is the way I actually do feel. But I also know the difference when I see it, and I have known some of the liberal world quite well and for a long time, and there are quite obviously people close to the leadership of today's Democratic Party who do not at all hope that the battle goes well in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have written before in this space that I think Bin Laden is probably dead, and I certainly think that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a far more ruthless and dangerous jihadist, who is trying to take a much more important country into the orbit of medieval fanaticism and misery. One might argue about that: I could even maintain that it's important to oppose and defeat both gentlemen and their supporters. But unless he conclusively repudiates the obvious defeatists in his own party (and maybe even his own family), we shall be able to say that John Kerry's campaign is a distraction from the fight against al-Qaida.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His new collection of essays, Love, Poverty and War, is forthcoming in October.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Kerry Interview On "Imus In The Morning"

IMUS: "Well he's urging you to admit the war was a mistake and then start attacking these people."

KERRY: "Well I think the war ..."

IMUS: "Why can't you do that?"

KERRY: "But I do. It's exactly what I am doing. I think the war ... I said it a hundred times, I think it was a huge mistake for the President to go to war the way he did. I've said that a dozen times. I mean, the fact is that I ..."

IMUS: "Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq, any?"

KERRY: "Not under the current circumstances, no. There are none that I see. I voted based on weapons of mass destruction. The President distorted that, and I've said that. I mean, look, I can't be clearer. But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable. I've said a hundred times, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The President chose the wrong way. Can't be more direct than that."

Can Anyone explain to me what he just said?