The Rhetorical Hitcheroo

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At the risk of OD'ing on Christopher Hitchens deconstruction, I'd like to re-highlight one of the popinjay's most ridiculous and illustrative war-justifications from below:

The overthrow of Talibanism and Baathism, and the exposure of many highly suggestive links between the two elements of this Hitler-Stalin pact.

Wasn't the Hitler-Stalin pact, um, a pact—not some highly disputed set of "links"—and one that was signed publicly between two rampaging imperialist dictators in the midst of run-up to World War II? But to become upset by such analogical illiteralism misses the point of Hitchens' real ongoing rhetorical achievement, dubious though it is: More than any other person I'm aware of, he has made it safe for right-wingers to finally use the F-word just as often as the Left.

It used to be that Hitch deployed this Partisan Review-style vocabulary to convince his old Internationalist comrades that Yugoslavia was the next Spanish Civil War. But now it's just a violate-Godwin's-Law-for-free card, which a grateful pro-war nation has embraced, providing yet more evidence that there is no Lefty rhetorical trope the Right will despise enough to avoid co-opting completely.

Such deft rhetorical switchery and political shape-shifting leads to a lot of unintentional comedy, and here's my favorite: Hitchens' biggest new fans are especially fond of extrapolating from George Orwell's old saw about pacifism being "objectively pro-fascist," sometimes as headlines on links to Hitch's latest. But as Eric Blair's modern popularizer knows too well, Orwell—whose original essay, it should be mentioned, was referring to British pacifists during Hitler's bombing siege of London—repudiated his "objectively pro-fascist" line before the War was even over, in an essay about propaganda that's well worth your time.

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  1. I should emphasize just to make sure — it’s the *second* half of the quoted justification I find ridiculous and illustrative, not the first.

  2. Do the same thing to someone else that they did to you… Hitcheroo hitcheroo

  3. The basic point is that everything isn’t WWII and that an obssession with comparing everything to WWII tends to place one inside a rather confining box. For a point of comparison, consistently analogize our currrent situation to that of Athens in the Peloponnesian war and see what you consistently conclude. 🙂

  4. Did anyone else see Hitchens on The Daily Show recently? They actually got into a bit of a tiff. At one point Hitchens called Stuart “Sunshine”. Great stuff.
    FWIW, I thought Hitchens managed to put Jon on the ropes. Of course, Stuart had a home-court advantage and got the last word in.
    Perhaps Hitch should have just called him a “dick” since that seems to have been such a damning epithet to have hurled at Tucker Carlson. Somehow, I don’t see Hitchens ever stooping to that level.

  5. consistently analogize our currrent situation to that of Athens in the Peloponnesian war and see what you consistently conclude. 🙂

    Or filter everything through Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Oh wait, we already have someone who does that.

  6. The Hitler-Stalin pact was BEFORE WWII, not in the midst of it. It secured Hitler’s Eastern flank and freed him to invade Poland and later Western Europe.

  7. Hitchens-Stewart video here. I thought Stewart won.

    The Hitler-Stalin pact was BEFORE WWII, not in the midst of it.

    Tell it to the Czechs!

  8. “Wasn’t the Hitler-Stalin pact, um, a pact — not some highly disputed set of “links” — and one that was signed publicly between two rampaging imperialist dictators in the midst of World War II?”

    I commented on the “highly disputed set of “links” in the other thread. I keep thinking about what we gained in terms of the sacrifices.

    I really think the jig is up for the Iraq War’s supporters with this dissolution agreement or constitution–whatever you want to call it. The subject of why the war was worth it seems to be on their minds quite a bit lately–I’m sure that has nothing to do with Sheehan.

    …It’d be funny to watch the Iraq War supporter’s squirm for justification so–if only it weren’t for all the dead and wounded.

  9. Anyone with any intellectual integrity gave up on rationalizing the Iraq war long ago. All that’s left are the die hards that will never admit it was a bad idea.

  10. Hitchens problem is that his desire to be proven right 25-50 years from now is so often confounded by his desire to be completely wrong right now.

  11. there is no Lefty rhetorical trope the Right will despise enough to avoid co-opting completely.

    The difference is that the Left mostly has used the term “fascist” to describe democratically-elected governments like, say, that of the U.S.

    In this case people on the Right are using it to describe an ideology that advocates terrorizing and destroying enemy civilizations, with the eventual goal of world domination by a single, central power.

    Sometimes you can use the word accurately.

  12. Actually, anyone with “intellectual integrity” would have to say that no one knows how Iraq is going to turn out. That’s why foreign policy is difficult – you have to choose among options that are often all bad for various reasons and entail risk. Of course, you can always try to ignore this by flapping your arms and flying away into the Tinkerbel-fairy-godmother land of Libertarian-Left isolationism.

    Pretty much nobody on either side of the Iraq war argument gives a quarter damn about anything other then being “right” – and as Nathaniel Branden said “most people would rather be right than happy.”

  13. It seems to me that people who thought Iraq would be a “cakewalk” were the ones in Tinkerbell-fairy-godmother land.

  14. I don’t think Orwell “repudiated” his objectively pro-facsist definition but merely noted that it was useless for predicting the detailed behavior of individuals. His original point, that the effects of the actions of some people (such as pacifist) who were in their hearts anti-facsist were nevertheless outwardly indistinguishable from the actions taken by people who were actually pro-facsist.

    The same dynamic applies today. The actions of much of the “anti-war” movement are indistinguishable from those that would be taking by somebody who was earnestly pro-Saddam or pro-Jihardist. Certainly, Cindy Sheehan must seem like a gift from God for the fascist in Iraq. They would have gladly paid millions to get someone to do what she is doing for free.

    I would prefer a term like Fascist-symbiote because it better describes the relationship. Metaphorically, symbiotes do not have to like or respect each other to nevertheless have their fates linked. That certainly describes the relationship between those in the West who seek political advantage by opposing the liberation of Iraq and the Fascist in Iraq. The success of one leads to the success of the other in a feedback loop.

  15. “Actually, anyone with “intellectual integrity” would have to say that no one knows how Iraq is going to turn out.”

    Except that I’ve been talking about how the Bush plan would only result in a fundamentalist dominated mini-republic loosely allied with Iran for…oh…well over a year now. …On this very blog.

    …I think I mentioned the inevitability of exactly this outcome in my comments objecting to the Iraq War too. …From the run-up.

    On another tack, I suppose you could say the same thing about nuking the Sudan. …No one knows how that would turn out in the end, why not give it a shot?

    “That’s why foreign policy is difficult – you have to choose among options that are often all bad for various reasons and entail risk.”

    Central planning is tricky too–there’s so many variables! That’s why government intervention in the economy is such a bad idea. In the Iraq War, the Bush Administration assumed they could manage the Iraqi economy and everything else too. I don’t know why.

    …Oh, and risks are okay–assuming there’s some kind of benefit associated with taking them. What do you see as the upside to the Iraq War? …For the American people, that is.

    “Of course, you can always try to ignore this by flapping your arms and flying away into the Tinkerbel-fairy-godmother land of Libertarian-Left isolationism.”

    Isolationism is the traditional province of the Libertarian Right. The Powell Doctrine isn’t isolationist, and it isn’t loony either.

    “Pretty much nobody on either side of the Iraq war argument gives a quarter damn about anything other then being “right” – and as Nathaniel Branden said “most people would rather be right than happy.”

    I’ve found myself preoccupied with all the dead people. …and all the casualties too.

  16. I don’t think Orwell “repudiated” his objectively pro-facsist definition

    The thing that strikes me more and more — and it strikes a lot of other people, too — is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time. I don’t mean merely that controversies are acrimonious. They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects. I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point. […]

    Nobody is searching for the truth, everybody is putting forward a “case” with complete disregard for fairness or accuracy, and the most plainly obvious facts can be ignored by those who don’t want to see them. The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere. It would take many pages of this paper merely to classify them, but here I draw attention to one very widespread controversial habit — disregard of an opponent’s motives. The key-word here is “objectively”.

    We are told that it is only people’s objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are “objectively” aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once.

    I dunno, looks like “repudiated” to me.

  17. Shannon Love,

    The actions you took – advocating for the overthow of Saddam Hussein and the replacement of his regime by a majoritarian government, advocating for the overthrow of the Taliban regime that slaughtered the Iranian ambassador and his staff when Kabul was captured – are indistinguishable from those taken by people who are actually pro-Iranian mullahs. What does that make you?

  18. Shannon Love,

    Read what Orwell wrote. You’ll see that you’re flat out wrong (as usual). This is what one gets when one advocates ignorance as heartily as you do.

  19. Well Ken, you’ve merely answered my complaint by saying that you’ve been right all along, for well over year now in fact, and you’ve been saying how right you are right here on this blog … which kinda proves my point.

    I will respond to some specific points:

    (1) Iraq is not now fundamentalist dominated mini-republic loosely allied with Iran; in fact there are very good reasons for why even a Shia-dominated Iraq does not lead to an Iranian ally.
    Assuming even more Shia domination than there appears to be, the quietist school that is (at the moment) still asscendant in the Hazawa could just as well construct a Shia counterpoint to Iran. Neither you nor I (nor anyone in the Administration) knows how this political process will play out. The Iraqis themselves don’t know.

    (2) The Powell doctrine IS isolationist in that actually implementing it results in a non-interventionist foreign policy. It does this by imposing very high force requirements along with an unwritten demand that virtually every nation in the world support whatever we do. It’s also been discreditied in recent times; had we followed it in Afganistan for example, we would have committed a grave error … I’ll leave it to you to figure out the math behind that statement.

    (3) If you’re going to bring up causalites, that’s fine – we should all think of them. President Bush and everyone in the US who supported the Iraq war (including me) is personally responsible for our Iraq deaths. On the other hand, had we not invaded, everyone “against” the war would be personally responsible for whatever happened as a result of our failure to act – just like Bill Clinton and his administration are directly responsible for every death on 9/11 (still nearly double the American count in Iraq) since they did absolutely nothing about al-Quieda for 8 years – and they knew perfectly well what the threat was ….

    Finally, how about this: I admit freely that I may well be wrong about anything I’ve said above or elsewhere about the Iraq war in the past.

    Can you do the same for your previous statements?

  20. Also,

    When I say “Libertarian-Left”, I mean the current nexus between the Left and many Libertarians on foreign policy, not a particular wing of the Libertarians.

  21. “The actions you took …are indistinguishable from those taken by people who are actually pro-Iranian mullahs”

    Well, I’m am not sure the Mullahs ever wanted to have large US armies camped out on each side of Iran but for the sake of argument lets assume that they did. If I was actually pro-Mullah I might have advocated the overthrow of Saddam and the Taliban but at this point I would be advocating withdrawal from both areas in order to create a power vacuum that Iran could fill. Without some kind of outside assistance the Shia legitimately would fear they would be massacred by the Sunni again. They would turn to Iran for support. So my continued support for keeping US troops in Iraq is the best indicator I am not subjectively pro-Mullah.

    I think the major thing here is the concept of symbiosis. The more US soldiers the Facsist kill, the more powerful the “anti-war” movement, the more powerful the “anti-war” movement the more successful the Facsist. I don’t see how increased Iranian success benefits me politically at all. Indeed, any increase in Iranian power credited to the polices I advocate will only weaken my position.

    If I did, however, decide that the polices I advocated would rebound strongly in the favor of the Mullah’s it would be grounds for serious reflection on my part. I don’t see any such awareness on the part of members of the “anti-war” movement. The fact that they are advocating exactly those policies that the Fascist favor seems to cause them zero pause.

  22. Matt Welch,

    I think that Orwell was making a point about the tenor of political debate but perhaps I am wrong.

    The more important point is that Orwell was correct the first time. It might be rude to point out that sincere people can nevertheless aid the evil but it is also true. Warfare is a zero-sum game. Any action that has any effect must benefit one player at the expense of others. People who interfered with the Allied war effort in WWII were effectively aiding the enemy regardless of the purity of their motives. In his original essay, Orwell took an idiot to task for drawing a moral equivalence between wartime Britain and the Fascist states. Do you think he was wrong to do so? Should he have held his pen and not told the ugly truth in order to preserve peoples feelings?

  23. Could we all read this, say, six times over:

    The thing that strikes me more and more — and it strikes a lot of other people, too — is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time. I don’t mean merely that controversies are acrimonious. They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects. I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point

  24. I think that Orwell was making a point about the tenor of political debate but perhaps I am wrong.

    He was. He was also repudiating his former statement.

    In his original essay, Orwell took an idiot to task for drawing a moral equivalence between wartime Britain and the Fascist states. Do you think he was wrong to do so?

    Not at all. Generally speaking, I think it’s both inaccurate and dumb to use the word “fascist” to describe something that isn’t “fascist.”

    Should he have held his pen and not told the ugly truth in order to preserve peoples feelings?

    Have ever written anything that would give you that impression?

    The more important point is that Orwell was correct the first time.

    He specifically argued the second time that using such zero-sum analysis leads to distortion, not truth; propaganda, not accurate analysis of a real problem. I am more convinced by his second argument. In most things, Orwell became more right as he got older, not less.

  25. I have written a refutation of this post
    at Getting Orwell Wrong.

  26. Eric — These were my favorite bits:

    Yes, Orwell does observe “I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once”, but his “guilty” is a rhetorical flourish, a setup for his real point about confusing effects with intentions.

    and

    As for those who would like to use this “retraction” to take Orwell out of the fight…your behavior is objectively pro-fascist in precisely the sense he intended.

    Awe-inspiring, really.

  27. “Neither you nor I (nor anyone in the Administration) knows how this political process will play out. The Iraqis themselves don’t know.”

    The threat posed by a potential ally of a state sponsor of terror like Iran appears to be a much greater long-term risk to the American people than the threat Saddam Hussein posed under the watchful eye of the coalition.

    …I don’t need a crystal ball to see that this risk is undesirable.

    “The Powell doctrine IS isolationist in that actually implementing it results in a non-interventionist foreign policy.”

    Don’t tell that to the Somalis, Slobodan Milosovic, the Hatians or Manuel Noriega.

    …The Powell Doctrine in no way conflicts with a war of self-defense like Afghanistan.

    “If you’re going to bring up causalites, that’s fine – we should all think of them. President Bush and everyone in the US who supported the Iraq war (including me) is personally responsible for our Iraq deaths. On the other hand, had we not invaded, everyone “against” the war would be personally responsible for whatever happened as a result of our failure to act…”

    There are people who supported the war when they thought it was a war of self-defense who, when they found that the stories about WMD and Al Qaeda collaboration were bogus, withdrew their support. Others either don’t have the capacity for or access to the facts. …Unfortunately, very few people base what they believe on facts and logic–what they believe is a function of who they trust. I’m not sure I blame such people for misplacing their trust.

    It isn’t clear to me that people who refrain from acting are responsible for what evil minds accomplish amid inaction, especially in context.

    …In this context, we’re talking about American life versus the lives of Iraqi civilians, no? That’s a tough distinction to make, I know. Still, my primary concern is for the lives and welfare of the American people, and I expect that to be the primary concern of our policy makers as well. I hold them responsible, primarily, for the lives of American troops–not Iraqi civilians.

    “Can you do the same for your previous statements?

    I’ve admitted I was wrong–many times–on this blog. I’ve learned a lot from other commenters here–and some of the people who work here too.

    I was a huge champion of George W. Bush, for instance. I thought he was going to put this country back on the right road–I posted comments to the effect all over the place. How wrong I was!

  28. Shannon,

    “Well, I’m am not sure the Mullahs ever wanted to have large US armies camped out on each side of Iran.”

    Well, I am not sure that a single American antiwar liberal ever wanted Saddam’s regime to continue for a single day longer.

    It’s not terribly surprising that you can fairly easily come up with evidence that you are not pro-mullah. So can everyone you label “objectively pro-” whatever. It’s an idiotic trope, and you should knock off using it.

    As can your slimey “the more…the more…” logic. The more civilians that die in the fighting, the more popular opinion turns agains the occupation, the stronger the insurgency gets, the more solidiers get killed. That’s what we call “symbiosis” between hawks and terrorists. Har har har.

    Of course, you don’t seem to give a great deal of thought to the objective increase in terrorism that’s blown back from this war.

    Your entire argument for why it’s uniquely acceptable for you to slime you opponents with Nazi analogies relies on sloppy thinking, studied ignorance, and denial.

  29. Shannon Love,

    Warfare is a zero-sum game.

    No it isn’t. Numerous wars have ended with no winner or loser and during the middle ages and the Renaissance there was no way to make warfare a zero sum game (indeed, viewing it as a zero-sum game at this time would have been totally alien to their mindset). Of course you’re also the same individual who thinks that firearms led to decentralized militaries.

    You, like most people, confuse what happened in WWII with the historical nature of warfare.

    Was the allied bombing campaign morally equivalent to what the Nazis did to British cities? Certainly it was. Curtis LeMay felt that similar efforts made against Japanese cities would have been considered war crimes if the Japanese had won the war.

    Well, I’m am not sure the Mullahs ever wanted to have large US armies camped out on each side of Iran but for the sake of argument lets assume that they did.

    The U.S. doesn’t have a large army in Afghanistan. It would be helpful if you possessed some basic facts. Anyway, I am sure that the Iranians appreciate the fact that the U.S. military is bogged down in Iraq.

  30. “(1) Iraq is not now fundamentalist dominated mini-republic loosely allied with Iran; ”

    Correct, they’re strongly allied with Iran now:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/16/AR2005071601165_pf.html

  31. “I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point”

    Mewsifer, why would you state such a deliberate falsehood then:

    “just like Bill Clinton and his administration are directly responsible for every death on 9/11 (still nearly double the American count in Iraq) since they did absolutely nothing about al-Quieda for 8 years – and they knew perfectly well what the threat was ….”

    Bill Clinton sent plenty of cruise missiles Bin Laden’s way and he missed. And if I remember correctly the theocrats now in charge claimed he did it to take attention off the semen-stained dress that had been found. If he had pre-emptively invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban I would guess the theocrats would have impeached him again.

  32. From the article you cite:

    “But regional experts and many U.S. and Iraqi officials point out the stark differences between the two countries that suggest an Iranian theocracy might not be suited to Iraq. Iran is populated predominantly by Shiites who are Persian, an Indo-European ethnic group, while Iraq is predominantly Arab and its Shiite majority has long been repressed. Iraq’s most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, an Iranian-born Shiite, has rejected the active political role for clerics integral to the system Khomeini built in Iran.”

    The next line of my post you cut-and-paste above:

    “Assuming even more Shia domination than there appears to be, the quietist school that is (at the moment) still asscendant in the Hazawa could just as well construct a Shia counterpoint to Iran”

    Ken, I’m enjoying our discussion – Ill get to you.

  33. “Bill Clinton sent plenty of cruise missiles Bin Laden’s way and he missed. And if I remember correctly the theocrats now in charge claimed he did it to take attention off the semen-stained dress that had been found. If he had pre-emptively invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban I would guess the theocrats would have impeached him again”

    As you say, he missed. Did he follow up? Did he do anything effective? Anything? How many al-Q members were captured or killed during his administration though his policies? You are aware that the Afgan camps struck in the action you cite were mostly empty or inactive, and that the factory he also struck in Khartoum had *nothing* to do with any of this? Did he strike all the remaining camps that were active?

    The military called this TLAM-therapy for a reason.

    Did he point out to the American people what they were facing in the way his administration claims it did to the incoming Bush administration, i.e. that al-Q was “an existential threat” ?

    What have I said that’s false? None of what he did objectively accomplished anything; other than that useless strike, he did next to nothing.

    Given that there were all these momentous things unfolding, what was he doing getting his dick sucked by a 22 year old intern? What 22 year old girl would give the POTUS a blow job and not blab to her friends?

    But it doesn’t matter: you’ll note that Monica didn’t stop us from Kosovo, Operation Firefox, or, for that matter, a public adjustment of US policy in Iraq to “regime change” in 1998. Nothing was stopping him from decisive action agaisnt al-Q – he just didn’t do it.

    I’m allowing that he perhaps had good reason in his mind for not doing so, but he’s responsible nonetheless.

  34. I am objectively pro-blow job.

  35. Then get on your knees and show me what you’re made of.

  36. So Clinton first did “absolutely nothing” about al Qaeda to now “he did next to nothing”.

    I’m sure those who died when the medicine plant (that supposedly was a bin Laden chemical weapons plant) was blown up don’t agree with you.

  37. Focusing on the military actions Clinton took ignores the fact that most of the anti-terror activities during his term were intelligence operations aimed at disrupting Al Qaeda attacks and punishing the guilty. Plans to blow up LAX and to down a number of planes simultaneously over the Pacific Ocean were disrupted and the plotters captured.

  38. “Except that I’ve been talking about how the Bush plan would only result in a fundamentalist dominated mini-republic loosely allied with Iran for…oh…well over a year now. …On this very blog.”

    While you were predicting the worst possible outcome for the last year, I’ve been in Iraq working to prevent it. Your nightmare vision may yet come to pass, but it will only happen because you and people like you did everything that you could to undermine us. I wouldn’t be bragging about that if I were you.

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