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Christopher Hitchens on the Lebanon and the Israeli-Hezbollah war.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006
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HH: We begin as we do many Wednesdays with Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair. Christopher Hitchens, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

CH: Nice to be back.

HH: Tell me, do you want Joe Lieberman to win or lose, and why?

CH: I’m a single issue voter, and I would vote for anybody who took the correct attitude on the war, which Senator Lieberman basically does.

HH: Why do you think the Democratic Party is savaging itself over this Ned Lamont character?

CH: I’m not as informed as I could be about that. He seems like a mediocre person to me, and not very convincing as an anti-war type, either. I’ve only been really concentrating on what the Democratic Party is generally doing to itself in trying to decide whether this war, or these wars, or the wider war, is the responsibility of our foes, or our fault. And on that, I don’t see any wiggle room.

HH: Now the New York Times on Sunday endorsed Ned Lamont, primarily because of Joe Lieberman’s support for the war. Were you surprised by that?

CH: No, it’s a funny thing. I’ve been following this for a long time. I know a lot of Democrats and liberals who cast their first ever Republican vote because of Lieberman and his…I’ve just about to forget the name of the previous Governor of Connecticut against whom he ran.

HH: I have, too.

CH: Oh, God. You know who I mean, though.

HH: Yes, Lowell Weicker. There we have it.

CH : Lowell Weicker. Exactly. He was a big hero for a lot of people for a long time, and I remember very well how the National Review…it is a kind of repetition of history. Buckley, in the National Review, waged a huge campaign for the victory of a Democrat over a Republican, I think the first time they’d ever done that. So we’re all in that position again.

HH: But the New York Times…

CH: And I said…by the way, I think it’s a very good thing, because the one thing that the war has helped to expose is the hollowness of a lot of party allegience. And there are an enormous number of Republicans and right wingers who would like to cave on the war, and wish they’d never heard of Iraq. There are lots of Democrats who say on the other hand, that we have to be tough, and think about victory and not self-pity. And Lieberman, with all of his limitations, is one of those.

HH: Well, the latter is much more invisible than the former, led by Buchanan and a few others. But I go back to this New York Times thing. Joe Lieberman has an ADA rating, the envy of many people. He’s down the line liberal on many, many social issues, but it’s just the war. Has the New York Times gone to a place, Christopher Hitchens, from which it will not be able to return when it comes to the war?

CH: Well, if they’ve endorsed someone in their neighboring state who takes this line, I think that that means we know what they think, sure.

HH: All right.

CH: But I hadn’t got very much doubt about that in my mind.

HH: Neither had I, but you never…it’s sort of a symbolic crossing.

CH: Yeah.

HH: Going now to Israel and Hezbollah, Bret Stephens and David Aikman are coming up. They’re talking about this from different perspectives. How do you think the war is going there?

CH: Extremely badly, I think. I mean, I think it was a terrible mistake for the United States to appear to give, or…no, I would go further and say obviously to have given permission for Israel to act as a proxy in a limited, and as it turns out, a very clumsy manner. Some people have described it as an intelligence failure, which I think is euphemistic, when we have to realize that down the road, and facing us down whatever path we take, whether it’s nuclear weapons, illegal acquisition of same, trading with other rogue states, sponsoring terrorism and theocracy, whichever avenue you walk down, you’re confronted with Iran. Since we know that this is the case, I would like to feel there was someone who was in charge of this policy in Washington, and I’m…where I live, and I’ve become practically certain that there isn’t anyone in charge. But the one absolutely certain way in which not to face this confrontation is to say to the Israelis, you go first.

HH: Of course, they’re not going first.

CH: And that couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s an absolutely fatuous policy. I don’t understand what the State Department thinks its doing, if it thinks it’s doing anything at all.

HH: Well, let’s separate the State Department from the Bush administration, because you might be right there.

CH: I wish we could.

HH: Yes. Let’s look at what the Bush…the President has said, which is you take as long as you want, and as hard as you go, and kill Hezbollah. Do you have a problem with that?

CH: That’s right. Through that gap, Mr. Olmert. We are close behind you. Through you go. Do as you wish. Nothing could be more calamitous than that.

HH: Why?

CH: Well, look at the situation. Iran, which is the puppeteer of Hezbollah, and Syria, which is the puppeteer of Hamas, have both publicly exhibited these people as their puppets, as well as simultaneously sending both suicide bombers, and money and material into Iraq, to kill Americans and to kill Sunni and Shiia Arabs, without punishment. Nothing. They do this all the time, and they earn no rebuke, even, let alone any pain for it. The United States looks pathetic, and it’s easily mocked, and regularly mocked, while all the time, it draws to itself all the condemnation, all the hatred, all the resentment that comes from Israel’s relatively limited strategy, which doesn’t take into account Iran or Iraq, or Lebanese democracy, or regime change in Syria, which is narrowly focused, and determined by its internal politics. And so we have, as it needs to be said, the name and not the game. It is the absolute worst of both worlds. Somebody really should be fired for this. It’s the ruination of the president’s proclaimed policy.

HH: Is your problem that Israel did not go hard enough? That it did not invade? That it did not move to the Litani, or even to Bekaa? Or that it went at all, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Well, there’s a preceding thing to that. I won’t duck your question. I never do, as you know. But there’s a United Nations resolution that demands the disbandment of Hezbollah as a military force in Lebanon, and also which says that it will guarantee the Lebanon-Israel frontier, which is an internationally recognized line. Now no recourse to the United Nations was made by the United States, saying this resolution must be enforced. Otherwise, there will be a war. And if it isn’t enforced, and there is a war, then we can’t be neutral about it. Nothing. Our recourse to the United Nations began after the resolution had been flouted, after the fighting had begun, barely even catching up to events. It looks to everybody as if Israel was given a general permission to bomb anywhere in Lebanon it liked, which is not, in fact, a proportionate response, even to the outrages that Hezbollah…

HH: Oh, we disagree on that, but of course, Israel doesn’t need anyone’s permission at all, does it, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Yes, it does, as a matter of fact, my dear Mr. Hewitt, because it does it with our weapons, our money, and our permission.

HH: Well again, I just…they might run out, and we might not resupply…

CH: Yes, it cannot…the corollary of what you say must be false.

HH: No, no.

CH: Because if…

HH: They might run out of our weapons.

CH: They could not do this without the United States.

HH: They might run out of their weapons at some point, but if they choose to fight without our permission, they’re a sovereign state, Christopher Hitchens. They can do whatever they want to do. And if they have decided to go after them, and the United States is confronted with that choice, would you have rather Bush said no, we will not confront Hezbollah?

CH: No. I would rather he had said what he ought to have said already, in the non-reply that he never made to the letter from President Ahmadinejead, where he missed a golden opportunity to go to the United Nations, and say I’ve received a letter from the president of Iran, who I happen to know is a puppet of the so-called guidance council, the theocracy. I’m replying, actually, to Ayatollah Khamenei, the real leader of the country, and here’s what I have to say about this, and here’s what we warn you we can do if you go on this way, and here are the many ways in which we can offer help to Iran if you take the other route. He didn’t do it. The worst way, as I say, to begin what is an inescapable confrontation with Iran and its proxies, and with Syria and its murderous proxies in Lebanon, who also include Hezbollah, is to say right. This is a big, a really big historical question. To say let’s let the Israelis do it for us, and do as they wish, and make it seem as if they are promiscuous proxies as well as we, their obedient seconders, is the very worst decision I think that the administration could possibly have made. And you only have to look at the tape and see the ruin it’s inflicted on the region, and on the policy of the United States.

HH: But Christopher Hitchens, the Israelis were once…the last time we persuaded the Israelis not to respond to rocket attacks, we left Saddam in power to fund the suicide bombers against them for another decade. It would be, of course…their experience would suggest they’d better take care of terrorists bombing…

CH: Ah, but there again, you see, you’re running two things together. The decision of the United States and of Israel to not respond to Saddam’s attacks, scud attacks on Israel, was a very wise and very thoughtful one at the time. The decision to leave Saddam in power was a wrong one, but it was not related to that.

HH: But Israel could certainly wonder whether or not our offers of assistance through the U.N., which we cannot deliver, would be as perfected as the promises of taking care of Saddam in 1991.

CH: We can’t deliver them now, but something went cold. Something in Foggy Bottom and the White House went completely cold and flat, after the magnificent moment in Lebanon, the eviction of Syria, by the way, with French help.

HH: Agreed.

CH: Nothing was done to follow…now we’re moving to the next stage. We’re going to press the case that Syria was responsible for the murder of Hariri. We’re never going to let it drop. We’re going to make sure that the Hezbollah cannot do anything on the southern border. If the United Nations won’t do it, won’t live up to its own resolutions, we’re quite willing to say well, we’ll act as if we were the U.N. in this case. That’s all…but nothing of this kind was done. It was all left to rot.

HH: 20 seconds. Do you want U.S. troops in Lebanon?

CH: I think that since we are in effect, the guarantor of Israel’s borders, we have a responsibility to actually guarantee them or not. And Lebanon’s borders, too.

HH: And that means yes?

CH: That’s the answer.

HH: Ah. Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure from Vanity Fair.

End of interview.

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