Moral Culpability When Holocaust Follows Retreat
HH: So you believe the holocaust that would follow in Iraq from a precipitous American withdrawal would rival, or perhaps even exceed that of Pol Pot in Cambodia?
CH: It would be a very rash person who didn’t think that that worst case would be the actual one. And look, again, the awful thing is some of it’s happening as we speak. I mean, almost anyone in Baghdad now, at any rate, who has a qualification, or any money, or any education, or any resources of any sort, is already gone. Perhaps as many as a million and a half, we don’t actually know, have moved to Jordan, some of them to Syrian, some even to Iran, anywhere to get out. Life is becoming intolerable there.
HH: Well given that, and this is a key question, given that you think it’s certain that that kind of scale of horror would follow, do the people urging, whether it’s Murtha or anybody else, urging the precipitous withdrawal, will they bear the moral culpability for the slaughter that follows, if in fact, we are obliged to leave?
CH: I know that there are some Democrats who wonder about this in a responsible way, and there are others who worry about it in a more politicized way, thinking in gee, how would we avoid getting blamed if that happened. What they will do is say well, we never asked for the war in the first place, the President cheated us into it, et cetera, et cetera. But that would be a pretty tinny thing to say, if the whole of Iraqi society is denuded and driven back to year zero.
HH: So you’re saying yes, they will bear the moral culpability?
CH: Yes, they will. Yes, I think anyone who talks about withdrawal has to face this question, and indeed has to be faced with it.
HH: Now I don’t recall, I did not know what you wrote during Vietnam. Did you consider the same calculation in urging, if you did, in fact, as I suspect you did, American withdrawal from Vietnam and the area around Cambodia?
CH: Well, yes, it was one of the last ditch arguments, as it became, in fact, evident that the United States wasn’t going to be withdrawing from Vietnam, but was going to be pushed out, which is slightly different. I mean, it was going to happen anyway.
HH: The reason I ask is not to trap you…
CH: They would say well, there’ll be a bloodbath if we withdraw, bloodbath was the word. And the opposite of that was, it seemed persuasive at the time, well, there’s a bloodbath already. Now in the case of Vietnam, I think that was a justifiable argument, and I think everyone who was in the anti-war movement has, or certainly should have, a twinge about what happened in Cambodia. Nobody thought it could get that bad.
HH: See, if I could keep you one more segment, what I want to come back and ask you, and this is actually intensely interesting to me, is how do you persuade a cut and run Democrat now, having been a get out of Vietnam and let the chips fall where they were anti-war protestor in the 70’s, that that was then and this is now, and this is now is different? Fair question, Christopher Hitchens?
CH: Oh, yeah, very much so.
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HH: Christopher Hitchens, when we went to break, I posed to you this question. How is it possible for anti-war activists, as you were during Vietnam, to not be culpable for the Cambodian holocaust, and at the same time that those arguing for cut and run today would in fact be culpable for the chaos and the slaughter that would follow in Iraq, if their advice to cut and run was in fact followed?
CH: Right. Well, deep breath, then. The American enterprise in Indochina was, I think, foredoomed by one thing, namely its direct inheritance from French colonialism in that region. The French empire should never have been restored after 1945. I think if President Roosevelt had not died, it wouldn’t have been. The United States should not have tried to come to its rescue, and shouldn’t have tried to succeed it. It’s not America’s role to succeed Western colonialism. It’s its role to help those colonies to become emancipated. And we missed that chance, and having missed it, engaged in a war where terrifying and illegal methods of warfare, like carpet bombing, the use of chemical defoliant, like Agent Orange, and other terrible war crimes were committed. And part of the reason why Cambodia went to year zero was that it had been half bombed back into the Stone Age already. And I’m sorry that should be on the conscience of anyone who supported the war, which I did not. But thought I don’t try and evade the responsibility for what the other side eventually did, not just in Cambodia, but also in Vietnam, but there was never any chance of keeping Vietnam partitioned, and it shouldn’t have been tried. Now furthermore, no American interest was really involved there. We were told we were fighting against the Chinese takeover, whereas the best insurance against Maoism in Indochina is always Vietam. That’s been proved many times since then. So none of this applies in the case of Iraq, where we went to overthrow a hideous dictatorship that was a local aggressor, a sponsor of international terrorism, had used weapons of mass destruction inside and outside its own borders, was hated by its people, and was in thoroughgoing breach of all important United Nations resolutions. None of this, by the way, was the case with the government of Vietnam. Where furthermore, let’s not be shy about it, we do have a crucial interest, first in keeping the Gulf open, and its oil available, not just for us, but for everybody else, getting it pumped again, particularly important to pump Iraqi oil, because we need to undercut the monopolies of Saudi Arabia and Iran in the area. That’s a vital interest. Second, I don’t think that a single Democrat who doesn’t agree that we are in fact in some kind of war, however defined, with Islamic extremism, and not just in the Middle East either, but in Indonesia, and on the streets of European capitol cities, and that it is completely out of the question to concede a country of the importance of Iraq to these people. We cannot allow them to take over, first for humanitarian reasons, the country would be destroyed, and the people would be put to the sword, and second, because, well, for the advertised reasons. It’s just too strategically and economically important a country to let that happen.
HH: Now that part I understand.
CH: We’ve entered Iraq far too late, Saddam Hussein could have, should have been taken out in 1991, shouldn’t even probably have been allowed to stay there that long, Jimmy Carter should never have been allowed to endorse his invasion of Iran, we’re paying for the price of two generations worth of mistakes that for once, we’re there for a good reason.
HH: But Mr. Hitchens, the key that I didn’t hear answered is, once foreseeability of massacre attaches, regardless of how we ended up there…
HH: …as it did in Vietnam in 1972, doesn’t moral culpability attach to those who are indifferent to those foreseeable slaughters? And doesn’t that apply to the Cambodian holocaust?
CH: Well, I will not make this my own argument, but I’ll simply say that argument that I could anticipate being made, which is people would say well, how much worse could it get? All the things you’re afraid of are already happening, and partly because of the bungling of the occupation, and the bad planning of it. And that’s not a completely unfair point. There could come a point where everything we fear happens while we’re still there. And that is my personal fear. That’s what I wake up and go to sleep worrying about.
HH: Last question, because we’re almost out of time. Do you wake up and go to sleep ever worrying about your opposition to the Vietnam war and the holocaust that happened in Cambodia?
CH: Not to the first, no, because if it had been up to me, the war, which is what led to the bloodletting and the starvation and all the rest of it, would never have occurred in the first place. So for me, the Vietnam war was definitively over in 1954, when the French Army surrendered in Dien Bien Phu, and it was at that point that the United States should have recognized…
HH: And to the second?
CH: …Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of independence.
HH: And to the second?
CH: And to the second, well, this is what I would say now, what I hope I don’t hear Democrats saying in the case of Iraq. If since we didn’t ask for the war in the first place, don’t blame me if it all ends very badly, which it did in Vietnam, as it was absolutely bound to do. It wasn’t a just war, it wasn’t a necessary war, and it was fought with atrocious means.
HH: No culpability?
CH: None of these three things apply in the case of Iraq. It was a just intervention, and a necessary and overdue one, and on the whole, our forces have behaved with exemplary humanitarianism.
HH: Fascinating stuff. Christopher Hitchens, we’ll continue again in the future.
End of interview.