Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Department of Down the Rabbit Hole

Among the creepiest effects of the Iraq quagmire has been the shifting of alliances by Christopher Hitchens and Patrick Buchanan.  

Both men are die-hard controversialists.  Hitchens is (or was) an Anglo-American lefty, hard to imagine without a cigarette in one hand and a whiskey in the other, of the sort who becomes more belligerent and yet perversely more brilliant as the night's boozing wears on.  Once upon a time, he was something of a role model to us at the Egg.  Buchanan, the sometime Nixon staffer and presidential candidate, has grown increasingly isolated, as he has staked out positions so far to the right that they resemble no post-1930s Euro-American politician of any substance, unless you count Jean-Marie Le Pen.  And, like Le Pen, it has been impossible for most civilized people to take him seriously.

But then came Iraq.  Even earlier, just after 9/11, Hitchens detected in the Islamists the precise enemy of his tribe:  Fascism.  (Did he invent the term Islamo-fascism?  The debate will rage for decades, but we think he did.)  He went on the attack, and urged the nation to do likewise.  He has defended the Iraq invasion and, by extension, the Bush Administration, with his customary startling vigor, no doubt shedding old friends as rapidly as he has made new ones.  (In his typically beguiling manner, he has kept those new rightist friends at arms-length by couching much of his attack on Islamism in the rhetoric of militant atheism.  You see why we love the man?)

Buchanan also detected an ancestral enemy, one remembered only vaguely these days by the most palaeo of palaeoconservatives.  After all, a fear of "foreign entanglements" is at least as deeply rooted in the American political heritage as a zeal for quasi-imperial meddling.  Pat's people, the Republicans of yore, were isolationists.  And he saw, as early as anybody else, that the Bush Administration was not, by the traditional standard, even remotely conservative.  So while Hitchens was trying to rally support for Iraq from a leftist position, Buchanan was denouncing it from the right.

This presents a conundrum for those of us who considered Iraq to be a disaster from the very moment it was contemplated.  To whom now could we look for leadership in the arena of the talking heads?  Traditionally, after all, the enemy of my enemy and all that.  But to befriend Buchanan seems risible, and to abandon Hitch seemed, at least for a long time, like intellectual suicide.  After all, we told ourselves, God -- ahem -- knows that he's right about the new fascists.  And yet he seemed wrong about everything else.

Oh, it wasn't that much of a conundrum:  Hitchens left us behind long ago, on his pilgrimage (or is it hegira?) to the dark side of the Potomac.  And we still can't take Buchanan seriously.

So now it comes down to this.  Click the link for Pat's review of Hitch's new book on WWII, and be prepared to read between the lines.  Basically, Hitchens argues that the enemy -- Fascism -- was so evil, that we had a moral duty to use every tool available to us to defeat it.  This includes fire-bombing and even nuking civilian targets, expressly in order to terrorize the populations of Germany and Japan as the Nazis had terrorized Britain.  Buchanan mocks this argument on moral grounds, and ends with the oblique suggestion that the Nuremberg trials were a sham, because Allied officers were guilty of crimes comparable to their Nazi counterparts.

So, um, okay.  What Hitchens really means is that we should torture the hell out of anybody we capture in the Middle East, right?  So that means Buchanan must be right.  But wait:  Buchanan is an apologist for Hitler, so he can't be right.  Right?  

We were agonizing over this insoluble problem when -- holy cats!  Excuse us, but a rabbit just pulled a pocket-watch from its waistcoat.  We're off in hot pursuit.

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