Some might think this ungrateful, because Slate's "Today's Blogs" has been very supportive of The Next Hurrah, but somebody there needs to assert themselves for the good of their online publication and quit publishing the moronic and embarassing essays of Christopher Hitchens.
In the parlance of rhetoric, it's hard to "discover the argument" in Hitch's latest screed. He sets up a straw man, courtesy of a Colombian painter named Fernando Botero, so he can attack "our modern leftists and peaceniks [who] can detect fascism absolutely everywhere except when it is actually staring them in the face." Botero painted works based on the photos Spc. Joseph Darby sent to his superiors to expose the torture committed at Abu Ghraib; Botero claims his intention is to do for Abu Ghraib what Picasso did for Guernica.
Hitchens expends many sentences quibbling on how Abu Ghraib can't be Guernica, because we aren't Nazis and Abu Ghraib was a prison, not a beloved town. But in his zeal to be like David Horowitz and attribute just about all his straw men counterarguments to people he says or insinuates are "leftists" or "Marxists," he goes so far as to insinuate that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the work of just two people, and besides, the U.S. has been acting like a combination of Doctors Without Borders and the local Rotary Club:
At one point, when [Abu Ghraib] suffered even more than usual from chronic overcrowding, Saddam and his sons decided to execute a proportion of the inmates at random, just to cull the population. The warders then fanned out at night to visit the families of the prisoners, asking how much it would be worth to keep their son or brother or father off the list. The hands of prisoners were cut off, and the proceedings recorded on video for the delight of others. I myself became certain that Saddam had reached his fin de régime, or his Ceauşescu moment, when he celebrated his 100-percent win in the "referendum" of 2003 by releasing all the nonpolitical prisoners (the rapists and thieves and murderers who were his natural constituency) from Abu Ghraib. This sudden flood of ex-cons was a large factor in the horrific looting and mayhem that accompanied the fall of Baghdad...
Instead, it became an improvised center for anyone caught in the dragnet of the "insurgency" and was filled up with suspects as well as armed supporters of Baathism and Bin Ladenism. There's no need to restate what everyone now knows about what happened as a consequence. But I am not an apologist if I point out that there are no more hangings, random or systematic. The outrages committed by Pvt. England and her delightful boyfriend were first uncovered by their superiors. And seven of Saddam's amputees—those whose mutilations were filmed and distributed as a warning—have been flown to Houston, Texas—Texas, capital of redneck barbarism!—to be fitted with new prosthetic hands. A film about this latter episode, titled A Show of Hands, has been made by Don North and was, I believe, shown on the Al Hurra network. But I don't think that 1-in-100,000,000 people has seen it; certainly nobody in comparison with the universal dissemination of photographs of recreational sadism. Sr. Botero, who usually works with flab, has done some leaner and meaner paintings in this case. But they resemble less the metaphors of Picasso than the starkly literal efforts of Goya to represent the crumpled and twisted bodies of the second of May. And that is somehow appropriate, since Goya was divided in his own mind between Spanish patriotism and a covert sympathy for the Napoleonic forces, which, even at second hand, were bringing the principles of 1789 to his own benighted state.
People can quibble about Slate, and I'll join in with any criticisms of Mickey Kaus and Slate's rightward drift over the last 2-4 years. But really, this is ridiculous. Not only is that a shaggy dog of a paragraph with no coherent argument tying the sentences together into a logical whole, it's also a moral abomination. For Hitchens, the problem of looting wasn't that the Bushies ignored everyone with any experience or expertise in maintaining order in immediate post-war situations, all of whom said the U.S. would need more troops than the Pentagon was willing to send into Iraq. The looting wasn't even a predictable response to chaos, one that's been seen repeatedly in similar circumstances. No, according to Hitchens, the looting was Saddam's fault because he let prisoners out of Abu Ghraib. [Which raises the obvious question; even if it was criminals released from Abu Ghraib who did the looting--including presumably the heavy equipment operators who methodically disassembled almost all of Saddam's WMD capabilities and delivered the equipment to Iran--why did all those criminals wait until the Americans arrived to loot Baghdad? Apparently because Saddam had enough troops to prevent the looting, and the US didn't.] And is there any evidence that the release of prisoners contributed to the looting, or is Hitchens just speculating wildly? And is he now just constitutionally incapable of avoiding lies? The torture wasn't committed by just England and Graner, and it wasn't "uncovered" by their superiors, it was exposed to superiors by Spc. Darby, and became known to the public because somebody leaked the photos to Sy Hersh.
But what the hell does the prosthetic hands issue have to do with the torture at Abu Ghraib? By combining those two completely unrelated issues, it's as if he's trying to exonerate the U.S. Army, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration for the torture at Abu Ghraib because somebody--Hitchens doesn't even say who--sent 7 victims of Saddam to Texas for prosthetics.
Hitchens and the neocons like Douglas Feith like to think of themselves as the contemporary equivalents of the great writers and intellectuals arrayed against the forces of fascism and communism. But George Orwell would be sickened to be associated with Christopher Hitchens, who apparently thinks that all that matters is that we be better than Saddam Hussein. Hopefully, Slate will soon be embarrassed to be publishing the writings of a morally repugnant reactionary about whom the best that can be said is he's better than David Horowitz.