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Christopher Hitchens:

Arguments for the War to Liberate Iraq[1]


(These comments were made September 14, 2005, at Baruch College)

What the world would be like if the anti-war movement in the U.S. had prevailed:

If you examine the record of the so-called anti-war movement in this country and imagine what would have happened had its counsel been listened to over the last 15 and more years, you would have a world in which the following would be the case:

Saddam Hussein would be the owner and occupier of Kuwait, he would have succeeded in the annexation, not merely the invasion, but the abolition of an Arab and Muslim state that was a member of the Arab League and of the United Nations. And with these resources as we now know because he lost that war, he was attempting to equip himself with the most terrifying arsenal that was possible for him to lay his hands on. That’s one consequence of anti-war politics, that’s what would have happened.

In the meanwhile, Slobodan Milosevic would have made Bosnia part of a greater Serbia, and Kosovo would have been ethnically cleansed and also annexed. The Taliban would be still in power in Afghanistan if the anti-war movement had been listened to, and al-Qaeda would still be their guests. And Saddam Hussein, with his crime family, would still be privately holding ownership over a terrorized people in a state that’s been most aptly described as a concentration camp above ground and a mass grave underneath it.


On Iraq’s loss of sovereignty prior to U.S. action:

Iraq had lost its sovereignty as far as a state can do under international law. There are four conditions under which a state may be deemed or said to have sacrificed its sovereignty. These are: if it participates in regular aggressions against neighboring states or occupations of their territory; if it violates all the letter and spirit of the terms of the non-proliferation treaty, and in other words, fools around promiscuously with the illegal acquisition of weapons of mass destruction; third, if it should violate the Genocide Convention, the signatories to which are obliged without further notice to act either to prevent or punish genocide; and fourth, if it plays host to international gangsters, nihilists, terrorists, and jihadists.

Iraq met all these four conditions repeatedly, and would demonstrate its willingness to repeat them on many occasions. Its sovereignty was at an end, it was under international sanctions, it was a ward of the international community. Its people were being starved in order to build palaces for their psychopathic dictator. And it was further more imploding as a state and as a society that the divide and rule policy of the Baath party had led to appalling ethnic and confessional hatreds within the country.

An imploded state would have made these worse and you know who would have invaded them. Turkey would have invaded to try and take Kurdistan. Iran would have invaded to support its extremist Khomeinite proxies and Saudi Arabia would have intervened in order to do the same favor for the Sunni and Wahhabists and Salafist extremists. As a matter of fact, all these three foreign interventions are taking place at present, all those three powers are trying to meddle in Iraq but we are fortunate as are the Iraqi people that there is a coalition to hold the ring and to prevent it from becoming another Rwanda or another Congo, another vortex of violence and cruelty and destabilization and war.


On Saddam Hussein:

Positive results ladies and gentleman, brothers and sisters. A man who planned and ordered and supervised and took delight in genocide and torture and aggression and the occupation of two neighboring states and the massacres of their people is in jail now and will follow Slobodan Milosevic and Augusto Pinochet into the dock quite soon. I know there are some people here who don’t take delight in this, but I will say that I do. It is a long overdue justice.


On the positive contribution of the Kurds:

The largest, stateless minority in the Middle East, the people of Kurdistan in other words, who have suffered many years of oppression and exile and occupation. In Syria, in Iraq, in Iran, and in Lebanon and in Turkey have begun to scramble, so to say, to their feet to assume something like their full height as a people. Even before the intervention they were producing an autonomy, a democracy, a self-determination of their own in the provinces of northern Iraq, which when I saw them last were a landscape of desolation and depravity. You could still smell the poison gas, you could still smell the mass graves, the ruined cities, the burned hillsides, the women who had chemical burns that still burn after years.

Out of this, the Kurds have come to build and help other Iraqis build, when they could have been chauvinistic, they could have been xenophobic, they could have said enough with Iraq, we're through with it, we're leaving. Instead it accepted their internationalist responsibilities. President Talabani, it seems to me, is a president of whom any country in the region could be proud, not just by the sort of comparisons one could make.


On the Middle East march towards democracy:

This is an extraordinary, unarguable, and ambiguous gain. The disarmament of Libya, capitulation of Colonel Gaddafi, his abandonment of his covert arsenal of mass, weapons of mass destruction, and the walking back of the evidence that he gave us, because we all have it now, thank you sir, in Oakridge, Tennessee. Which I think is the right place for it, on analysis was able to disclose to us that the providence of much of this illegal weaponry was the AQ Khan network in Pakistan. A kind of Wal-Mart for WMD, nukes-r-us, with the line stretching all the way from North Korea to the Iraqi envoys who, in March 2003 as the coalition was preparing to intervene, were negotiating in Damascus with the envoys of Kim Jung Il, to buy North Korean missiles off the shelf and people say Iraq and WMD can't be mentioned in the same breath.

Now not everything about this can be attributed to the intervention, but it's noticeable I think that Colonel Gaddafi did not, when he wanted to capitulate, go to Mr. Kofi Annan, for example. …  No, he came to Mr. Blair and to Mr. Bush, and says, “I'm out of this game now and you can analyze everything I've got.” That's not nothing ladies and gentleman, and it's a step towards disarmament and nonproliferation into the bargain.

And then the spread, no less important, of the democratic impulse within the region. Not only is this being spread by the vector of the Kurdish people and their revolution, because as you will be readily able to find if you haven't read of it already, there have been demonstrations in Kamishli, the Kurdish main city of northern Syria. Among the oppressed Kurds who suffer under the ossified theocracy of Iran and of course in Turkey as well, to pick up the message that yes, liberation is at hand. These demonstrations broke out on the day that president Talabani was sworn in as president in Iraq. There's an unmistakable connection between them. We who have been friends of the Kurds are very proud of their achievement, and we intend to stand by them no matter what.

I will add that the moral leader of the Egyptian democracy movement, the man who has been begun to break open the argument in Egypt -- and he's suffered a long period of imprisonment during this time and was written to by Nelson Mandela as Egypt's equivalent -- has told me, and for quotation, that in his opinion, this new mood in the region would be unthinkable if it was not for the removal of the single worst tyrant who was present there. That's not nothing, in point of testimony; that's from deep within the bowels of the Egyptian prison system, the man who is the moral hero of the democracy movement. He says, and I agree with him, and he is echoed by Anwar Ibrahim as far away as Malaysia, who is the Malay equivalent, and by the leader of the Socialist Party of Lebanon, Mr. Jumblatt, have all stated publicly that this for them is the beginning of the end, the fall of the wall as they put it.


On the new Iraqi constitution:

A constitution, a federal democratic constitution, is being debated now as we speak with the printing of five million copies of the original document. Debated on six television channels, six, and perhaps as many as a hundred newspapers in a country where three years ago, it was death, not just for you, but for your family, to possess a satellite dish. Or to attempt to distribute a leaflet. Death for you and your family, and not a quick one either. Does anyone not agree that this is a night and day difference? I invite them to say if they don't.


On terrorists and putting their actions in proper context:

Let me remind you what some of those operations were. The blowing up by military grade explosives of the headquarters of the United Nations in Baghdad a few months after the intervention. As it was being tenanted by Sergio de Mello, one of the great international civil servants of our time who was fresh from, Amy knows more about this than I, but fresh from his role in the very belated supervision of the independence of East Timor from Indonesia, and the holding of free elections in East Timor. And the jihadists who murdered him put out a communiqué saying we have today put an end to the life of this disgusting man because he freed Timor from Muslim holy land in Indonesia. These people are not pacifists, ladies and gentleman, nor are they anti-imperialists. If you haven't noticed, they called for the restoration of the lost empire, the caliphate, and the imposition of sharia law on all non-believers within its borders. That's not pacifism, that's not anti-imperialism.


On the number of deaths caused by Coalition forces:

If you really believe the … figure of 100,000 deaths in Iraq, and if you think that … the only deaths caused in Iraq are by coalition forces, if you’re willing to believe any or all of that, you can simply go to my colleague Fred Kaplan’s space on slate.com. He’s a very stern and strong critic of the war, a great opponent of mine, we’ve had quite a quarrel about it. He’s a great writer about science and other matters. It’s a simple matter to show this is politicized hack work of the worst kind, the statistics in that case have been conclusively and absolutely shown to be false and I invite anyone to check it. Everything I say, everything I say has at least ten pages of documentation which I’m willing to share behind it, and you’ll have your chance to challenge me and ask questions to Amy.

On President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq:

It’s a single issue question with me. I think the president was right to do what the previous president and vice-president, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, had only promised to do, and what the United States Senate had only voted to do, which was to move Iraq into the post-Saddam Hussein era. All that was decided and repeatedly promised by the preceding administration and by the US Senate when George Bush was still a provincial governor of Texas.


On Galloway’s claim of being anti-war:

To hear [Galloway] speak, you would think, would you not, that he was a pacifist, that he defines himself as anti-war. Now how can this be said, in good conscience, by someone who has just, standing by the side of the dictator of Syria, on the 30th of July, referred to the 154 heroic operations conducted in Iraq by the so-called resistance, or the resistance that is run as we know by a senior bin Ladenist and by many of the former secret police of the Baathist regime? How can someone say they're anti-war and they care about casualties that they praise the 154 operations a day?    Now among the people killed by these heroic operations, in Iraq, some of them run from Syria and paid for by the human toothbrush and slobbering dauphin Assad, Mr. Galloway's new pal. Among the victims of these operations was specialist Casey Sheehan, who was trying to clean up the festering slum of what had once been called Saddam City, and was now known to us as Sadr City where the water-supply is coming back on, it's taking a while, because people keep blowing it up, but it's coming back on. Now I will put a simple moral proposition to you and see if I've phrased it alright. Is it not rather revolting to appear in Damascus by the side of Assad and to praise the people who killed Casey Sheehan, and then to come to America and appeal to the emotions of his mother?


On terrorists in Iraq:

Now, it’s true some of them, Mr. Zarqawi their leader, of course, the bin Ladenist leader, was in Iraq before, was well known to have been in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. I can tell you that no one gets in and out of Iraq at that level without the president knowing and it's also true that a group that's affiliated with him, the al-Ansar Islam, a fundamentalist group, thought that its main job was to kill the Kurdish leadership in northern Iraq, they selected, it should seem to be a strange target for holy war, and it's also true that some of them came to Iraq after we threw them out of Afghanistan. Well, that's easy then, leave them in control of Afghanistan, don't mess around with these people, don't make them angry, don't make them mean. It's your fault. Now this is masochism -- but it is being offered to you by sadists.


On the President’s United Nations address on Iraq:

In his address to the United Nations, in fact, the first address on the subject, the president did mention a full menu, as you might say, of indictment against … the Baathist dictatorship … included its record of genocide, its proven record of deception about weapons of mass destruction, its links with terrorism, and its violation of all the UN resolutions governing these things.


On responsible leadership, Saddam Hussein, and WMD:

On this knowledge, of which I'm sorry to say I am the prisoner, I cannot not know this. Any more than I cannot not know that Saddam was trying to buy weapons off the shelf from North Korea. On the basis of this establishable, provable knowledge, who is going to say, “Well let's give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt if he says he's not fooling around with weapons now.” What responsible leader of any democracy could face his people later if that bet turned out to be wrong and say, “Well I had every reason to think he was on the level.”



[1] On September 14, 2005, Christopher Hitchens debated British Member of Parliament George Galloway at Baruch College.  These are some of the arguments he made. 

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