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Christopher Hitchens on Joe Biden’s clean comments, the benchmark resolutions, and the latest in the Libby trial.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
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HH: Joined by Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens, welcome back.

CH: Very nice to be back.

HH: I’d like to play for you a little clip from a Joe Biden interview with a New York Observer reporter, where he covers his opposition in the Democratic race. This is Joe Biden on Barack Obama:

JB: I mean, you’ve got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean, and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.

HH: Uh, the first mainstream bright, articulate, clean and good-looking African-American in politics, Christopher Hitchens. What say you about Joe Biden?

CH: Goodness me.

HH: (laughing)

CH: I have a black comrade, who I distinctly remember him saying to me a couple of years ago, I don’t mind what anyone calls me. They can call me the N-word, they can do anything they want. But don’t call me articulate.

HH: (laughing) What about clean?

CH: The condescension is so apparent.

HH: Yes.

CH: I mean, it’s as if…well, as if it’s a surprise. Clean, on the other hand, blows me right away. How could he?

HH: (laughing) As if…

CH: Who has he missed. I mean, where do we start? I mean…

HH: (laughing)

CH: Adam Clayton Powell, who was perhaps not politically clean (laughing)

HH: (laughing)

CH: …was very hygienic, and certainly a brilliant and humorous speaker. We’re not even going to mention Dr. King. It’s too obvious. But I mean…

HH: Instapundit just wrote, “Say what you will about Al Sharpton, but his personal hygiene appears to be excellent. (laughing)

CH: (laughing) Yes, I mean, good grief. But I think it’ll be covered under the Barack Obama act, which as you know, was recently passed by unanimous consent of both Houses, which is that you can say anything you like about Barack Obama, however condescending and insulting it in general is, as long as it’s gushy praise.

HH: And that it will be…

CH: That is now the law of the land.

HH: Well then, let’s go on to Joe Biden on John Edwards, his Iraq plan. He is taunting him here, Slow Joe Biden at his best. Cut number 2:

JB: John Edwards wants you and all the Democrats to think I want us out of there. But when you come back and say okay, John, what about the chaos that will ensue? Do we have any interest, John, left in the region? Well, John will have to answer yes or no. Okay, if he says yeah, what are they? What’s the interest, John? How do you protect those interests, John, if you completely withdraw? Are you withdrawing from the region, John? Or are you withdrawing from Iraq, John? Over what period? And so, all this stuff is like so much fluffernutter out there, just sort of…and for me, I think it’s…what you have to do is you have to have a strategic notion, and they may have it.

HH: I think, Christopher Hitchens, he’s upset because he had a monopoly on fluffernutter, and now Edwards is horning in on his fluffernutterness.

CH: Well, that’s a lots of Johns, as well you noticed.

HH: Yes, there are.

CH: That’s a great…but it is, of course, a very good question. I mean, after all, I remember John Edwards, a few months…I’m an admirer, I should say. He’s a nice guy and a decent man. But I remember him debating with Kerry before they were running mates the last time around, and attacking Kerry for fluffing, and saying look, yes, the question had been to all of them, do you stand by your vote? You can imagine what Kerry’s answer was to that. It may even have been the occasion when he raised fluffernutting to a new art. But Edwards said I can’t imagine you took so long to answer such a question. We of course, all of us who voted like that, stand by it. So he reconfirmed at that stage. So it makes it all the more abysmal that he’s now acting as if he was conned, or as if he had never said any of this, and to try and appoint himself an anti-war spokesman. And of course, like all of them, to dodge the question of whether Iraq is a responsibility of ours as a country, and has been for a long time, or not.

HH: And here is the last one, Biden on Hillary, one of your favorite people, and her Iraq policy. Cut number three:

JB: From the standpoint of Hillary’s proposal, the part that really baffles me is, we’re going to teach the Iraqis a lesson, they’re not going to equip them. Okay, cap our troops, then withdraw support for the Iraqis. Now that’s a real good idea. I’m not being a wiseguy. Think about it. At least American forces…

Reporter: Well, what’s going to happen if that happens?

JB: That is nothing but disaster.

HH: And so I don’t understand…A) I agree with his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s sudden about face and withdrawal plans, Christopher Hitchens. But Joe Biden is offering a resolution that most Democrats are supporting, which blasts the new plan, and which is tantamount to declaring we’re out of there soon.

CH: Yes, that’s absolutely right. And actually, Mrs. Clinton in a recent interview that she gave to the New York Post which I happened to see, rather surprised me by saying what looked like, or making what looked like a declaration of support for Peter Galbraith’s proposal, which is that of reconfiguring the U.S. commitment in Iraq so that it’s based in Kurdistan, in effect, so that we defend the north, we stand by our Kurdish allies, which Mrs. Clinton was good enough to mention, and we allow the soft partition of the rest of Iraq to take place on the grounds that it will take place anyway, or has already taken place. I’m not sure if I’m made up my mind about this plan, yet, but it’s not cut and run, and it may be the default position of some Democrats, and possibly even the former first lady.

HH: And do you support that?

CH: Well, it would not be a complete defeat. I mean, you can’t abandon Baghdad altogether. But what Peter in his, I think very interesting and brilliantly written book, The End of Iraq, says, it’s not really a question of deciding whether you favor partition or not. It’s just a matter of recognizing that it has, in fact, occurred.

HH: Now all the resolutions that are calling for benchmarks on the Iraqi government, both Democrat and Republican side, are those tantamount to serving notice that we’re about ready to pack the bags, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Not necessarily, no. They can be used to please different audiences in different times and places. But no, they’re not, and I think given the sectarian tendencies that are evident in Mr. Maliki’s coalition, it’s quite important to make it plain that the United States is not there as his valet. And I think the way…well, I would allude to the bungling of the execution of Saddam Hussein, the very surly and grudging response that Maliki gave to the idea of us lending him quite a lot more of our soldiers, the very graceless manner in which he behaved on that occasion. So I think it is important for him to realize that he’s not going to borrow our armed forces to win a sectarian conflict.

HH: I think…I agree wholeheartedly with that, but the idea that there are benchmarks, and if he fails, we will simple precipitously withdraw, I do not. I do need to talk to you about Judith Miller before we run out of time. I’m surprised we find you other than at the courthouse.

CH: Well, no one’s asked me.

HH: But I thought Dominick Dunne-like, you might have a book in this.

CH: I’m choosing my words with care. Well, no, I mean, I follow it very, very closely.

HH: What do you make of today’s Judith Miller throw down and cross-examination, and the reports that we want to know her other source about Mrs. Wilson?

CH: Well, look. The whole thing is essentially preposterous, because…

HH: Yes.

CH: Just to take a step back from this, I mean, Mr. Fitzgerald found that there had been no breach of the relevant act governing the identity of intelligence agents. It had never been breached. We know that the people, actually, the specific person who let her identity out was a foe within the Bush administration over its Iraq policy, Mr. Richard Armitage, or Armitaj, some people called him. I never know. We know that it’s all been a complete much ado about nothing. But in the course of it, unfortunately, the President told everyone who worked for him to sign a waiver, it made collaboration with Fitzgerald compulsory, and eventually meant that Fitzgerald could go to the press and say well, basically, I know what he’s done, so I now want you to come and say it, which has destroyed completely one of the cornerstones of our profession. And all of this because of a nothing vendetta.

HH: So what is going on here? How do you explain this to…

CH: Well, these are the consequences of having license to prosecute, and to bring secondary prosecutions, and to spring perjury traps on an investigation that was over before it began, because it turns out that Fitzgerald always knew who had told Robert Novak.

HH: And so, what do you make of Fitzgerald?

CH: Everything else was and is a disgraceful fishing expedition, which is humiliating the press, wasting an enormous amount of money and time, and forcing people to betray each other for nothing.

HH: So why is Fitzgerald doing it?

CH: Well, he just seems to have the bit between his teeth on it. I mean, I think he felt he couldn’t pull up an empty net after all this hoopla, with having, after his very first press conference, say well actually, I found that the law wasn’t broken. He should have folded the tent right then and there. But he found that people had, as you always can if you push hard enough, had told him discrepant stories, and he found out that of course, Mr. Libby didn’t expect that friends of his in the press would be sent to jail until they turned him in, that that’s America now. And why there isn’t more outrage about it in the media, I do not know.

HH: Well, we’ll see if by next week, it develops. Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure. Vanity Fair’s columnist. Go to www.vanityfair.com if you want to read his latest.

End of interview.

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