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Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens

Thursday, February 15, 2007
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HH: Joined as we are on Wednesdays when we are lucky by Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair. Mr. Hitchens, good day to you.

CH: And you, sir. Happy Valentine’s Day.

HH: And to you. Will you be taking Mrs. Hitchens out on the town this evening?

CH: If she’s very good, yeah.

HH: Is there a favorite restaurant of the Hitchens’ around D.C?

CH: Not since they banned smoking in the district.

HH: (laughing) You are out of luck.

CH: We have to go to Virginia, now.

HH: Oh, okay. Well, have a…

CH: The great state of Virginia, four hundred years of the tobacco economy, not all positive, historically, but still…

HH: Are you a heavy smoker?

CH: You can literally choose…what?

HH: Are you a heavy smoker?

CH: Have to say that I’m smoking when I’m working, yeah, usually.

HH: Is that a two pack a day habit?

CH: There’s also recreation.

HH: Is it a two pack a day habit?

CH: There’s also the one in the shower.

HH: (laughing) Okay, so it’s heavy.

CH: There’s also the one when I’m shaving, all that kind of thing.

HH: And what’s your preferred adult beverage?

CH: Johnny Walker Black Label.

HH: Just checking.

CH: With a splash of Perrier. Breakfast of champions.

HH: (laughing) Are you familiar with Al Franken?

CH: A little, yes. I’ve met him, I’ve caught his act a few times.

HH: He’s running for Senate in Minnesota. What do you think?

CH: Oh, come on.

HH: No, he is. He declared today.

CH: Well, good for him in a way, I suppose. I mean, it does show the way that some people don’t know when to stop.

HH: That’s true, but you know, he’ll do quite well up there.

CH: Yeah.

HH: Because it’s not…the DFL’s a rather funny…

CH: Well, no, I suppose he’s thinking of the shoes of the late Senator (Wellstone) and other things like that. It’s…but I think some people may begin to wonder when a jokes’ a joke, and when it’s far enough, and so on. I mean, perhaps I shouldn’t be sounding like this in that I did once have a couple of debates with him on a cruise that The Nation magazine arranged, and just because someone makes their living as a comic, it doesn’t mean they can’t be serious, or they don’t care about real things. And I might add, arguing against myself for a second, I mean, he’s been several times to Iraq to amuse the troops and to be part of the USO entertainment and things like that, not completely to be despised. I can think of more serious people who deserve to be taken less seriously, like Mrs. Clinton, for example.

HH: Now you know, you’re probably not doing many Nation cruises anymore.

CH: No, that’s over.

HH: Although they could find you very entertaining. It’s just that you might not make it back to port.

CH: No, I’d make it back to port. I just think they might not laugh. It would be the other way around.

HH: All right. Let’s get to the serious…well, actually, it’s funny, the debate in the House.

CH: Not everybody finds me amusing, and I mean, I don’t blame them.

HH: The debate in the House is pretty amusing, were it not so tragic. Have you watched any of it?

CH: I read it. I mean, I’m willing to wait until I can read the accounts in the papers, and so on.

HH: I want you to listen, here is John Murtha earlier today with Wolf Blitzer to give people a sense of the argument level that we’ve got going right now. Cut number 8:

WB: Over the weekend, Australian Prime Minister John Howard really lashed out at this idea, and lashed out personally at Barack Obama. Listen to what he said.

JH: I think he’s wrong. If I were running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March, 2008, and pray as many times as possible for victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.

JM: That’s easy for somebody to say that hasn’t really participated heavily in the deployment. The American people are paying $8.4 billion dollars a month. Our troops are being in harm’s way every day. Now the Australians are one of our best allies, but for him to say something like this when this is a policy decision, a policy difference with the President of the United States, is uncalled for. He’s trying to interfere in our election, and that’s something that shouldn’t happen. We appreciate the help of the Australians, but they haven’t done anything compared to what the United States forces have done in the Middle East.

WB: Well, what about, Congressman, when he says this would be a bonanza, this would be a gift for al Qaeda, what you and other Democrats are recommending. What do you say to him when he says al Qaeda should just mark the calendar and wait for that date?

JM: I’ll tell you, they’ll rue the day when the United States gets out of there, because the Iraqis know who they are, and they’ll get rid of them. I am absolutely convinced they know the tribes, they know the geography. The Iraqis know who the al Qaeda are, it’s just that we obviously provide the incentive to recruit al Qaeda. Iran wants us in there, and al Qaeda wants us in there.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, your comments?

CH: Well, I’ll leave out the stuff about Australia, which I think speaks for itself. What’s revealing there, and it’s very prevalent in the liberal mentality, is something that actually is directly in common with al Qaeda propaganda. He…the Congressman actually says what they say, which is the problem is the existence of the United States, not just the presence of it in Iraq, because it clearly can’t be that that stops the tribesmen getting at al Qaeda. I mean, who does he, what does he take us for when he says something like that? He means it’s our fault that they exist, and that’s what they think. That’s what they ask others to believe. It’s a very shocking thing for an elected representative to be saying.

HH: Yes, it is. And actually, if you turn it over and look at it very, very closely…

CH: Well, I wouldn’t want to do that for fear of what I’d find on the underside.

HH: But that is, on the underside, is an Iraq after we leave. I had John Burns on the program last week. I don’t know if he’s an acquaintance of yours or not.

CH: He is. He’s actually, I don’t usually like to use the word hero, but he is a personal hero of mine.

HH: If I can…

CH: As a writer as well as an individual.

HH: He predicted…anyway, a tremendous interview, by the way, as you would no doubt not be surprised.

CH: I would love you to send it me.

HH: We will do that. He commented that on the first night we leave, the 3,700 deaths in October, counted by the U.N., would occur probably in one night in Baghdad.

CH: Well, it’s not possible to disbelieve something like that.

HH: Well, then, how do you have a John Murtha…do you think he’s sincere, that, you know, does he really believe that in our absence, Iraq will self-correct?

CH: It’s…if you are not in favor of an engagement, a forward engagement with al Qaeda, and its surrogates, then you in a way have to believe that if we weren’t around, neither would they be. It’s a sort of platonic belief. It’s what I call, actually, a Bishop Berkeley belief, you know, if a tree crashed in the forest, and we weren’t there to hear it, it wouldn’t really be happening. It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s very widespread in very soft and hard forms. And it’s in a way the very core of the argument. I mean, I congratulate the Congressman in that way for his honestly. You see, the corollary would be, and I get this on my e-mail as probably you do on yours, well, if it’s only we who prevent everyone in Iraq from being murdered, then that means we have to stay there forever, doesn’t it? Actually, it doesn’t mean that, but you can see how people could draw that corollary, too. It’s an argument worth going all the way to the end with, I think, because it is essential. For example, it used to be believed, it still is an article of belief among many Democrats and liberals that it was actually…and also CIA people, that it’s impossible by definition for Saddamists to cooperate with al Qaedaists, or jihadists. One is secular, the other is religious. These are fools, of course, who haven’t looked at the evidence, but it was an article of faith by them. Now that we’re faced with an actual alliance between Baathists and jihadists, they say well, that wouldn’t be the case if we weren’t there.

HH: Have you followed the debate, the attempt by Carl Levin and others to discredit Douglas Feith for their…

CH: Yes, I have, and I thought Mr. Feith’s piece this morning in the Washington Post was though not beautifully written or exquisitely argued, a very good rebuttal to that.

HH: Yup, yup. It is. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com.

CH: And the idea that it’s somehow illegitimate to question whatever the intelligence mainstream is, or as the very pathetic phrasing of the guy who wrote the report, can’t remember his name for a second, inappropriate…

HH: Inspector General

CH: I mean, Inspector General. Meaningless term, inappropriate.

HH: Yes, it is. It has no legal significance whatsoever.

CH: No, nor any intellectual or moral significance, either. The best he could come up with, in other words, let’s leave it to the CIA who have so far got absolutely everything wrong.

HH: That is the underlying fact that people have to look at. They missed 9/11, and they got the WMD wrong, and as a result, they wish to be left alone.

CH: They got the Soviet Union wrong, they got Kuwait wrong, they got Iran wrong, they got South Africa wrong. They got absolutely everything wrong. It’s remarkable to me that there were volunteers within the administration who were willing to challenge their orthodoxy, and all they’ve got for it is abuse, prosecution, and the attempt to criminalize opinion.

HH: Now I have to get two questions in, and we have a minute and a half. First, the Libby trial, and second, the Iran attempt to smuggle in weapons successful to kill Americans as well as sniper rifles. Should we do anything about that? Glenn Reynolds has suggested perhaps even targeting mullahs.

CH: Well, there are various people who are wanted, if we start with Iran. There are various named mullahs, and other political figures in Iran, who are wanted by name in European countries and South American countries for, for example, blowing up the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, trying to kill Salman Rushdie, murdering Kurdish opposition leaders in restaurants, in Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, and another one in Vienna, people who are wanted by any standard, by any law, in any country anywhere.

HH: But is it moral to assassinate them?

CH: We should have already had these people either grounded or arrested when they traveled.

HH: But is it moral to assassinate them?

CH: Well, it’s…would I say it was immoral? It’s not a matter of assassinating. It’s a matter of bringing them to justice.

HH: But if you could not get them…

CH: It’s a matter of international law, and of its enforcement. And they’re already well outside the law, and sanctions are…

HH: But you’re dancing.

CH: …only just beginning. No, I think it’s a matter of…I would say it’s a matter of bringing them to justice, also publicizing their names, their holdings, which in the case of many of them, are quite considerable, they steal money from Iran and keep it outside the country.

HH: But let’s be clear for the audience, though. Can you shoot them?

CH: No, I don’t believe you can do targeted killings, no.

HH: All right. Number two, how’s Patrick Fitzgerald and Libby holding up in 20 seconds?

CH: Well, it’s all about nothing as everybody knows. I mean, it’s about a conflict of memory where the law was never broken.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure. Vanity Fair’s own. We’ll talk to you next week.

End of interview.

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