Last Sunday night I went to the great debate over Iraq at the Wiltern Theater, which many of you may have caught on C-Span. The subject was billed as the Bush Administration's war policy on Iraq. Orville Schell, the dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California, which had co-sponsored the event, opened the evening with a ritual lament over the alleged absence of a national debate on the issue (that is, until now). Schell could have saved his breath.
First, there has been too much debate on the Iraq issue, which should have been decided by 17 U.N. resolutions and two congressional mandates to liberate this benighted nation by force. Second, since the debate was organized by institutions dominated by the left -- the School of Journalism and the LA Times -- there was on the platform not a single conservative or Republican to defend the President and his policy. (Anyone who doubts the leftist -- not liberal -- dominance of the media should reflect on this fact until they understand what has happened to the cultural institutions of this nation.)
To be sure, one of those present was the redoubtable and courageous Christopher Hitchens, who did as a good a job defending the American policy as possible, given that he still has a lingering foot, or perhaps merely only a big toe in the left. But, as would become apparent in the course of the evening, to hold demagogic charlatans like the Times’ own Robert Scheer to account, Htichens would have to have rethought his leftist positions on American policy in the Cold War and not just on policy of the post-Cold War years.
Hitchens began with a yeoman effort, designed to disarm the leftwing crowd. If the anti-war left had had its way during the last 13 years, he said, Kuwait would be the 19th Iraqi province, Kosovo would be a part of Greater Serbia (and tens of thousands more Albanian Muslims would be dead), and Afghanistan would still be under the rule of the Taliban.
What Hitchens did not say, and what it turned out was important for him to have said, was that if the antiwar left had had its way a billion people would still be living under Soviet Communism and consequently there wouldn't even have been an option to save Kuwait or liberate Afghanistan short of a nuclear war.
This gap in Hitchens’ argument allowed the two hard-line leftists Mark Kanner and Scheer to impersonate concerned moralists who would support a sensible American military policy towards Iraq. Containment worked against Stalin, they proclaimed -- as though either of them had supported containment of the Soviet empire. Both of them made a pass at the moral high ground by observing that Rumsfeld and others in the Bush Administration had once supported Saddam Hussein and -- of course -- "created" Osama bin Laden, suggesting that this made Hitchens' faith in their new policy both corrupt and absurd.
America’s support for Saddam Hussein was provided during the Iran-Iraq war, because Iran -- a country over three times as big as Iraq had recently been transformed by the first radical Islamic revolution and its Ayatollahs -- who shared the world vision of Osama bin Laden -- were leading crowds a million strong in Teheran shouting "Death to America." Support for Saddam was merely a way of preventing a victory for these Osamas avant la lettre from dominating the Middle East and 90% of the world's oil.
The policy seemed prudent -- particularly since the left and the Democratic Party -- prevented America from projecting its own power overseas. The same can be said for the anti-American canard that we created Osama bin Laden because we supported the Afghan resistance, which more than anything else led to the fall of the Soviet empire and the liberation of a billion slaves of leftist schemes. It was not America that created the Taliban – as Scheer asserted – but the inability of post-Vietnam America to exert extended influence in that the part of the world, thanks to the left, that made the Taliban possible.
Hitchens was too civil to point out that Scheer had made some mistakes of his own. Not only had Scheer opposed America's cold war against the Soviet Union for thirty years, but he had actually become a follower of North Korea's own Stalin, Kim Il-Sung. This was during his years as a leader first of the Red Family and then of the Red Sun Rising Commune in Berkeley. If a choice is necessary, I'll take Rumsfeld any time.
Even as Scheer was denouncing U.S. "imperialism" (the leopard hasn't changed its spots), he was busily suggesting that Communists weren't actually so bad, particularly the Vietnamese kind. Scheer was actually the author of a mendacious pamphlet in 1965, which the moderator referred to as some kind of honor, purveying the Communist propaganda line that the Vietnam war was about an indigenous revolution in the South and not about a Communist invasion from the North. Scheer's little pamphlet played a sinister role in convincing many young people to oppose their government's valiant effort to save South Vietnam from the fate that befell it. But no one on the platform mentioned the two and half million Indochinese who were slaughtered by Scheer's communist friends when the United States was forced to withdraw because of the pressure of the anti-war protests of the time.
According to Scheer there is no reason now for the United States not to "wait four months" to give the inspections time to work, while implying that he would then support a U.S. military action (something he has not done in his entire life) if they failed. No one on the platform discussed the difficulties of keeping 250,000 troops in the desert, during the summer heat, and spending a billion dollars a week to do it, while Democrats are complaining about the budget, and bivouacking them in an area where they would be a prime target of terrorist attacks. Indeed, no one discussed the problems involved in a military deployment with a fifth column "peace" movement led by active and self-identified Communists with links to North Korea, Cuba, China and Ramallah. But that is precisely the situation we are in.
I am constantly told that there is a new moderate left out there, which has learned the lessons of the Cold War and had second thoughts about its long service to the enemy cause, and is prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of American citizenship. I didn't see much evidence of it this night.
There was one heroic man of the left on the platform who understands that we are engaged in a battle for freedom and was willing to brave a hostile audience to say it. There was one tortured liberal, Michael Ignatieff, who did think we should go to war but couldn't find a civil word to say about the President who is leading us to that war. But there was the fact that two major institutions of the culture could not bring themselves to put a conservative on the platform. And there was the presence of two unreconstructed anti-American leftists who saw no threat ("rubbish" is what Mark Danner said to the very idea) from our enemies, but real menace from our "imperialist" selves. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.