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Christopher Hitchens doesn’t think much of Mike Huckabee’s foreign policy

Thursday, December 20, 2007
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HH: We begin this Wednesday as we do most Wednesdays when we’re lucky with Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, who I don’t suspect is much of an Andy Williams fan, are you, Christopher?

CH: Not exactly.

HH: I didn’t think so. Let me begin with a rather random question. Who is your favorite prime minister of the 19th Century?

CH: By prime minister, you mean of the United Kingdom?

HH: Yes.

CH: Of, you said the 19th or the 20th, I’m sorry?

HH: 19th Century.

CH: Well, there’s a strong case to be made for Lord Palmerston. There’s quite a case to be made, made recently by Douglas Heard, interesting, still living Tory politician, as to, for George Canning, much forgotten, who did a great deal to repair relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.

HH: And what do you admire about Palmerston?

CH: Well, a muscular foreign policy. But I think, I’m thinking aloud. I had no notice of the question, but I mean, then for the link between ethics and foreign policy, a lot of people would of course go for Gladstone.

HH: But that’s…I was just curious, because obviously, you do not much care for a Christianized foreign policy, and that was Gladstone, and I was wondering if you were going to say Disraeli, but I think Palmerston, if I think about it, that’s what I would have predicted you would have said, given his rather muscular foreign policy. And now, do you think Bush’s…

CH: But I mean, all of these people were pretty ghastly when it came to the main thing, which was the recognition of the United States. And that having been grudgingly acquiesced in, I mean, the shocking thing, even for someone who have their ways of admiring Gladstone, how almost all of them hoped that the Union would be destroyed by the Civil War, and were…

HH: But Palmerston did keep…

CH: …and worked for that. I mean, and Gladstone had to apologize later. But in effect, he was pro-Confederate and pro-secession, and for the destruction of the Union. So the more one thinks, what I try and teach my students is to reread Henry Adams’ memoirs, his wonderful book, Education, and when he was working in London for his father, who was then the ambassador, the minister. Really, if it wasn’t for Karl Marx and a very few others in England at that time, the Union would have had no friends. The London Times hoped for the destruction of the Union, the Tory and Liberal Parties both hoped for it. There were a very few people, Cobden and Bright, and a few isolated liberals and free traders.

HH: But Palmerston resisted recognizing the Confederacy when Lord Russell wanted him to, so I think…

CH: Yes, he did.

HH: He probably shines better than most of them.

CH: I think, I mean, really, the reason I said Palmerston, as like a free association test, is for that reason.

HH: Now what about Lord Salisbury? Did you respect his tenure as…

CH: No!

HH: Why not?

CH: It’s visceral in me.

HH: (laughing)

CH: It’s just, there’s something about the conservative land interest, I can’t stand. I just can’t bear them.

HH: All right, now having set that up, let’s move to Putin, Man of the Year. Your reaction to Time Magazine’s, in my opinion, disgraceful choice?

CH: Shameful, shameful, groveling to the worst kind of populism, allied to the worst kind of authoritarianism, allied to something else that I never cease to try and draw attention to, by the way, which is not just the revival of Russian, great Russian chauvinism, but the alliance of that with a particularly horrible kind of politicized religion. Putin, whom I’m sure is a complete cynic on religious matters, if you remember, was clever enough to wear a Crucifix when he first met President Bush…

HH: Yup.

CH: …who must regret what he said that day.

HH: Yeah.

CH: I looked deep into his eyes, saw that the man was wearing his grandmother’s Crucifix, and I thought this must be a good man, but who has not adopted this very black god, black cowled, politicized Russian orthodoxy as part of his revival of Russian imperialism, and Russian authoritarianism as well. It’s a very horrible development, maybe the single most depressing thing that’s happened this year in Europe, at any rate. And that that should be celebrated by Time Magazine is really scandalous.

HH: Now of course, Time will say they’re not celebrating, they’re merely acknowledging. But I don’t believe he is the story of the year. That story’s been unfolding.

CH: Well, that’s what they said when they, I think more than once, made Hitler the Man of the Year in the 30’s.

HH: And the Ayatollah.

CH: It was simply recognizing that there was a new Germany. Well, fine, but then those are their standards, aren’t they?

HH: And so, would you have made Petraeus or the American military the Man of the Year?

CH: I’m not, by the way, terrifically high on the cult of Man of the Year, et cetera, et cetera. But if you had to have one, I think David Petraeus wins it hands down, yes.

HH: I agree with that. Now let’s move on to politics. Mike Huckabee, the, at least last week’s frontrunner, I don’t think he’s this week’s frontrunner, had much to say about Iran this week. I want to play…and the Bush foreign policy. Let’s play cut number five, please, for Christopher Hitchens, from Mike Huckabee’s September speech.

MH: We haven’t had diplomatic relationships with Iran in almost thirty years, most of my entire adult life. And a lot of good it’s done. Putting this in human terms, all of us know that when we stop talking to a parent or a sibling, or even a friend, it’s impossible to resolve the differences to move that relationship forward. Well, the same is true for countries.

HH: What do you think, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Yes, well what a dolt the guy is. By the way, if your listeners haven’t done this already, they must go to the Reason Magazine website, they must do it. They should do it anyway, because it’s a great mag. It just declared, I was just the secular Santa at Reason Magazine seasonal party. But you’ve got to look, you have to see the Huckabee family Christmas card. Do yourself a favor, anyone listening. Start now.

HH: And why is that? What will they…

CH: It’s just too delicious for words. The guy’s a dolt. I mean, there is a reason why we don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran, which is that our embassy is still hijacked, and has still been turned into, and I mean, they let the hostages go after that outrageous violation of international law that was involved in kidnapping them, but our embassy is still a museum of anti-Americanism. I’ve been to it in downtown Tehran. And they still won’t change the name of the street, Roosevelt Avenue, back to its real name. Most Iranians want that to happen, as do I, and it might be a good thing for President Bush to act big and adopt a Nixon in China policy. In fact, I’ve several times argued that it would be a shrewd thing to do. But let not this provincial ignoramus from Arkansas tell us that the reason why there’s not diplomatic relationship between ourselves and the Iranians is our fault.

HH: Cut number six, more Huckabee on Iran.

MH: Before we put boots on the ground in the future, we better have a few wingtips there first. And when President Bush included Iran in the Axis of Evil, everything went downhill pretty fast. As the only presidential candidate with a theology degree, along with several years of political experience, I know that theology is black and white, politics is not. My enemy today on one issue may be my friend tomorrow on another. Bottom line is this – Iran is a regional threat to the balance of power in the middle and near East. Al Qaeda is an existential threat to the United States. I know that we cannot live with al Qaeda. But there is a chance we can live with a domesticated Iran.

HH: Christopher Hitchens?

CH: I love the way that his voice drips with that bogus earnestness, don’t you? And pseudo sincerity. Theology, to me, is a non-subject. If it wasn’t, I don’t think a guy as stupid as that could get a degree in it. I suppose he’s trying to say that he understands theocracy, but I don’t think he has any idea of how incompatible with our continued survival a militarized, let alone a thermonuclearlized theocracy in Iran would be. I happened to be in Iran just after the President had made not the Axis of Evil speech but the State of the Union Speech, in which he said when the Iranians stand for their own freedom, we stand with them, that that speech went down extremely well in Tehran.

HH: Now do you have the same level of contempt for the other Republicans in the race?

CH: Not as much as I do for someone who doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution, who regards his crass presence amongst us as a part of a Divine plan. I can’t despise that enough.

HH: Well, I think all of them…

CH: I mean, of course Romney has that in another way, and you and I have crossed swords on this point, but he doesn’t make such a contemptible smarmy point of insisting of his ignorance.

HH: Now do you think that McCain and Thompson and Giuliani don’t believe they’re part of a Divine plan, or are they simply playing their ignorance on this matter in your eyes…

CH: They don’t make, they don’t make a parade of their stupidity on the point, no. I mean, actually, I would be very surprised, frankly, I don’t know Senator McCain very well, I’ve met him a couple of times, the day that he says look, I don’t think I’m here because of the laws of biology, I don’t think I’m here because of the laws of natural selection, I don’t think these things apply at all, the laws of physics, I’m here because God has a plan for me, I’ll be surprised. And I will, in my mind, make the allowance that maybe he felt he had to say that to some terrible audience or whatever. He hasn’t done it, yet. Huckabee seems to me to actually, literally believe this William Jennings Bryan Democratic Party populist, religious tripe.

HH: Can we keep you, Christopher Hitchens, provided God’s plan is that you be on the other side?

CH: I didn’t hear that last bit?

HH: Yeah, provided God wants you, we’ll be right back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

– – – –

HH: Christopher, before I forget, a Merry Christmas to you and yours.

CH: Absolutely. Compliments of the season, as Mr. Jefferson used to say, back to you.

HH: Ah. I want to go back and talk a little bit, by the way, there are lots of Hitchens books that would make wonderful stocking stuffers, including the Jefferson biography, probably my favorite of your works. Are you working on another one in the biography series?

CH: No, I’m not. I’ve just done a book on, a short, little book on Thomas Paine and the rights of man, and I’m resting now. The one I’d like to do is a little known guy, but a very important one, I think, Joe Barlow, who was a great figure in the American Revolution at that time.

HH: Oh, interesting. Well, good luck on that. Now do English pundits say of English politicians, routinely, the sort of harsh commentary you delivered about Huckabee last segment? Or is that unique to your distaste for his Southern Baptist background?

CH: Oh, no, it would be, I mean, one of the reasons I sometimes think that English magazine and newspaper journalism is better is it doesn’t pretend to be objective. It places a high value on having a point of view, and stating honestly what it is. And a person like the caliber of the unctuous falsity of Huckabee would have very little chance, I think, of having gotten this far without having been shelled pretty intensely.

HH: What do you make of the current Conservative leadership in Great Britain?

CH: Well, I think it’s pretty creepy myself. I mean, the Conservatives have adopted their own form of, what shall I call it, hypocritical multiculturalism, whereby they’re trying to bid much more than the Labour Party does, for surrender to religious bigotry and anti-Americanism.

HH: And so…

CH: It’s quite a sinister thing to see that coming from the right. In Europe, these things are tend to be, and originally are, right win and Conservative in origin.

HH: And is there, in your view, Christopher Hitchens…

CH: I mean, I’ll give you an example. David Cameron, the new leader of the Conservative Party…

HH: Right.

CH: …chose the last September the 11th as the date on which to give a press conference saying that his party should no longer be counted on as a friend of the United States. It couldn’t have been very much more pointed than that.

HH: Is the world better off with Gordon Brown staying at 10 Downing, or with Cameron coming in?

CH: Well, I would now say that was a very, very difficult call to make. What I would say with much less ambiguity is it’s, we’re much worse off that Tony Blair talked himself into resigning before his time.

HH: I agree with that completely. Let’s turn to the Democratic primary. One of your all-time favorite political figures, Bill Clinton, is much back in evidence, and doing extraordinary damage to his wife’s campaign. Predictable?

CH: Oh, do you think? I’m so encouraged to hear that.

HH: Oh, yes. I think he is, as they say, the Bill in the china shop. I think he brings her down two points a day.

CH: Well, then, that’s the nicest thing I’ve heard all day. Perhaps there’s something I’ve been missing. I mean, I did see the awful lying that he made about Iraq, and obviously, that can’t have helped her. But his celebrity culture friends, and his Hollywood lot, doesn’t that carry on working? It seems to have a horribly successful effect on a lot of people I know.

HH: Her numbers are falling. The Charlie Rose appearance, in which he lashed out at the press, didn’t help. And now today, he botched up an appearance with Magic Johnson. He appears incapable…

CH: Ooh, oh, well, goodness me. I was doing something else today. I mean, I should, sorry, I should be telling you rather than asking you, shouldn’t I?

HH: Well, no, that’s fine.

CH: I’m a useless guest (laughing).

HH: That’s fine. If it’s not penetrated the Beltway yet, perhaps you’ll be the last to know.

CH: Not my…but I had other things on my mind today. But I mean, there’s something ghastly and unstoppable about that couple, to me it seems.

HH: Now let me ask you, if you had to vote between Hillary and Huckabee, who would you vote for?

CH: That’s an awful thing to ask a guy, but I’d have to say that I think Mrs. Clinton is more serious on foreign policy than Mr. Huckabee is. And though she makes professions of faith, and an awful, sudden professions of Methodism and so forth, at least I’m sure she’s a lousy hypocrite about it, whereas the awful thing about him is the contrary, that he might take it all as literally Gospel, as they say.

HH: What do you think about Barack Obama’s faith…

CH: I mean, the only two things I’ve learned in a long life of following politics are that one, character and personality are the only thing that matter. When people say let’s do issues, not personalities, never listen to that. Always, always, always focus on the character of the candidate, because they can change their mind on the issues, but they can’t alter the fact that they’re a cretin or a scumbag or a crook, right?

HH: Right.

CH: Well, on that basis, I’d have to say I was for John Edwards, even though I’m a single issue voter, who cares only about winning in Afghanistan and Iraq.

HH: But he doesn’t have a prayer.

CH: Because I know the guy, he’s a very nice person, he’s a very honest man, he has a wonderful, brilliant wife, he’s a good person, he’s in politics for good reasons.

HH: But he doesn’t have a prayer. What about Barack Obama?

CH: Well, no, don’t be so sure. I’m not…by the way, Hugh, I don’t think that’s necessarily so. This is not the year, remember, we’re focused just on Iowa…

HH: Right.

CH: …ridiculous, and this absurd facile Caucus. It will occur to some Democrats that this is probably not the year that an untried African-American Senator is going to become the president.

HH: Do you think there’s latent racism?

CH: And it may not be the year for another Clinton, whereas they have a perfectly presentable, intelligent, honest, principled, Southern Democrat who thinks that the odds are rigged against the average American. I’m not sure that that’s a losing proposition.

HH: I just go with the numbers.

CH: It should be, he sold out, I mean, he used to care about Iraq and the Kurds, and he, I remember talking to him about it, and he now seems to have decided that he’ll trade that with MoveOn.org to get elected. I think that’s awful politically, but it’s not, he’s not the worst guy in the world, and I think that may well tell.

HH: Does Barack Obama alarm you as president, the idea of an untried, you know, two year Senator?

CH: Yes, I suppose it…it doesn’t reassure me.

HH: All right. Now last question for you…

CH: There’s nothing flaky about him. I mean, I’ve read both his books, he’s charming, he’s intelligent, he’s thoughtful. We could do worse. Huckabee would be far worse, for example, than him.

HH: We have a minute left, and I…

CH: But I mean again with Obama, you get this creepy religiosity. He’s a member of some shout and holler Church in Chicago, which seems as well as to believe that the laws of nature are suspended for reasons of faith, appears to think that this is done for ethnic reasons as well, and appears to have some non-universal character to it, like Mormonism does. You know, all of this stuff makes me incredibly…

HH: Last question, a minute left. It’s Christmas time, I’ve got to give my best friend a book that he hasn’t read before. What’s the Hitchens recommended reading list? What three books do you give to the man who is a good reader, but perhaps hasn’t come across something? You mentioned the memoirs of Henry Adams.

CH: A book with a seasonal touch?

HH: No, any book at all.

CH: Darkness At Noon. Why did I say that?

HH: I don’t have any idea. Why did you say Darkness At Noon?

CH: I don’t know, because I think everyone should probably read Darkness At Noon at least once a year, and it’s not too late to read it this year.

HH: All right. Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure, Merry Christmas to you…

CH: (laughing) I know I can live with that, but also, please, the Portable Atheist, my own anthology of writings without faith, picked purely for literary merit, the entries there.

HH: All right, Christopher Hitchens, have a wonderful, the greetings of the season to you.

End of interview.

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