Thursday, May 27, 2004


Well, there's no need to play "Gotcha!" to make the first point: Hitchens's latest Slate column is called

"Ahmad and Me: Defending Chalabi"

("I first met Dr. Ahmad Chalabi in the spring of 1998....Chalabi impressed me...")

On the second point -- after a laughable attempt to refute the charge that Chalabi fed secrets to Iran's mullahs (Hitchens says "a very 'senior government official,'" unnamed of course, told him it just wasn't so) -- there's this:

As for Iran, it is the most significant of Iraq's neighbors, and no aspiring politician can avoid the responsibility of conducting relations with it. Chalabi has never made any secret of his closeness to Tehran, and he operated a headquarters there, with the full encouragement of the U.S. government, during the run-up to the intervention. This necessarily involves a managed compromise between competing Shiite forces in both countries, at a time when both populations are anxiously awaiting developments in each other's societies. If any Iraqi is "brokering" relations with Iran, I hope it's Chalabi.

But wait -- Iran's evil! The president whose war Hitchens deeply admires said so. And isn't a willingness to allow evildoers to stay in power precisely what Hitchens most chastised liberals for in the period before the Gulf War?

Well, Hitch doesn't think the mullahs are really evil. They're just "bankrupt," able to be rebuffed by a "riposte." That's what he wrote in The Boston Globe back in September of '02: seemed insane to include Iran in the "most-wanted" category.

The Iranian people, with no interference from outside, have in the past few years developed their own civil-society riposte to the archaic and bankrupt rule of the mullahs. With its dress and its music and its thirst for contact with the outside world, a generation has begun to repudiate theocracy and to insist that election results be respected. A free press is exploding from under the carapace, and electronic communications are eroding superstition....

So it's almost as if the mullahs really don't run Iran -- even though they do. It's almost as if they're not really repressive -- even though they are. It's almost as if they don't really have a bad human rights record -- even though they still do. It's almost as if they respect free speech and a free press -- even though they don't. It's almost as if they're not theocrats -- even though they are.

Here's Hitchens in The Nation, in November '01, not at all worried about Iran's "anti-American mullahs" because "the Shiite street" doesn't like the Taliban. And here's Hitchens in Slate, a year later, happily noting that the mullahs "hate Saddam" (they "hate America more," but it's OK because "Iranian public opinion" is "much more pro-American"). So, really, Iran's practically ready for NATO membership.

Oh, sure, last October Hitch did entertain the notion of a U.S. invasion of Iran -- but only when it was proposed to him by Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson (who is now, apparently, a favorite of the American Enterprise Institute). Hitch seems to have a bit of a manly crush on Hossein Khomeini. He asks about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the Iranian nuclear program, and as he listens to the replies of Khomeini, who "operates within an entirely Quranic frame of reference," Hitchens, the atheist and cleric-hater, is bedazzled:

I could not resist asking his opinion of the famous fatwa against Salman Rushdie. I cannot say that I understood all of his reply, which was very long and detailed and contained some Quranic references and citations that were (to me at any rate) rather abstruse. But the meaning was very plain. A sentence of death for apostasy cannot really be pronounced, or acted upon, unless there is "an infallible imam," and there is no such thing. The Shiite faithful believe in a "hidden imam" who may one day be restored to them, but they have learned to be wary of impostors or false prophets. In any event, added Khomeini, there was an important distinction between what the Quran said and what an ayatollah as head of state might say. "We cannot nowadays have executions in this form." ...

That reminded me to ask him what he thought of the mullahs' nuclear program. He calmly said that there was no physical force that was stronger than his faith, and thus there was no need for any country to arm itself in this way....

This is pure doubletalk, and Hitch swallows it whole.

Look, I don't want to go to war against Iran -- but I'm a quisling liberal, and Hitchens is a fearless Speaker of Truth to Power. I think it's crazy to think that the proper response to every unsavory government on the planet is a U.S. overthrow -- and that's precisely the attitude Christopher Hitchens claimed to despise in opponents of Bush policy as the war in Iraq approached. But here he is, taking the same attitude himself toward Iran -- and, at the same time, defending a crook, liar, and double-crosser from Iraq, as well as a bunkum-spewing mullah-wannabe from Iran.

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