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Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens puts his finger on the left’s understanding of foreign policy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
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HH: First, we do begin with Vanity Fair columnist and writer Christopher Hitchens, whom I really can’t imagine as either a NASCAR or a college football person. Are you, Mr. Hitchens?

CH: I once went to a NASCAR event at Richmond, at a NASCAR weekend, in fact. Two days of it, for my Dixie piece for Vanity Fair. The watching the stuff was like watching traffic. But I mean hanging around with the people was fun.

HH: (laughing) Okay, I’ll use that quote later. How about college football? Not your cup of tea?

CH: Never heard of it.

HH: Never heard of it. Do you know who Ara Parseghian is?

CH: Not in the least.

HH: Well, you should. He once beat USC 51-0, which…

CH: No, I don’t do games, except occasionally cricket.

HH: (laughing) Okay. Let’s get to your rather memorable appearance on HBO Bill Maher, Friday last. I’ve got to begin by asking why bother? He’s a dummy.

CH: Oh, no, I don’t agree. I mean, I found him to be actually quite a smart and witty guy off the camera, off the studio, off the stage, as well as on it. What I wish he could wean himself off, if that’s grammatical, is this habit of having this studio audience that seems like Pavlovian in being trained to clap, usually at the most idiotic remarks about the war.

HH: Well, Mr. Hitchens, when…

CH: I mean, I would really like to debate him one day without that, without having that advantage.

HH: Oh, that wouldn’t be fair. That’s illegal. You couldn’t possibly allow him to be pummeled that way. What I watched…you were talking about Ahmadinejead, and the 12th imam, and millennialism, and he comes in with just a nutter, stupid comment about that’s what the president believes as well. And his audience laughs like trained seals. That’s not serious.

CH: Well, I can’t disagree with you there. I mean, it’s a commonplace remark. You hear it all over the smug, liberal world. They say well, Bush is a fundamentalist, too, which even if it was true, wouldn’t change my attitude toward the hidden imam, and the appalling policies, internal and external, of the Iranian mullahs.

HH: Well, that’s what I meant when I…why appear with a dummy who is part of the smug, liberal world? Why waste your time?

CH: Well, I don’t think it’s a waste of time. It’s good exercise. I have to train myself against all possible opponents, including the cheering section.

HH: Well, that’s true. Now what about the gesture. Any regrets?

CH: Certainly not. I mean, it’s easy enough to disagree with some person like, say, Bill Maher, or indeed Senator Cleland who was on with me, all to criticize the administration. What a lot of people don’t like to do is to criticize what appears to be public opinion, or in other words, or mass opinion. And I thought the audience had reached a pitch of incalcated stupidity, where really what they needed was at least one finger. I thought of giving them two, although that really didn’t quite merit it.

HH: Well, yes, incalcated stupidity, another fine reference. Have you appeared on a live television show with an audience that has not immediately degenerated into playing for the cheap laugh?

CH: Yes, I would say that that was true, at one point, of Phil Donahue years ago, because I thought he used to treat his audience with some seriousness, and ask them questions, and draw them in. And actually, also with Dennis Miller.

HH: Well, that’s true. I actually appeared with Dennis Miller a couple of times, and you’re right about that.

CH: The ones to watch out for are the ones that are done by Mr. Maher, and also Mr. Stewart, where it seems that it’s like a little reinforcement section, so that if you say…it’s conditioned. That’s why I say Pavlovian. You say just two words, Bush’s IQ. Well, maybe that’s three words. Bush’s IQ, people laugh already.

HH: Interesting.

CH: It’s already funny. They don’t laugh because it is funny, of course. It is not. But they laugh to show they get the point, and also to show at least to themselves, that they are smarter than the president, which is of course, necessary for them to believe.

HH: Who does the best interview on television…

CH: Whereas someone who says that Ahmadinejead and Bush are the same may be well educated, but is much stupider than anything the president has ever said.

HH: Now going back to the question, who does the best interview, or the best roundtable on television?

CH: Well, Stewart on a good day isn’t bad. I mean, his assumptions are axiomatically liberal, it’s true. The best used to be…well, it’s not a roundtable, exactly. It’s got more than one person at it. The best is Brian Lamb, by miles.

HH: I agree with that.

CH: I dedicated my Jefferson book to him, because I think he’s built a literate audience that’s interested in the serious discussion of ideas, and also of books. He’s good, and in his day, William Buckley was very good, too. If you walked off the Firing Line set thinking damn, I should have made that point and I didn’t, it’s your fault. It’s not because you were deafened by some cheering section, or because they had to go to a break, or whatever it might be.

HH: Does the tradition…

CH: It was down to you if you failed, and so it is with C-Span, I think.

HH: Does the tradition continue in Great Britain of a serious conversation? Or is that dead there, too?

CH: It’s going the same way, especially on the BBC. But there is a guy called Jeremy Paxman, whose show I was on quite recently when I was in London, where you have time, and the people you’re on with are quite smart, for and against, and again, you get the feeling that if you didn’t do your best, it was your fault, and not that of the set-up.

HH: Now I’m going to put you in the position of being a radio producer for a moment, Christopher Hitchens. What individual or individuals in the world would serve my audience by being on weekly? People who both can carry on a conversation, have something to say, that they would be able to talk to them?

CH: Well, I’ll send you an e-mail.

HH: All right. Now let’s move on to Richard Armitage, former deputy Secretary of State, revealed and confirmed this week beyond all doubt to be the source of the Valerie Plame leak. I’m not going to call it the outing, because it’s not yet clear to me that she had anything to do…that she was undercover. What do you make of this? What’s it tell you about Armitage, as well as Libby, Fitzgerald, the whole gang?

CH: Well, I should just add, by the way, that I think it’s established beyond doubt that she had no cover, and thus that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, so called, was never breached. And in fact, the prosecutor, Fitzgerald, more or less has conceded all that. The remarkable thing to me is that someone, a professional member of the high levels of the United States civil service, should know almost from day one that it was he who had been the source for Novak. And to tell no one but his immediate boss and friend, Colin Powell, and to watch his colleagues go through a nightmare of distraction and interrogation and misery, and to see a colleague and friend of mine, Judith Miller of the New York Times sent to prison for nothing, and just decide well, why shouldn’t I just keep quiet, I think it’s absolutely scandalous.

HH: At what point do you believe Prosecutor Fitzgerald was aware that Armitage was the leaker?

CH: I haven’t completely established that. I think it’s known. I don’t have that fact in my head at present, but at an early stage. Though it was withheld from him, and from the White House for some time, it was known to the Justice Department from before the time that the Fitzgerald was set on foot. So that’s a long time to know the answer, and then watch this ponderous, grinding, intrusive, irrelevant investigation go forward.

HH: I have long thought that this has been a distraction. I’m not very interested in it, but now I’m interested in what it tells us about prosecutorial zeal. And there will be a parallel carved out here between Starr pursuing the blue dress, and Fitzgerald pursuing Libby after key facts are known. And do you see that yet?

CH: I’m sure it’ll be tried, once it’s been agreed that they were always after the wrong target. Every one of the people who were keeping this story long beyond its natural life wanted it to be either Rove or Libby or Cheney, and of course, there was never any chance of that, as I had told them repeatedly, because those people, even if they wanted to do a malicious leak, wouldn’t give it to Robert Novak, who has opposed the administration on Iraq, as is Mr. Armitage. So that’s nonsene for a start. The second thing is that the Supreme Court did vote 9-0 that the President had to answer the questions brought by more than one woman, it turned out to be, who felt that they’d been wronged by him. And this was, by the way, a breach of the law on sexual harrassment, the relevant clause of which he had inserted himself into the law. So a 9-0 Supreme Court order is not being that, right? I mean…

HH: Oh, no, no. I’m not…I’m just saying that prosecutors are different from you and me, and it seems to me that Starr and Fitzgerald may have been acting the same, which is given evidence and a clear sign that a law has been broken, even though it may not be what the public wants, they pursue what the law demands, with certain relentlessness.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, it was announced today in the New York Sun, confirmed elsewhere, denounced by Rick Santorum and many others, that the United States Department of State has issued a visa to the former president of Iran, Ayatollah Khatami, to come to the United States, not just to address the U.N., but also to unrestricted movement. He has been invited, and has accepted an invitation to speak at Washington’s National Cathedral on the 5th of September, just days before the anniversary of the attack on America. What’s your reaction to this former terror master, now current chairman of the Central Committee of the militant Clerics League, being invited to roam around America?

CH: Now just hang on a second. This is a former…the president whose term has expired?

HH: Yes.

CH: Well, he was elected as the president of Iran by the votes of Iran’s reformists and opposition parties. He turned out to be a tremendous disappointment to them.

HH: And not only that, now is the chairman of the militant cleric’s council. But even during that period of time, when a terrorist state is a terrorist state, whether or not you’re a “reformer president”, you’re still the president of a terrorist state.

CH: Or he had been the president, so he’s the ex-president.

HH: The ex-president.

CH: I don’t think…my mind is racing, because this is all new to me, but I’m reviewing the crimes with which Iranian officials were charged, crimes that we have names for, known officials, blowing up the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, kidnapping people, shooting down the Iranian Kurds in a restaurant in Berlin in the Mickey Mouse restaurant. I don’t think any of that took place under his rule. It was actually under the rule of Rafsanjani that most of that occurred. Most of the Iranians I know were very pleased when he was elected, and very crushingly disappointed by his performance. And he allowed himself not long ago to be much attacked at Tehran University, when he made a public appearance, by the students, for this. And I hope the same thing happens when the Iranian opposition shows up at the National Cathedral. But I see no reason why he shouldn’t get a visa.

HH: Well, Santorum, Rick Santorum today said, “during his presidency, the suppression of free speech was so great, that the organization Reporters Without Frontiers branded Iran ‘the greatest predator of free press in the Middle East.’ When Iranian students demonstrated against the regime in ’99, Khatami’s government arrested thousands of people, some of whom remain in prison to this day.”

CH: Well, I don’t want to disagree…I don’t want to either agree with…Senator Santorum, I think, is a bloody fool, and I don’t want to disagree with Reporters Without Frontiers. But that wouldn’t be true about Iran, as a matter of fact. It wouldn’t even be true today by the standards of press freedom that we like to think we uphold. It’s very bad. But by the standards of say, Saddam’s Iraq, which was still the case during much of Khatami’s tenure, and many others, Iran has a relatively open press, it’s citizens are allowed to travel, satellite dishes are nominally banned, but almost everybody has one, and very few people are ever prosecuted for it. Most Iranians know what’s going on, which is why I think the president missed a chance when Ahmadinejead wrote him that crazy letter, not to reply to it, probably sending the reply, actually, to the mullahs, just to show that he knows that Ahmadinejead’s only a puppet. But I don’t think any occasion for dialogue with Iran, or with Iranians, should ever be missed.

HH: We disagree about that. We also disagree about Santorum. I’m confused, as well by your dismissal of Senator Santorum as a bloody fool, given that your passion for understanding the stakes in the war against Islamic fanaticism are shared by very few Senators, one of whom is Rick Santorum. And he has the same clarity you do about the enemy.

CH: No, but he makes the same mistake they do, which he firmly believes that there’s a God who tells us what to do about our morality…

HH: Well then, you think we’re all bloody fools.

CH: What?

HH: Then you think we’re…pretty much, 99% of us are bloody fools.

CH: Well, anyone who thinks that is a fool, certainly.

HH: Okay.

CH: They’re fooling themselves in trying to fool other people.

HH: Yes, we understand that.

CH: And for a particularly egregious example of that clerical mentality, which I think is hateful wherever it’s found.

HH: I haven’t the time. Some day, we’ll do that. I want to get to the attacks.

CH: Well, I keep asking you when we’re going to, and you keep…

HH: I need to have a dead roll for about an hour.

CH: We have to do Jefferson and the Presbyterians. By the way, I read the Presbyterian book.

HH: Oh, my gosh.

CH: …on 9/11.

HH: Oh, please don’t call it the Presbyterian book.

CH: I thought it would be bad, but it’s worse than the DiVinci Code. It’s a disgrace, quite apart from its wickedness and its refusal to blame those who really are evil.

HH: I know, It is a disgrace. I own that disgrace. That does not in any way diminish the apologetic, but it does diminish the denomination. Christopher Hitchens, I want to go to San Francisco. Yesterday, a man took an SUV, began in Fremont, killed one person there, drove downtown to the Jewish neighborhood, managed to pick off a couple of pedestrians in front of the JCC, roamed around the neighborhood, nailed 12 more, and the first thing we hear from Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, is that there’s no indication that he’s a terrorist, or that it’s related to international relations. What do you make…and then the media…it vanishes. It’s gone. What do you make of that?

CH: I know, and it was the same with Seattle the other day, where this guy took a rifle and went to a Jewish community center, and everyone piled on…before anything could possibly be known, and said no, he’s a disturbed guy, he has a bad mental record, all of which might well be true. But there seems to be no doubt, that fact doesn’t separate himself from a lot of Islamist fanatics.

HH: What do you think of the odds…

CH: It doesn’t resolve the question are the rantings of mullahs and imams against the Jews inciting this kind of thing among marginal types? I think there’s no question that that’s the case.

HH: Exactly. Whether it’s Ahmadinejead, or the local mosque.

CH: If it was anything else, Mayor Newsom, who I like, actually, he’s a nice man. If it was anything else, he’d be classifying it as a hate crime. You can be sure of that.

HH: So why are people like him…but I also point out. It’s not on the front page of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Globe or the L.A. Times. It is a complete dead zone on…

CH: I wouldn’t know about it if someone hadn’t e-mailed me this morning.

HH: And so…

CH: And I’m in San Francisco as we speak.

HH: So why? Why…you know, I can understand…not understanding how nutters go nutty, and how fanatics become fanatics. But why won’t the media touch it?

CH: It’s the same mentality it said to people after 9/11. Please don’t go and loot your local Yemeni grocer, or start a pagrom, or lock up all Japanese, or something like that, as if anyone was going to do it. The feeling is that you know, multiculturalism is at stake, a masochistic feeling that we’re somehow at fault, and that we’re possible…we must find this sort of behavior deviant, or transgressive, and not what it is, which is criminal. And obviously…I mean, you can’t by accident drive a truck that far.

HH: No.

CH: Nor take a hunting rifle, or whatever it was, into the Seattle Jewish community center. And I make a prediction, which I probably shouldn’t, because I don’t…who knows who’s listening? Perhaps I shouldn’t even say. No, I will. I mean, there’s going to be more of this, and people are going to claim to be hearing voices from Allah, and acting in the sprit of Mohammed and so on, and as to whether they’re sane or not seems to me to be in a sense besides the point, because the preachments of the imams and mullahs are insane in themselves, and well as direct incitement to anti-Semitism.

HH: July 4th, 2002, El-Al counter at LAX. October 1, University of Oklahoma, suicide bombing outside of a football game. March 4, 2006, attack at UNC, the fellow was doing so as Islamist terror. And you’ve mentioned Seattle, and yesterday, San Francisco. So I think it is inevitable that there will be more. But is it inevitable that the media is going to continue to ignore it?

CH: I’m just wondering when critical mass would need to be reached. For the moment, I’ll just say to you that I think the discreet reticence of it is a very bad sign, and that I think it’s in bad faith. It’s hoping, really, that if you don’t cover it, it will go away. It’s like what I said to you last week about the Berkeley, the Bishop Berkeley theory about the tree in the forest. If no one hears it, it didn’t fall. It didn’t make a sound.

HH: Yeah.

CH: It’s the same as people believing if we weren’t in Iraq, it wouldn’t be so violent. You know, if we weren’t there, the violence wouldn’t matter. It’s a form of denial, and it’s…I must say, it’s a specifically liberal and multicultural form of denial, too.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure. Look forward to it again next week.

End of interview.

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