Christopher Hitchens on Obama’s continued problems with his pastoral associates, Hillary’s puffery in Bosnia and Iraq, five years after the invasion
HH: We begin as we do on those Wednesdays when we are lucky with Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair. Christopher Hitchens, our mutual friend, Peter Robinson, has asked me to say hello to you. He sends along news from the London Mirror tonight that Mikhail Gorbachev is a Christian, and spent thirty minutes on his knees in front of the tomb of St. Francis. We think you’re next.
CH: Well, in that respect, he joins his wonderful successor, Vladimir Putin, Crucifix flaunter to the gentry, and the man whom, if you remember, by just bodyguarding himself with Russian orthodox thuggery, he managed to impress our very own President.
HH: So you’re not thinking that Gorbachev is sincere?
CH: I’m fearing that it’s another case of Russian orthodox chauvinism, a thing that’s growing like a huge virus through Russia at the moment, and is returning the country to the days of a quasi-czarism, which is what I think Vladimir Putin would like to see in any case.
HH: Is it possible that Gorbachev did not impose martial law in the aftermath of glasnost, because he was a believer, and did not want to do what the communists had never trifled with doing in the past, which is…
CH: Well, there would be at least five or six other very good reasons why he wouldn’t have to do that, or wouldn’t wish to, and none of them would involve any appeal to the supernatural.
HH: But one of them could be his Christian ethics.
CH: Well, people are always welcome to say that to me, and my reply is always to say you have to give me a reason why you think Latvia and Lithuania and Estonia should be independent, that a secular person couldn’t come up with. And no one would be able to do that, would they?
HH: Well, I’m just saying that if Gorbachev restrained the force of the state, which is not typical of Soviet rulers, because of his Christian worldview, that would be notable and would run contrary to your thesis in God Is Not Great.
CH: No, the power of the Russian state, as you’re about to find out again, and as was used to be demonstrated very much in czarist days, is very intimately bound up with the attempt to get a religious monopoly by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the cowled version now of Putinism. They want prayer back in the schools, as long as it, as they run it. They don’t want even Catholics, let along 7th Day Adventists, or other Christians, to be able to proselytize. They’re as religious as the day is long. I hope you’re happy with them, because you seem to think that any religion is better than none at all.
HH: No, I seem to think that it could be the explanation for Gorbachev allowing the release of Soviet tyranny over Eastern Europe to have been originating in his Christian ethics, which would be a counter-example to those you list in God Is Not Great, of Christian hypocrisy and brutality…could be.
CH: Well, there are always counter-examples of that of Christians who haven’t behaved brutally or tyrannically. But as I say, they have to prove that it’s only that that made them act in that way, and the non-believer couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t act in that manner. And the reason why there are so few Christian martyrs, say, for example, from the Nazi period, and the reason why they’re so famous, is precisely because there were so few of them.
HH: Oh, a good point to which we’ll return a different time. The Church failed in Germany, I don’t argue that with you. Christopher Hitchens, let me ask you, though…
CH: Unfortunately, it succeeded in Russia in setting up a Christian orthodox dictatorship, which it now wants to bring back. And I’ve been writing columns about this, by the way, you should have a discussion about this. The theocratic element of the restoration of tyranny in Russia now is a very big and very unremarked factor.
HH: All right, write down John Mark Reynolds, orthodox professor, versus Christopher Hitchens next week.
HH: Now, Obama, big speech on religion and Jeremiah Wright. You were a little ahead of the curve on this, Christopher Hitchens. You saw this coming. Has Obama’s explanation satisfied you?
CH: No. And it’s because he talks as if there was no such thing as getting over resentment, let alone paranoia and conspiracy theory, and vulgar anti-Americanism of the kind practiced by his pastor, until he, Obama, had come on the scene, as if we’d only recently begun to transcend all this. I don’t know what he’s been reading or not, rather, reading all this time. I mean, at least in my own memory, forty years ago, approximately, a very great man, very great American, was vilely murdered for making these points in rather more difficult circumstances. So I object to the solipsism of the Senator in saying you know, this is a whole new breakthrough that my pastor and I have to work through. Nonsense. Then I actually object to him using his grandmother. I don’t know if you noticed it or not, or whether you were young, as I was, there was a saying about politicians, they’d sell their own grandmother?
HH: Oh, yes.
CH: Well, he just did. I’ve never seen it done before, actually. You say these things.
CH: Then you see it occur.
HH: He did.
CH: …as if yes, well okay, this big mouth rock and roll idiot, Jeremiah Wright, may have said some ghastly things, but so did my now-dead grandmother, who isn’t here to defend herself.
HH: I hadn’t thought of that in those terms. You’re absolutely right.
CH: I mean, to go for moral equivalence in that way, I thought was sinking as low as you possibly can go.
HH: Yes, he threw Grandma from the train. You’re absolutely…
CH: He threw her…it all comes from this stupid indulgence that we’ve been allowing for far too long of dream talk. And anyone who has a pulpit or can claim to put the word reverend in front of their name, gets a free pass. It’s absolutely time, I know I’ve said this on your show before, but it really is time to stop this, and call these demagogues by their correct title, which it is.
HH: I agree, demagogues whether collared or not.
CH: Race-baiters who’ve never had a job.
HH: Demagogues, whether collared or not, ought to be so called. I wish to speak to you now about Hillary Clinton and the release of her schedules. Are you eagerly awaiting their delivery to the Hitchens house?
CH: Well, I’ve been studying a bit of them. You remember the trips she said she made to Bosnia under sniper fire?
HH: Oh, yes.
CH: The one where it’s too dangerous, the President better send the First Lady?
CH: Nine hours total in Bosnia, at Tuzla Airport. I was in Tuzla at that time. It was well known to be the safest place in Bosnia, the only place there wasn’t really any serious fighting. A very nice place, a very civilized place, by the way, known for its coexistence between Croat Serbs and Muslims and so forth, but now that we can read what was behind her extraordinary claim to sort of have been ducking bullets in Bosnia on our behalf, I can’t wait to read the rest of it. That’s as far as I’ve got so far, but it’s exactly what you would expect – grandiose and petty in the same breath, a complete portrait of Mrs. Clinton.
HH: So who do you want? The demagogue-dependent Obama or the grandiose and overstating Hillary Clinton?
CH: Well, actually, it’s not as hard as it sounds, because one of them is capable, as I would say he showed in his speech, I mean, contemptible though I thought most of it was, of growth and development and maturity, and so forth, and even some modesty. And that is Senator Obama, obviously. It was the one I was talking about there. And the other is not, is a hardened, calcified, cynical liar, whose acquired bad habits are impossible to think of her ever breaking, without which, in fact, we wouldn’t be talking about her. She wouldn’t exist.
HH: Let’s turn to the person whom I’m sure you would agree with me would be preferable to either of them, John McCain. On this program on Monday, pronounced it hard, but winning. I talked to him from Amman, Jordan. The left jumped all over him because he said al Qaeda had gone into Iran, had received training, and had come back. The elevation of a supposed mistake, and I’m not sure that it is a mistake, there’s some evidence there that some al Qaeda, not all, have trained in Iran, but over the substance. And it draws to my attention and the audience, Christopher Hitchens, that five years into this war, the media refuses to focus on the seriousness. They always elevate the ephemeral and the silly over the serious.
CH: Well, I would certainly say, and I have said in my Slate column this week, that that is true, even if suggesting that we should all be tied in knots about an anniversary is silly, because this is not really a war, it’s part of a very long, distraught engagement of several decades that we have had with Iraq, and marks the fifth anniversary of the only time we ever intervened there on the right side. But I wouldn’t, I don’t think McCain is the perfect example of that, because first, it was actually Senator Lindsey Graham who jumped on him and whispered, and made him say oh, maybe I misspoke.
HH: Actually, it was Lieberman. It was Lieberman, yeah.
CH: Maybe…wasn’t he with Lindsey Graham there as well?
HH: Yes, Lindsey was with him.
CH: Well, they both, all three of them ought to know better. I mean, it’s true that people of al Qaeda transited Iran on their way out of Afghanistan where they were losing, or being thrown out, to go to the next failed state, imploding state, Iraq, which is what they hoped to turn into the next Afghanistan, which is of course a point in favor of our intervention there, to try and preempt that, of trying to stop them from being the vultures that they had been in Afghanistan. And it is true that the Iranians let them, partly because they were scared of having al Qaeda operate against them. It’s not really true that there’s an operational relationship between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda itself in any real way. By the way, if you look at the most, if you want to make your point about how trivial the media is, look at what Stephen Hayes wrote in the Weekly Standard this week…
CH: Perhaps you’ve already…
HH: Yes, yes. The fact that…
CH: Everybody in the New York Times and Washington Post printed that story upside down.
CH: I was amazed. It was far worse than I thought, the connection between Saddam Hussein and for example, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the worst Islamist terrorists in the world, a very straight out, evident operating relationship in Somalia.
HH: And protector to this day of the Taliban.
CH: Absolutely. It couldn’t have been any plainer than that. So your general point is right. I don’t think Senator McCain is a perfect way of making it. Actually, I have to say, I’m not sure the Senator is the perfect way of making any of these points, but…
HH: But you would prefer him as the next president, would you not?
CH: Well, I’m going to vote for whoever is most serious about the war, of course.
HH: Well, that means McCain.
CH: Not necessarily.
HH: All right, we’ll talk again. Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair, Happy Easter, Christopher.
End of interview.