Danner vs. Hitchens: "How Should We Use Our Power? Iraq and the War on Terror"


Christopher Hitchens, Journalist; I.F. Stone Fellow, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Mark Danner, Staff Writer, The New Yorker; Professor, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Moderated by Orville Schell, Dean, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Mark Danner: In his State of the Union address, President Bush gave a very eloquent speech that was full of fear, and that answered to me what is really the underlying question: What kind of a country are we going to be and on what basis will we act in the world? Will it be out of fear and distrust of the rest of the world, acting as a muscle-bound troll, secure in our power, flaunting it, blustering? Or will we act cooperatively, multilaterally, trying to make the world better?

This is the third time in the last century that Americans have gathered together to address this question. The first time was 1919, after the First World War, when Woodrow Wilson urged the United States to join the League of Nations. He was defeated in that fight. The second was the late 1940s, when those people we now know as "the wise men" led by President Harry Truman put together the world system that has led us through the Cold War, NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Western alliance. We are working on the same question today in the shadow of an event that has terrified the country: the attacks of 9/11. Since that time President Bush has put forward a certain view of the world, dividing it into good and evil.

The proposed war in Iraq has fit under this rubric: Saddam is an evil dictator, he is erratic, he has weapons of mass destruction, he will never disarm. There must be regime change. "Regime change" is one of the most noxious euphemisms American foreign policy makers and politicians have yet devised. It belongs up there with "surgical strike," for it suggests that the U.S. can change regimes in Iraq with all the difficulty and muss of changing a shirt. We're talking about attacking, bombing and occupying a major Arab country. During Bush's speech tonight there was not a word about occupation.

As reasons for going to war, the president tonight cited weapons of mass destruction; the risk of giving weapons to terrorism; and an underlying, strategic reason — that an unstable dictator would dominate the Persian Gulf region. But in the days after 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld said, in a meeting on September 25, 2001, courtesy of Bob Woodward, "As part of the war on terrorism, should we be getting something going in another area other than Afghanistan so that success or failure in progress isn't measured just by Afghanistan?" Condoleezza Rice: "Should they worry about launching military action elsewhere as an insurance policy in case things in Afghanistan went bad, they would need successes early in any war to maintain domestic and international support." The United States' rapid victory in the 1991 Gulf War and the immediacy of watching it unfold live on CNN has redefined people's expectations about warfare.

The inspectors are spread out across Iraq. It is impossible now for it to develop further weapons of mass destruction. It is clear that the nuclear program has been dismantled; ElBaradei has already said that. The inspection regime can be strengthened with the addition of more inspectors, the imposition of smart sanctions directed toward any implements used toward making weapons of mass destruction, and the U.S. should declare a policy whereby it will feel free to strike from the air those facilities that it suspects are making nuclear weapons, if those are indeed found and inspectors are denied access. Iraq is effectively contained. Five thousand highly trained religious fanatics — Al Qaeda — cannot defeat the U.S. But the United States can defeat the United States. It can defeat the United States by occupying a major Arab country, taking it over and serving as a major recruitment sergeant for Al Qaeda.

Christopher Hitchens: I'll begin with a term that everybody knows: "no-fly zone," the practice by which Anglo-American and formerly French aircraft prevent Saddam Hussein from operating against the Shi'a or the Kurds. They don't have UN authorization. I feel that I'm up against an illusion that the U.S. has the power to decide these matters, rather than simply to influence them, that all power rests in the hands of Washington. Unfortunately, to correct the paranoids, and perhaps also to redress the hubris of the neoconservative intellectuals, such is not the case. What we are able to do is rather limited. But what we must recognize is that the war, or the engagement, with Saddam's regime has already begun. The policing of the no-fly zones is a declaration of war; it's a daily act of hostility. The Iraqi regime is within its legal right to try and bring those planes down and enable itself once again to fashion its rule upon Kurdistan and upon the south, but it's prevented from doing so by force. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, the forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan — which I choose as my side in this because I don't find anything particularly menacing in President Bush saying that sides must be chosen in matters of principle and struggles of freedom — are at war with the bin Ladenist gang known as Ansar al-Islam, which operates solely with the intention of destroying the independent Kurdish leadership and state. Why it should choose this as the first target of its bin Ladenist holy war, why it should choose to make war on the same enemy as Mr. Hussein has, I leave to you to determine, though I have a very good suspicion myself.

There is no escaping this confrontation. There is no neutralist or abstentionist position to be taken. The only position that cannot be occupied is that of "wait and see." We are already engaged. In some ways I find myself exhilarated by this prospect, because I don't know any Iraqi or Kurd who hasn't been waiting for the day when the Saddam Hussein regime is completely dead and buried. We owe a duty to these people, having betrayed them and disappointed them so much in the past. We also owe a duty to the four million Iraqis who are forced to live overseas in exile from their own country, terrified for their families. These four million people, out of 22 or 23 million, are qualifi ed, educated, honest, hard-working and productive, have the right of return and it's a privilege to say that one is on their side and able to hasten that day.

It hasn't always been possible to say this in defense of the policy of the U.S. administration. It might be called, perhaps with not too much of a stretch, a Hegelian moment — I mean Hegel's famous phrase about the cunning of history — that by a long series of mistakes and crimes and blunders and other evolutions and accidents, the U.S. has placed itself or has emerged upon the right side of history in this region.

There are four principal reasons why I believe that to be true. First, there is a moral imperative for regime change in Iraq. Ever since the revolutions of 1989 that we thought would bring an end to the Cold War and the simultaneous terror of nuclear annihilation and the arms race, our hopes and our peace have been repeatedly spoiled, ruined, or compromised by the revival of the megalo-maniacal, single-leader despotisms: Slobodan Milosevic; Saddam Hussein in his annexation of Kuwait; and Kim Jong Il. But we will outlive such regimes; this will be one of the tests.

Second, the oil resources of the world do not belong to whoever is in charge in Iraq, and we have the right to say that the oil of the region should be declared as common property. Blood for oil was shed when Saddam Hussein was able to gas the Kurds at Halabja and nothing was said by the administration. It was also fascism for oil; we stood by and preferred the stability of the regime to matters of principle.

Danner: I feel like I'm debating Hegel a bit, because though Christopher's address was a stirring one, I'm not sure what his reasons are for attacking, invading and occupying Iraq. First, "the war has already begun" — the no-fly zones are in existence and they're being patrolled every day. That is a reason to say one needn't invade. The Kurds are being safeguarded, air defenses are being destroyed when they threaten alliance planes. Iraq, no matter how much we talk about an aggressive dictator, is being effectively contained.

There is no escaping this confrontation — I agree with that. The question is whether you believe the U.S. can now protect itself by occupying a major Middle Eastern country. Christopher and I have spent our adult lives thinking about this question: How should we use our power? I've written about Central America, Haiti — in which we backed for many years a horrible dictator, then helped him into exile, then made possible a democratic election in which Father Aristide was elected, then stood by while he was overthrown in a coup, then returned him to power with an invasion and occupation, and then essentially let the country drift into, as Bush would say, "chaos and disorder." I've learned to suspect dreaming imperial dreams. I've learned to suspect American language, which comes very naturally to Americans, about freedom, liberation and making the world safe. I think of American foreign policy as a spotlight pointed here and there for a few brief moments; we learn about a country and then the spotlight moves on, and in the darkness you find ruins, destruction and death.

Our duty first of all is to Americans. The idea that we can spread democracy throughout the Arab world by attacking, invading and occupying Iraq is a fantasy. It is unclear whether an occupation would stretch long enough, be firm enough and have sufficient soldiers to bring some kind of new stability to Iraq based on some kind of democratic order, given the sectarian differences in the country, the history of minority regimes and that the only nationwide institutions in Iraq are the army and the secret police which are Sunni dominated, minority dominated. To establish a democratic system there is going to be extremely difficult, and it's going to take dedication, sacrifice and money.

Let us say that Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle do prevail and that the occupation continues for ten years. The question then becomes whether the fights for power within Iraq, the attacks on American troops, the political struggles over retribution to get the torturers out of the government, can possibly be contained by an American occupation regime without causing enormous political difficulty throughout the Middle East. Although the administration argues that democratization will spread like dominoes through the Middle East — where have we heard that before? — it is much more likely after an American attack and occupation that autocratic control and repression will be strengthened among Iraq's neighbors, even those that are taking tentative steps to liberalization. You'll have anti-American demonstrations opposing military action against Iraq. It would be nice to know a little more about what the administration has planned for the occupation. The president has been absolutely studious in not talking about it.

I have to return finally to the point about Al Qaeda. What was Al Qaeda trying to do when it attacked those buildings on September 11? They were after a reaction, an overreaction on the part of the U.S. They hoped the U.S. would come into Afghanistan and kill tens of thousands of civilians. They are trying to build a political movement in support of Islamist regimes throughout the Arab world, notably in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda cannot destroy the U.S.; the U.S. can walk into a trap that Al Qaeda has set for it and destroy itself politically throughout the Middle East, creating havoc where none existed before.

Hitchens: We can't know everything in advance any more than the people who urge caution upon us can be sure that their policy would not lead, as it has so far, to calamity. But we do know this: In the most difficult, dangerous and mountainous terrain of northern Iraq, that had been the most cleansed, bombarded, persecuted and impoverished of the entire country, we have now 21 newspapers in Arbil, a parliament, several parties and four female judges. The most recent parliamentary debate there was on whether or not to abolish capital punishment, even though they hold a number of bin Ladenist prisoners recently caught while attempting to kill the elected leadership of this area. Furthermore, there are Internet cafés, the free exchange of goods, trade movement and a certain amount of prosperity to go with it.

Those of us who talk about regime change, in other words, are not sucking this out of our thumbs. The ones who are being utopian are those who believe that regime preservation can go on any longer in Iraq. On this matter of containment, therefore, and of realism, bear in mind the following: When he was giving up his invasion, occupation and massacre of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein gave the order that its oil fields should be blown up, when he had nothing to gain and everything to lose, and when he had been warned very solemnly by the then-Bush administration of dire consequences should he do anything so vandalistic. He has continued ever since to risk his own life. The idea that he can both stay in power and develop weapons of mass destruction — clearly this course of insanity means a great deal to him, and it cannot really be said that a man who's self-evidently now approaching his Ceausescu moment of political, moral, personal and political breakdown, is a safe bet. The implosion of his regime is a certainty. And it will deliver to the international community an impoverished, terrified, long-isolated and sectarian Iraq.

The course of prudence and caution is to be ready with as large a force as may be needful: military, medical, political and with nutrition, to begin the long process of the rehabilitation of Iraq, the reconstitution of its oil industry and the rehabilitation of its much damaged people. This will be a task that will fall upon the international community. The U.S. administration is to be congratulated for deciding to prepare to undertake this before it will be needed. No one else could do it; even if the United Nations were to vote unanimously and urgently that it be done at once it would still be to Washington that they would direct that request.

I remember being told less than two years ago that if you kill Osama bin Laden, thousands more bin Ladens will rise in his place. I didn't think so myself; he looks like a one-of-a-kind guy to me, as does Saddam Hussein. But if people rise up to take his place they'll be killed as well. There are more of us than there are of them, and we are smarter, cleverer and more tolerant; and we, too, believe that our culture and civilization mustn't be offended, defamed, raped and defiled.

Danner suggested that what Osama bin Laden got — the total destruction of the regime that sheltered him — is what he wanted, that we were playing into his hands by doing that. I do not think so. How are we to predict what will offend these people? What is the reason given in the Al Qaeda communiqué praising and justifying the murder of Australian holidaymakers in the island of Bali recently? Because Australian troops took part in the independence process that separated East Timor from Indonesia. Osama bin Laden has repeatedly claimed that East Timor has no right to independence because its people are Christian, and Indonesia is Muslim and should be under the caliphate, so anyone who helps the martyred people of East Timor — I use the word martyred metaphorically and not fanatically — must therefore expect to be killed.

Danner: My proposition is that we shouldn't do what Osama bin Laden wants because it's stupid. We should act in the best interests of our country, which would lead us to act in a way that will not bring more terrorism to our shores, which will not shift the political winds decisively against us in the Middle East and put allied regimes under great stress. It would encourage us to fight the war on terror without buying into the political program launched by Osama bin Laden perhaps a decade ago.

There will not be an aggressive attack from Iraq. There are ways to devise policies to deal with this country. If on 9/11 you said, The next thing we should do after these religious fanatics attacked the U.S. is go into the Middle East and occupy a country of 23 million for an unlimited amount of time, it would have seemed bizarre. It still should.

Hitchens: Danner said that each succeeding stage of intervention in Iraq was better than the last. Look at what we've accomplished with intervention: The Kurds are protected in the north, the Shi'a are protected in the south; it doesn't look like they can rebuild their nuclear reactors or that they want to be doing very much more exploiting of terrorism, and other weapons of mass destruction have been downgraded. Every successive stage of intervention in Iraq has been better than the last.

I'm only arguing that this should be completed. I wonder who wishes it hadn't been completed in 1991, when it could and should have been. There were two arguments against it — one good, the other bad. The argument of the Bush administration, supported by Mr. Powell, Mr. Armitage and others, was, We didn't have a mandate to do anything except reconstitute Kuwait as a member state of the United Nations. Those who say that Republicans are hungry for war, conquest and the rest of it should bear that in mind. However, there was also a bad reason: They hoped that having been taught a lesson, Saddam Hussein would become again what he had previously been — a loyal client of the U.S. and a reasonable poodle, someone who understood who was boss. Saddam Hussein's most genocidal crimes were committed when he was an ally of Washington, D.C., and that can't be faced. That was blood for oil, and that's when you should have put your silly placards up. The anti-war movement acts as if the fate of the Kurdish people is a matter of indifference.

Remember what I said about what Saddam did on his way out of Kuwait. See what he does now with the sanctions that only punish his people and not him. Those who say give the inspectors more time are protracting the sanctions. The only two variables are the sanctions or the regime. Ten percent of every trade in and out of Iraq is taken by the Ba'th Party and its clientele. They are using the money to reequip for another war; their past record is one of being irrationally vicious and dangerous. That seems to me to complete the case for finishing a job that is already 12 years out of date.

This is war, not between civilizations, but for civilization. In the Arab and Muslim world there are innumerable allies of pluralism, of free expression, of democracy, and many more potential ones. It's a matter of deciding who is going to win the civil war within the Arab and Muslim world that has been going on a long time and that has now tried to engulf our own society.

Danner: Christopher's remarks have been directed on two points: Saddam Hussein is bad; Osama bin Laden is bad. I agree — they are bad — but the question we're debating is whether it is wise to go to war in the Persian Gulf and to occupy Iraq. I'm startled to hear that the regime is imploding. I'm not sure quite what this means; it strikes me a little like a policeman batting somebody over the head until they bleed, and then arresting them for littering. I have not seen any evidence of implosion and I don't know anyone else besides Christopher who argues that it is. If indeed it's true, because of inspectors all over the country, because of no-fly zones in the north and south, because of diplomatic pressure, then we should let the regime implode and let someone else take power. What I object to is the necessity of invading and occupying the country and constructing a new Iraq.

Christopher has described the sorry history of 1991, when U.S. troops stood by and essentially watched Saddam Hussein massacre tens of thousands of Shi'a in the south and Kurds in the north. Why did the U.S. not act then? Where has this recent absolute obsession with democracy come from? Though the administration is split over this, our bottom-most intentions in Iraq are strategic ones. Once you concede that these are the interests, this seems futile and possibly self-defeating politically, particularly since the regime can be handled by a strong containment regime that is already half in place, and it can be constructed with the help of the United Nations and our allies.

Hitchens: There is no ground to assert that were Iraqis or Kurds to rule themselves there would be chaos; that they might need a permanent occupation. It could very well be that the additional 12 years of misery, shame, bankruptcy, murder and terror that have been inflicted on the remainder of the country will require some kind of guardianship, for the refugees to be allowed to return and resume work for the oil industry. When that Iraqi pumping starts again, when they can call their oil their own, and when the oil isn't being used for the financing of a parasitic, sadomasochistic Caligula and his system, another good thing will happen: the Saudi Arabian oil monopoly in the region will be broken forever.

Inspection is a ridiculous word in this context. What the people on the Blix team are doing is really a verification effort. There is no provision by any international agency for anything more than the verification of compliance. To inspect a country the size of Iraq you would need a regime change. You'd need to be the government of Iraq in order to verify what's happening at every site.

Furthermore, Kofi Annan — who is not the sap that some people take him for, but he's certainly not a hawk — wanted to reappoint Rolf Ekeus, the distinguished Swede and great international diplomat and civil servant who conducted the inspections in 1991 and verified and blew up more weapons of mass destruction than had been destroyed in the war. But his nomination was vetoed by France and Russia, vetoed by delegations made up of the clientele of Saddam Hussein's oil indus-try, in favor of Hans Blix, a man with a proven record of failure, who'd certified Iraq as exemplary in its compliance all through the 1980s and 1990s, and certified North Korea for good measure.

I'll be very glad the day I see unilateralist in the same sentence as France or Russia in The New York Times. In Flaubert's Education Sentimental, there's a banker, "a man so corrupt that he would happily have paid for the pleasure of selling himself." Jacques Chirac had to run for reelection —

Schell: All right, Mr. Hitchens —

Hitchens: — in order to stay out of jail for corruption, which included bribes from Iraq. This is unilateralism and it should be opposed by American internationalism.

Danner: One can ridicule the inspection regime all one wants and the UN is an absolutely fine thing to throw bric-a-brac at; it's an old profession. The fact is that this inspection regime eliminated their nuclear weapons programs during the 1990s, and no one is arguing that that did not work.

Hitchens: Under condition of occupation.

Danner: The fact is that it did work. And the question is, What are we trying to accomplish in Iraq? If it's about a threat, which is what the administration has said again and again, harping on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, then that threat can be dealt with, short of all of the risks of occupation and invasion. But we don't like this man; we want to remake the Persian Gulf. If people don't like it, notably most of the rest of the world, then we say the hell with you. And we think that we have a preponderance of power that we won't necessarily need allies.

Hitchens: Anyone who believes that the Iraqi regime has not now demonstrated material breach of a unanimous Security Council resolution has all the explaining to do. Those of us who knew that this would happen were right, and we will be proved even more right when Saddam's regime implodes, and when we find the mass graves and secret prisons and see what's under some of those palaces and mosques and when we get the testimony of the victims and survivors. A lot of people who say "no war with Iraq" when they mean "no quarrel with Saddam Hussein" are going to look — and I hope feel — very foolish.

Danner: One gets in a position of simply arguing for the Iraqi regime, and I am not here to do that. Do you want to use the United Nations resolution as an excuse to make war? There is a process out there that will protect the U.S. from Saddam Hussein. The European allies do not feel the kind of threat that we seem to feel in Washington and they are a lot closer. So we're back again to the question of, How do we use our power? If the issue is bringing democracy to the Middle East, then we are talking about imperial dreams that we've been warned about again and again. John Quincy Adams once said, "Go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." In the end, America "might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit." This has to do with our attitudes toward the world, with how we act in the world.

Hitchens: I warmly second that. I don't stipulate war, I don't stipulate invasion and I don't stipulate occupation. I stipulate the U.S. should be on the side of regime change in the region. There wouldn't be a single verifier or inspector in Iraq if it weren't for the absolutely believable threat of force. Iraq's repeated defiance of all these resolutions on genocide, on human rights, on weapons, and the respect of the borders of other countries, and the support for international terrorism, if allowed to continue would be a far greater negation of the principles and the practice and the institution of the United Nations —

Danner: If you are not for war —

Hitchens: War requires that two countries pit their armies against one another for indefinite combat. I'm willing to bet you now that there will be no such engagement in Iraq.

Danner: I see we're redefining the words.

Hitchens: I haven't used the word war all evening. There will be no war, but there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, long overdue.

Danner: Orwell would be proud of that construction. If implosion is determinative, it will happen no matter what we do, then why indeed need there be a ruthless brief military intervention, not defined as war.

Hitchens: If we said, Let's watch the place fall in on itself as the regime collapses, and see what happens, then you would get ethnic strife, revenge killings and a total social breakdown and yes, you would tempt other countries or factions within them to intervene. That would be the most irresponsible outcome of all. Bear in mind, this is taking place on top of about 9 percent of the earth's proven oil resources and it's not a matter of indifference if someone with a dirty bomb or some other device decides to try and ignite them again. There should be an international readiness to interveneand place Iraq in a friendly internationalist trusteeship.

Answers to Written Questions from the Floor:

Q: If there is a moral imperative for regime change in Iraq, is there a similar imperative for regime change in North Korea?

Hitchens: In North Korea, levels of horror occur that Saddam Hussein could only dream of. The citizen is entirely the property of the state and the entire state of society is organized permanently for war. This party state, this fantasy leader, will face and suffer the condemnation of history and will collapse, but under circumstances that might not be favorable to us if we can't help shape them. The difference in this case is that we are not able to influence this outcome militarily. I've been to the Demilitarized Zone that divides Korea. It's only something like a 40-minute drive from the capital city of South Korea, Seoul, which is now, after a long and honorable struggle in which I was proud to play some part, the capital of a thriving democracy. It's within range of an extraordinary number of North Korean weapons systems.

Schell: But do you favor regime change in North Korea?

Hitchens: Yes I certainly do. But I'm saying it cannot be brought about by a military intervention, because it's been war-gamed. Another war on the Korean Peninsula will begin with the destruction of Seoul.

Danner: The question was really about whether, given the administration's statement about weapons of mass destruction and the axis of evil, they weren't being inconsistent in calling the North Korea situation now not a crisis and keeping it off the front page and turning determinatively toward Iraq. I agree with Christopher that you cannot attack North Korea militarily; the risks are too great.

We're a year now from the axis-of-evil speech in which the idea of attacking Iraq was introduced by President Bush. The North Korean situation has declined precipitously; but as inspectors have moved into Iraq and troops have surrounded the country, inspectors have been thrown out of North Korea, it has withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and nuclear material that was under seal and observation has been taken out. The Bush administration thought they could deal with an ideologically fueled disaster on the Korean Peninsula by yelling about it and denouncing Kim Jong Il and not dealing with it diplomatically. That strikes me as much more dangerous to U.S. interests and allies, that we're essentially keeping on the back burner. We found out about the uranium program that was started there in October but it was kept from Americans for a period of weeks while the congressional vote on Iraq went on.

Hitchens: Listen to Mr. Danner: North Korea threw out the inspectors, resumed production, put the uranium rods back into the reactors — did this under an inspection regime. Not a very high vote of confidence in the ability of inspectors to stop proliferation.

Danner: That's a ridiculous point. They pulled out of the inspection regime. The nuclear material was contained for a half dozen years.

Hitchens: Every inducement and every kindness was being shown toward the Kim Jong Il regime while this process was going on, which seems exactly to argue against the reliance upon trust, inspection or verification. These things all exist at the whim of one-party madmen who can negate them at any moment, and we no longer wish to live at their will.

Danner: The regime in place kept this nuclear material under observation for eight years and it worked. To say that throwing out inspectors proves that the inspection regime can't work is to say that the Non-Proliferation Treaty itself simply doesn't work. Without the Non-Proliferation Treaty we would have nuclear regimes all over the world.

Hitchens: It doesn't work with megalomaniac one-party states.

Schell: Why is it proving so hard to build a multilateral coalition behind this war?

Danner: A lot of other people think it's a stupid thing to do. It's all very well to make fun of the French, the Germans. To say that their motives have to do with oil contracts — as if the U.S. didn't have similar motives in Iraq. Our major allies think this is a foolish thing to do because this country can be contained indefinitely.

Hitchens: It isn't that hard to assemble an international coalition. First, the relevant United Nations Security Council resolution was passed unanimously and included the vote of Syria, among others. The only question now is whether the Iraqi contempt for this resolution, which has been admitted by the notorious softy Mr. Blix, will be considered a material breach or not. An objective person cannot be of two minds about that.

Second, I would draw a distinction between the behavior of Mr. Chirac, who built Saddam Hussein a nuclear reactor a few years ago knowing what he wanted it for, and who as I say is a pimp and on the take; and Herr Schroeder, who has to deal with a public opinion that has a very strong tendency to neutralism and a great reluctance to have German soldiers outside the borders of Germany.

I have as good a claim to be a European as some people. My father's family comes from Cornwall and my mother's family comes from what was once Breslau and is now Wroclaw in Poland; and I'm a member of the International Advisory Board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which contains on its letterhead a very large number of former statesmen from Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, where the preponderance of the countries of the former Warsaw Pact — who favor making an issue of the principle of human rights, as well as its inevitable partner, aggression and terrorism — is impressive to see, and a great deal more impressive than the bleatings of gay Paris.

Schell: If we use force to eliminate a regime we despise, who else is on the list?

Danner: I can't speak to who else is on the list. It's clear that the administration hopes that in some way this will be a lesson to others. It's unclear what kind of lesson will be delivered; it may be a lesson that it is better to have nuclear weapons, as Kim Jung Il does, than to have a program that is aimed toward at some point making them. That is, any regime in the sights of the U.S., or that can be thought to be a rogue regime, had better get nuclear weapons that can detera U.S. invasion as quickly as they can. It's interesting the effect in the last year that the administration has had both by promulgating and including North Korea in this "axis of evil," and by speaking very aggressively to them and suggesting in effect that North Korea will be next — North Korea has responded aggressively in their turn.

Hitchens: If we are to be absolutely callous about this, which I don't necessarily recommend, North Korea can't really threaten anyone except South Korea at present, and conceivably Japan. It does raise the threat that Japan would renounce its anti-nuclear constitution if faced by North Korean nuclear weapons, so there would then be a triangle of nuclear powers in the area — China, North Korea and Japan — that would be very destabilizing. And Taiwan conceivably too, that's much worse. Most intriguing to me was the help that North Korea got from Pakistan in developing its program, trading missiles and so on, because obviously the thing that was wrong with the axis-of-evil speech was not the two main states that it did mention, which the president got exactly right — North Korea and Iraq — but the one it mentioned wrongly, Iran, which is in transition to democracy. If you consult the Iranian street, you'll find they're all solidly in favor of regime change in Iraq next door, and looking forward to it as an ally in their own struggle for transformation. The president was unwilling to name the two regimes that really were behind Al Qaeda: the Saudi Arabian oligarchy and the Pakistani secret police.

Schell: We're up to our neck in nation building in Afghanistan, and if we enter Iraq we will be over our head in nation building. Comment?

Hitchens: A million and a half Afghans have returned to their country, an enormous humanitarian crisis was averted, and though it isn't true that all Afghan women have been emancipated from the worst kind of totalitarianism, it's true of quite a large and growing number of them; and furthermore, Afghanistan cannot threaten us anymore. Obviously it would be good if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was building an autobahn system in Afghanistan and helping to train an Afghan national army. Afghanistan has nothing with which to pay for this — it's a mendicant country — whereas Iraq, when emancipated from beggary and exploitation, is potentially able to pay for itself and its reconstitution. It has an enormous pool of talented, educated and qualified people upon which to draw. So to say that you cannot help both Afghans and the Iraqis at the same time is to use them against each other in quite a shameful way, and also to avoid what we're really talking about, which is how likely is it that we can simply disengage from Iraq at this point?

Danner: Afghanistan is indeed in some ways better off. On the other hand there are pockets of Al Qaeda around the country, Mullah Omar is still at large, warlords control most of the country outside Kabul, the U.S. has opposed using its own military forces — or those of its allies — outside the capital and has been very chary about rebuilding. I agree that it isn't perhaps necessarily an argument to use about Iraq. But it does suggest that the U.S. has a relatively limited attention span. This administration came to power very suspicious about nation building, highly critical of the Clinton administration's efforts in Kosovo and Bosnia, which it called "foreign policy as social work," and does not support long-term occupations and rebuilding of countries.

Hitchens: The question I keep trying to face people with is this: Who imagines that the task of rescuing and recuperating a maimed and bleeding Iraq is not going to come to us whatever we do? So the question is: In what way will we be helping Iraq to recover itself? In what way will we be helping its society, its industry and its people? The option of not doing this does not exist.

Danner: That's not true.

Schell: What do you think will happen in the next few weeks?

Danner: The president seems determined to go forward with this war. One of the lines he used in his State of the Union address — "If Saddam Hussein does not disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him" — comes essentially from you; it is a response to public opinion polls and other indications on the part of the American people of skepticism about this war. That kind of apprehension has caused this administration to alter its policy. We should realize that we are doing something important, that what you think matters and is being taken into account.

Hitchens: Everyone should decide how they would vote themselves if they were to be a delegate of the United Nations — not how they would vote if they knew how everyone else was going to vote. You were right earlier when you said that the Bush administration came in skeptical of nation building, that they had been skeptical of previous interventions to rescue or recuperate Bosnia and Kosovo, and you would have been even righter to say that the oil industry types that are well-known to be close to the administration made as their first demand in respect to Iraq that the sanctions be lifted and that normal business be resumed because the U.S. was being cheated of so much trade in the region.

The Bush administration came into power hoping to conciliate the Iraqi regime and hoping for a quiet life in the Middle East. It has taken quite a lot to change its mind and the big change is this: We know that the enemies of our civilization and of Arab-Muslim civilization have emerged from what is actually the root cause of political slum of client states from Saudi Arabia through Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere that has been allowed to dominate the region under U.S. patronage, and uses people and resources as if they were a gas station with a few fly-blown attendants. To the extent that this policy, this mentality, has now changed in the administration, to that the extent that their review of that is sincere and the conclusions that they draw from it are sincere, should be welcomed. It's a big improvement to be intervening in Iraq against Saddam Hussein instead of in his favor. It's a regime change for us too.

What do I think is going to happen? I've been in London and Washington a lot lately and I can tell you that the spokesmen for Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush walk around with a look of extraordinary confidence on their faces as if they know something that when disclosed, will dissolve the doubts, the informational doubts at any rate, of people who wonder if there is enough evidence.

Danner: It's amazing they've been able to keep it to themselves for so long.

Hitchens: I know perfectly well that there are many people who would not be persuaded by this evidence even if was dumped on their own doorstep, because the same people didn't believe that it was worth fighting in Afghanistan even though the connection between the Taliban and Al Qaeda was clear.

But I think we know enough. What will happen will be this: The president will give an order, there will then occur in Iraq a show of military force like nothing probably the world has ever seen. It will be rapid and accurate and overwhelming enough to deal with an army or a country many times the size of Iraq. That will be greeted by the majority of Iraqi and Kurdish people as a moment of emancipation, which will be a pleasure to see, and then the hard work of the reconstitution of Iraqi society and the repayment of our debt - some part of our debt to them - can begin, and I say bring it on.

Mark Danner debates Christopher Hitchens, The Goldman Forum on the Press and Foreign Affairs, at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

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