Roger L. Simon

Hitchens a la Mode

At this time when the press is reaching new levels of cacophony in declaring Iraq a failure we need Christopher Hitchens more than ever to put things in perspective with a little reference to Saki:

One might have thought, therefore, that Bush and Blair’s decision to put an end at last to this intolerable state of affairs would be hailed, not just as a belated vindication of long-ignored U.N. resolutions but as some corrective to the decade of shame and inaction that had just passed in Bosnia and Rwanda. But such is not the case. An apparent consensus exists, among millions of people in Europe and America, that the whole operation for the demilitarization of Iraq, and the salvage of its traumatized society, was at best a false pretense and at worst an unprovoked aggression. How can this possibly be?

THERE IS, first, the problem of humorless and pseudo-legalistic literalism. In Saki’s short story The Lumber Room, the naughty but clever child Nicholas, who has actually placed a frog in his morning bread-and-milk, rejoices in his triumph over the adults who don’t credit this excuse for not eating his healthful dish:

“You said there couldn’t possibly be a frog in my bread-and-milk; there was a frog in my bread-and-milk,” he repeated, with the insistence of a skilled tactician who does not intend to shift from favorable ground.

Childishness is one thing–those of us who grew up on this wonderful Edwardian author were always happy to see the grown-ups and governesses discomfited. But puerility in adults is quite another thing, and considerably less charming. “You said there were WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam had friends in al Qaeda. . . . Blah, blah, pants on fire.” I have had many opportunities to tire of this mantra. It takes ten seconds to intone the said mantra. It would take me, on my most eloquent C-SPAN day, at the very least five minutes to say that Abdul Rahman Yasin, who mixed the chemicals for the World Trade Center attack in 1993, subsequently sought and found refuge in Baghdad; that Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, Saddam’s senior physicist, was able to lead American soldiers to nuclear centrifuge parts and a blueprint for a complete centrifuge (the crown jewel of nuclear physics) buried on the orders of Qusay Hussein; that Saddam’s agents were in Damascus as late as February 2003, negotiating to purchase missiles off the shelf from North Korea; or that Rolf Ekeus, the great Swedish socialist who founded the inspection process in Iraq after 1991, has told me for the record that he was offered a $2 million bribe in a face-to-face meeting with Tariq Aziz. And these eye-catching examples would by no means exhaust my repertoire, or empty my quiver. Yes, it must be admitted that Bush and Blair made a hash of a good case, largely because they preferred to scare people rather than enlighten them or reason with them. Still, the only real strategy of deception has come from those who believe, or pretend, that Saddam Hussein was no problem.

Isn’t it interesting how much better Hitchens writes than his critics? If he were an oped writer for the New York Times, which he obviously should be, the humiliation factor alone could change history. (ht: Rick Ballard)