Sunday, April 30, 2006

Christopher Hitchens on the Euston Manifesto

Good Trots find leaving ‘the party’ more traumatic than normal people find a bitter divorce. I should know, as I've got both T-shirts.

This is probably one of the psychological factors at work in Christopher Hitchens’ denunciation of the Stop the War Coalition - and by implication, his old flame the Socialist Workers’ Party - in this morning’s Sunday Times.

When I bump into the erstwhile Mrs Osler at drinks receptions from time to time, we usually manage some civilised conversation over the routinely ghastly wine. We then agree that we ‘simply must’ meet up for dinner some time. But we never do, of course.

However, Hitchens - who started out in journalism on Socialist Worker, and is pictured above - still seems to be carrying a little torch for his political ex somewhere in his heart. And he seems mighty angry that it has found a new partner in the shape of political Islam.

The first substantive point in the diatribe is an attack the official slogan of the March 2003 StWC demo, namely ‘No war on Iraq, freedom for Palestine’:

‘Nobody had actually ever proposed a war “on” Iraq. It had been argued, whether persuasively or not, that Iraq and the world would be improved by the advent of the post-Saddam Hussein era.’

Such chutzpah. For a start, the semantic quibble over a misplaced preposition somehow doesn‘t quite work. Neither does the political follow-through. The central case advanced for war three years ago was explicitly not the liberation of the Iraqi people.

Exporting democracy did not come into the equation until much later. The central planks of the apologists’ position were that the Saddam government possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that it supported al Qa’eda. For Hitchens to maintain otherwise is surely an instance of extraordinarily selective memory, if not outright bad faith.

Both contentions were questionable even at the time, as the ‘dodgy dossier’ affair underlined. A plagiarised PhD thesis is not a credible basis for going to war. Now we are in a position to make a definitive judgement, and neither the WMD or al Qa’eda claims stand up.

Hitchens and the pro-war left might wish to counter that Blair and Bush made an honest mistake here, although a journo as good as Hitch should surely be less credible than that. Most of the rest of the population think our rulers lied to us, and only started talking in terms of ‘liberation’ when they were rumbled. In short, this argument has been made anything but ‘persuasively’. Meanwhile, Hitchens continues:

‘There was already a war in Iraq, with Kurdish guerrillas battling the Ba’athist regime and Anglo-American airborne patrols enforcing a “no-fly zone” in order to prevent the renewal of the 1991 attempted genocide in the Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south … The war “for” and “over” and “in” Iraq, in other words, had been going on for some time and I, for one, had taken a side in it.’

Again, this is disingenuous. There is no logical connection between backing a guerilla insurgency against a vicious dictatorship and the full-scale invasion of Iraq by the world’s imperialist superpower. I supported the first. I did not support the second.

Of the points that follow, I agree with many. ‘Hands off Iraq - but freedom for Kurdistan’ would indeed have been a better slogan. But I still can’t see how any principled leftist could object to the demand for freedom for Palestine.

Of course, George Galloway is more deeply mired in nostalgia for Stalinism than the average East German old age pensioner, although large cheques from Saudi Arabia’s royal family make him rather better off than the majority of senior citizens in Dresden. Of course, Ramsey Clark is for whatever reason reduced to fellow-travelling with a particularly potty Stalinist sect.

It is to the immense discredit of the bulk of the far left that these individuals play the roles they do. But a consistent minority of anti-war socialists - a number in which I would include myself - have said these things many times before.

Hitchens makes no secret of enjoying the odd drop of the hard stuff while writing, and you can almost spot the level of alcohol consumption in each succeeding paragraph. Three-quarters of the way into the article, he was obviously nicely pickled.

So demo participants reiterated the ideological mantras of Ba’athism, we are told. Sorry? I was there, and didn’t see a single banner emblazoned with ‘one path, one destiny’, ‘one Arab nation with one eternal mission’ or even ‘the good military man is the good ba’athist’. Not one.

And the ‘tenth-rate theoreticians’ of the far left apparently believe al Qa’eda can stop global warming. You what? Citations, please? Got any serious sources here? Thought not. If only out of admiration for the Hitchens of old, I think we’ll just skip over these obviously ludicrous notions.

Finally, on to the money shot. Hitchens has been asked to sign the Euston Manifesto. The little tease won’t say if he is going to put out or not, but I reckons he’s the kind of girl that does do it on a second date at the latest. What’s the betting the EM crew are saving the Royal Assent until the public launch?

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