Cole Hitchhikes


Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens makes a good case that Iraq was not the reason why New Orleans turned into a cross between Venice and San Quentin.

So, George Bush has already paid [for the administration's negligence after Katrina], as he should, a weighty political price for his literally fatal insouciance. What I cannot understand is why the people of Baghdad and Basra should be punished for a meteorological catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. We should get out and leave them to their own devices. We need the stuff at home, goddamn it. This has all the charm and beauty of John Kerry saying that we ought not to be opening firehouses in Baghdad while closing them in the United States. It also has all the easy appeal of a zero-sum, provincial, isolationist mentality.

The problem, argues Hitchens, isn't that there weren't enough troops because they're all in Iraq; the problem was that, though plenty of troops were present, the president does not have the authority to use soldiers in law enforcement roles without state approval, which he subsequently received.

Hitchens closes with this paean to liberal internationalism:

A favorite trope among those who try to politicize the justified outrage over New Orleans is the plight of the slum-dwellers and the dark-skinned, and quite right, too. But it's highly objectionable to be told, by those who go on in this way, that we should instantly dump the Iraqis and Kurds who are fighting for their lives in a slum that could become another slaughterhouse and plague-spot. There is something degrading and suspect here-why lavish any of our care and resources on the wogs? Does this suggestion do anything to diminish xenophobia and resentment "at home," at just the time and just the place where we don't need it? Am I expected to tell a homeless woman in Biloxi that she has just been ripped off by an Ay-rab? A scuttle from Iraq or from Afghanistan (where the Kabul-Kandahar highway also took a lot of time and equipment and manpower to build) would add to the number of stricken and broken cities in the world, and not reduce it. If liberalism and humanitarianism do not mean internationalism, they mean precisely nothing. Shame on those who try to turn the needy and the victims against each other.

Hitchens has taken his hits of late, most recently from Juan Cole, who, having graduated from professor to engaged boulevardier, is making efforts at style, though the end-result reads more like a circa 1950s communist party rag. All that's missing here is a reference to "paper tigers" and "running dogs":

Bush administration foot-dragging and ineptitude in handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans has profoundly demoralized his [sic] supporters on the right […] These bellicose intellectuals–a band of Wilsonian idealists, cutthroat imperial capitalists, Trotskyites bereft of a cause, and neo-patriots traumatized by Sept. 11 are now increasingly divided and full of mutual recriminations.

In the end, Hitchens has usually been on the right side of the debate on Iraq because when he writes about it he thinks of Iraqis, not the Bush administration. For all his purported knowledge of Iraq's Shiites, though, Cole, as well as many other war critics, are really addressing Washington, as well as readers almost solely interested in the war's impact on Washington.