One of the most interesting things about Christopher Hitchens’ latest argument for war — other than its extraordinarily bad timing, considering the positive news coming out of Vienna — is that he really seems to be under the impression that the Iraq war has gone well, and that he didn’t come out of it looking like kind of a fool.
Hitchens writes that opponents of the Iraq invasion claimed that “a military move against Saddam Hussein would incite him to saturate our troops with chemical weapons, ignite the oilfields, destroy Israel, inflame the ‘Arab street,’ and overthrow every friendly Middle Eastern government, etc., etc.”
Those of us who wanted to get rid of these hideous governments were bombarded with arguments that said, in effect, they are not only a threat but actually a lethal threat, and their forces are made up of people who are 10 feet tall.
Leaving aside how many of the war’s opponents did, in fact, make these specific claims, it’s pretty bizarre that Hitchens seems to consider it a vindication that all that did happen in Iraq was that the war attracted thousands of jihadists whose brutal attacks on civilians lit off a sectarian civil war which killed over 100,000 people and maimed many times that while functioning as an insurgent training ground for those who are now killing our troops in Afghanistan with tactics and tech developed in Iraq. Oh, and Iran also used that time to ramp up its nuclear program while trying not to laugh as the U.S. established Iran’s former clients as Iraq’s new rulers.
But Hitchens simply ignores this, as acknowledging it would make it difficult for him to portray opponents of forcibly
liberating disarming Iran as a bunch of Nervous Nellies:
I have never been present for any discussion of any measures that could even thinkably be taken against Tehran that does not focus obsessively and exclusively on the possibly calamitous outcomes. Israel hits Iran and — well, you fill in the rest. The target sites are, anyway, too much dispersed and too deeply buried. You know how it goes.
And that’s how Hitchens simply waves away the concerns of people like Defense Secretary Gates, Anthony Cordesman, and Gen. Anthony Zinni, to name only a few who of those who have acknowledged that an attack on Iran — while setting back the Iranian nuclear program only temporarily — would “give rise to regional instability and conflict as well as terrorism,” as Cordesman wrote in a report earlier this year. But you know how it goes.
As for the “10 feet tall” argument, this is another straw man, an increasingly common one among the “bomb Iran” set. The key thing to understand in regard to Iran’s likely response to an attack, however, is precisely that Iran is not 10 feet tall, and Iran knows this, and has based its asymmetric retaliatory capability around this fact, building strategic depth through relationships with militant organizations throughout the region, which would enable it to cause trouble for U.S. interests and allies in various places and ways.
The bottom line here is that war is a serious, deeply consequential and unpredictable business, to be avoided whenever possible. Those who traffic in best case scenarios are simply asking to be ignored. It speaks well of Hitchens that he has the good sense to be uncomfortable with the label “neoconservative,” but as long as he persists in equating “a robust American attitude toward totalitarian and aggressive states” with “launching stupid and counterproductive wars,” the label will, alas, continue to apply.