Thursday, September 15, 2005
I journeyed to the belly of the beast – meaning Baruch College at Lex and 23rd -- last night to see George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens, two former socialists, debate at the invitation of The New Press, the International Socialist Review, the Nation Institute, the National Council of Arab-Americans and Democracy Now!. Former socialists? For sure, since Galloway has in recent years devoted himself to something quite different – “anti-imperialism” of the Anglo-American sort – and Hitchens defers his real love, literary criticism, so that he can fight actual, rather than imagined, fascism, an avocation largely abandoned by the Western left.
Since the argument was between confirmed old leftists (in the sense that Henry Higgins was a “confirmed old bachelor”), the audience was manifestly, jeeringly and unreservedly anti-Bush. Based on the timing and intensity of the cheers and boos and the tenor of the catcalls, there were essentially no supporters of George Bush in the room, although I imagine that there were a few who, like myself, were operating under deep cover. The division in the audience, which was profound, seemed to line up according to one’s attitude toward Israel, which more often than not predicts one’s attitude toward the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein. This is, of course, precisely the charge that anti-war types such as Galloway bring against those of us who support Operation Iraqi Freedom, intoning, as they do, the word neocon at every opportunity, knowing full well that it is code for an international conspiracy to enslave America’s foreign policy to Israel. It is, however, particularly inappropriate to aim this bolt at Hitchens, who knocked around with Edward Said back in the day and has long championed “fully developed rights for the Palestinians.”
In any case, the debate was absolutely wonderful political theater in a packed auditorium in lower Manhattan, and I left wishing that there were natural born Americans who could fill a big room at $12 a head just by debating matters of great moment. Whether it will translate well to the small screen when C-SPAN2 broadcasts it this weekend (Saturday at 9 pm, with a couple of subsequent rebroadcasts) is a different question, but I bet that it does. Do not miss it: either Galloway or Hitchens will piss you off mightily, but, if you are honest, neither will fail to entertain.
The organizers of the debate were anti-war and, obviously, anti-Bush to the point of distraction. For example, the introductory speaker, the moderator, and George Galloway all devoted a lot of time to linking the screw-ups in the relief of the Gulf coast to the war in Iraq. The now-familiar argument is that our efforts at disaster relief suffered because the military was not here, it was there. This argument is a populist attack on Bush, but it is only an argument against the war in Iraq if one believes that domestic emergency relief and local policing are properly the job of the military. It is not original to observe that this is the first time that any leftist living outside an actual communist country has argued this. One does not have to be a cynic to suggest that the attempt to link Katrina and Iraq is, well, cynical. But George Galloway, Amy Goodman (the moderator and activist-chieftain of Democracy Now!) and about two-thirds of the audience did not care – the debate about the war in Iraq was largely a means for attacking George Bush, whom Christopher Hitchens did not defend. Just fine, it wasn’t his job, even though Galloway tried to tag Hitchens with that responsibility, calling him “an apologist for the Bush family,” and the “court jester, not of Camlot, but at the court of the Bourbon Bushes.” That segue allowed Galloway to attack Barbara Bush for her comments about the hurricane evacuees, calling her “the Marie Antoinette” of today’s America. All so much red meat for the crowd, even if it did not help us understand the war in Iraq.
Rather than the absurd and cramped format used in American presidential election “debates,” Hitchens and Galloway each had extended segments to open arguments and rebut. Each had 15 minutes, then ten minutes and then five minutes, followed by 35 minutes of “more freewheeling” discussion, and then closing remarks.
Hitchens opened by prearrangement, offering a bit of his time for a moment of silence for the 150 Iraqis killed by fascist terrorists in Iraq on Wednesday. The gesture came off gracefully, I thought, but it did set up a shot from Galloway 15 minutes later (he wondered whether there would also be a moment of silence for the many more Iraqis killed by American soldiers in Tal Afar in the last four days, and repeatedly cited The Lancet's discredited estimate of more than 100,000 civilian casualties, a false figure with almost totemic significance on the left). That exchange was typical of the evening, except that thereafter it was almost always Hitchens making the sharp debating point in response to Galloway’s emotional gestures.
Hitchens’ opening argument was not the best argument in support of deposing Saddam – you need a book or a long essay to make that case. He did, however, open with the best argument that might be made to this crowd in this setting, and it stood throughout the debate as substantially unresponded to by George Galloway.
Hitchens challenged the very idea that it was supporters of forcible regime change who needed to explain themselves, and asked his audience to consider what the world would have looked like had the anti-war arguments of the left prevailed in the last fifteen years. Saddam Hussein, a brutal, expansionist and reckless dictator would have annexed Kuwait without objection, massively expanding the proportion of the region's oil under his control. Since there would have been no Gulf War, the post-war regime of sanctions and inspections would not have uncovered and destroyed Hussein's nuclear weapons program, which was well along in 1994. Had the anti-war argument prevailed, Slobodan Milosovic would have annexed Bosnia, and the slaughter in Kosovo would have continued. The Taliban would still be in power in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda would still have training camps there pumping out thousands of jihadis.
This is not the best argument that might be made for Operation Iraqi Freedom because it relies on a rhetorical sleight-of-hand: one need not have opposed all these wars to oppose OIF, so arguing that anti-war forces have been chronically wrong in the past does not automatically discredit the anti-war position this time. But it was the best argument against George Galloway in front of this audience, because he and undoubtedly many of them have, in fact, opposed the actions of at least the Western side in all the named wars.
Hitchens also listed the many positive consequences that he sees flowing from OIF, including that Saddam Hussein is in jail, and "will soon follow Slobodan Milosovic and Augusto Pinochet into the dock," that Iraqis are debating a federal democratic constitution on six television channels and 100 newspapers ("does anybody not agree that this is night and day compared to the way it was?"), that Kurds are "assuming their full height as a people" ("this is an extraordinary gain"), and that Libya has disarmed, allowing us to "walk back his evidence to A.Q. Kahn" [the Pakistani nuclear scientist who sold atomic secrets to bad guys all over the place - ed.]. Opposition leaders throughout the Arab world (listed by Hitchens later in the Grapple) say that the recent thaw there would not have have occurred without the removal of Saddam Hussein. [UPDATED to correct the last sentence.]
To this bundle of charges -- that the anti-war movement has been wrong many times in a row and that there have been great gains from the removal of Saddam -- Galloway had essentially two responses. To the first, he charged Hitchens with hypocrisy, not once but over and over again, taunting Hitchens over his opposition (at the time) to the 1991 Gulf War, his denunciation of the American war in Vietnam, and his support for the Algerians versus the French. (Galloway on Hitchens admitted flip-flop: "This is something unique in natural history: the first ever metamorphasis of a butterfly into a slug. I say slug instead of caterpillar, because slugs leave a trail of slime.")
To the second argument, Galloway banged away at the idea that the cited threats were themselves the consequences of British and American foreign policy. But for American support for Saddam (his atrocities were "mostly in the 1980s, when he was the closest friend of the United States") and the Afghan resistance to the Soviets (who grew up into al Qaeda and the Taliban), these threats would not exist. The Arabs hate the West because of Anglo-American support of Israel and the corrupt dictators of the region. The most massive lefty applause of the evening came when Galloway demanded a reversal of our policies toward Israel.
Hitchens closed his opening remarks with a two minute assault aimed directly at George Galloway, including repeated references to his cozy relationship with various of Saddam's henchmen (Tariq Aziz in particular), his fawning admiration for Syria's fascist dictator Bashar Assad, and his stated support for the insurgency in Iraq. Hitchens attack on Galloway personally was one of the most ruthless guttings ever to appear on American television, I imagine, and Galloway returned the favor in triplicate later in the debate. Talk about your "must see TV."
Most of the rest of the debate was taken up with expansive rhetorical flourishes, mostly from Galloway and mostly involving red meat for the audience. Ms. Katrina popped up again and again, and Galloway did not miss his chance to skewer Hitchens for his comparatively mild criticism of Cindy Sheehan (the mere mention of whom triggered wild applause, which is more than a little creepy, if you think about it). This was probably a mistake from the perspective of the "audience at home," because Hitchens then had a chance to observe that it was "rather revolting" that Galloway went to Damascus and praised the people who killed Cindy Sheeehan's son, only to travel to the United States to appeal to the emotions of his mother.
The audience did not appreciate everything that George Galloway said. At the end of his long description of the depredations of Anglo-American foreign policy ("our two countries are the biggest rogue states in the world today") Galloway declared that "The planes from 911 did not come from the clear blue sky. They came from a swamp of hatred created by us." The audience booed deeply, giving Hitchens the chance to observe that "I think you may have noticed, Mr. Galloway, that you picked the wrong city to say that in." Hitchens himself earned boos, though, when he also said "and the wrong month." This, presumably, because it is an article of faith on the left that the Bush administration exploits the anniversary of September 11 for political gain.
Galloway's most cheered and most booed moment came when he demanded that the United States stop its support for "Sharon's Israel." This remains the line that divides New York liberals, even when they quite obviously agree on just about everything else.
Hitchens most cerebral points did silence the crowd. He observed, for instance, that Galloway is not a pacifist by any measure, and he quoted Galloway's support for the insurgency in Iraq. (I did not scribble down the part Hitchens recited, but the longer version is on a leaflet handed out by anti-Galloway outside the debate, quoting his interview of July 30, 2005 on Al-Jazeera: "These poor Iraqis -- ragged people with their sandals, with their Kalashnikovs, with the lightest and most basic of weapons -- are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars, with 145 military operations every day, which has made the country ungovernable by the people who occupy it. We don't know who they are, we don't know their names, we never saw their faces, they don't put up photographs of their martyrs, we don't know the names of their leaders... They are the base of this society.") Hitchens asked the audience to consider some of the people that Galloway's insurgents had killed, including some of the best relief workers and human rights advocates of the United Nations (and specifically Sergio Vieira de Mello), gathered children and Shia clerics in front of their mosques.
Hitchens also observed quite neatly that it is not anti-imperialist to support Islamists -- "they want to establish the Caliphate," a ghastly and oppressive empire. This did not resonate with the audience, which assumes that al Qaeda exists largely as the result of American foreign policy mistakes, but I think it will work well on television.
In the end, an honest scoring of the debate would have found Hitchens as the clear winner, since most of Galloway's attacks did not respond to Hitchens' substantive arguments. That does not mean, however, that either will change many minds.
Watch it when it comes on. It was a spectacle the likes of which we rarely see in this country.
I was there wearing my American flag captioned by the words US Armed Forces the True Freedom Fighters t-shirt along with about 20 other Liberalhawks who support the Bush Doctrine.
Franky I had expected an overwhelming moonbat crowd however, was pleased to hear so many voices in attendance who were not part of the Collective.
The Collective around me were surprised as well.
> In the end, an honest scoring of the debate would have found Hitchens as the clear winner, since most of Galloway's attacks did not respond to Hitchens' substantive arguments.
This is exactly how people like Galloway will get us all killed. He's a bullshit artist and biog-mouthed ignoramus of the lowest order who should be working as a used car salesman or assembly line person, not someone with political or social influence.
I was sitting in the balcony, which was perhaps a third or half pro-Hitchens. It was definately a contentious couple of hours. I'm usually pretty level-headed at these events, but at one point I found my self booing Galloway at the top of my lungs, and almost getting into a fist fight with the lady sitting next to me--a perfectly respectable looking middle-aged woman in a business suit.
While Galloway's arguments were nonsense from start to finish, I do think his style was slightly more effective in that setting (and of course in front of that audience). But only slightly. On TV, and I'm sure in transcripts, Hitchens will be the winner.
Not a terribly enlightening debate. But then again I didn't expect that.
My account is here:
I disagree that there were few Hitchens supporters in the audience. We were surprised by how many there were. We were outnumbered, but our whole group (about 15 at dinner afterwards) estimated it about 60-40.
It is telling, also, that there were those in the audience who openly denounced Hitch's call for a moment of silence in memory of the vicitms of yesterday's bombings.
Oh yeah, one guy called me a "Nazi" for clapping to Hitchens. Nice people.
Overall, an excellent recap/analysis -- thanks.
I was there as well, after the ridiculously long wait in the will call line. While I've read elsewhere that the metal detectors were to blame, I actually think the bottleneck was having just 2 staffers try to find tickets for the hundreds of people who'd purchased tickets online. Poorly managed in any case, but no big surprise.
I'd agree with some of the earlier comments on the make-up of the audience. In the balcony, at least, there was a solid group of Hitchens supporters. I'd expected a 100% moonbat mob (e.g., anti-Bush/anti-war rallies in Union Square). However, up top, I think it was probably 60/40 or 70/30 liberal to conservative.
Finally, in all honesty, I agree that Hitchens won the debate. Hitchens worried me at the very beginning, when he came in sweaty and disheveled, while Galloway looked quite dapper and composed. But the substance of Hitchens' arguments were clear and well reasoned, whereas Galloway relied on ad hominem attacks and liberal urban legends. I'm almost convinced that Galloway could've mumbled incoherently, but every 2 minutes thrown in words or names like "neocon," "Zionist," "Halliburton," "Katrina," and "Sheehan" and would've gotten raucous applause, which is, in fact, sort of what he did. Watching Galloway work is like seeing an old lady with bread feed geese in Central Park: each time she throws out some mouldy crust, the geese squawk and jostle to get at the crumbs. I have difficulty fathoming how anyone could honestly cheer for Galloway without being intellectually bankrupt.
Anyway, thanks again.
I watched the stream at Bareknucklepolitics.com. It was some of the best political theater I have ever watched.
I am a City College alum and I can assure you that Baruch College (the "business" school) is actually the *least* moonbatish of the CUNY system. CUNY is the realm of Leonard Jeffries, the Jewish far-far-left, tenured Marxists, and assorted others who turned a once might University into a joke in the 60s and 70s. But I think it's getting better. The fact that there was even one person there supporting Hitch is already a sea change.
Great summary TH.
When you shine a light on cockroaches like Galloway--as Hitchens did--they tend to scatter, but at the end of the day they are still just cockroaches and deserve as much respect.
I'm not sure I would have paid for a ticket knowing that some of that money was going into Galloway's pocket even if it was to see Hitchens arrive in an Orkin jumpsuit.
I agree with a lot of your assessments, but I was a lot more disappointed in Hitchens then you were (I was opposed to the war, by the way). Hitchens started out by asserting that opponents of the war had to justify their position, not him. Whether you're for the war or not, it's a pretty extraordinary statement that the burden to justify a war ought not properly be on its proponent rather than its opponent. As you correctly point out, Hitchens then excoriated people for opposing military action in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, etc. For those of us who supported those military actions but opposed the war in Iraq, this is not persuasive either.
He talked a lot about the benefits of the Iraq war -- Saddam Hussein in jail, Khadafy giving up his weapons, etc. This is fine and good and I don't have a problem with it. I would be hard pressed to say that a course of action would have all costs and no benefits. The problem is, how do you weigh the two? Hitchens never bothered to acknowledge that the war in Iraq had any costs whatsoever, to the fight against Al Qaeda, for the political standing of the U.S. in the world, deaths, destruction, money, Abu Ghraeb, etc. It's possible to still come out for the war if you acknowledge the costs, but Hitch didn't address the question and thus was not persuasive.
Then of course there were his repetitive attacks on Galloway for cavorting with the likes of Bashir Assad and Tariq Aziz. Since Galloway never denied these charges, I give that point to Hitchens, but so what? It doesn't address the merits of the issue. I opposed the war in Iraq and I've certainly never buddied up to Bashir Assad. Give me something I can use.
I agree that Galloway's performance was pretty bad. He bleated slogans, made assertions, barely acknowledged countervailing arguments, and got right down in the ad hominem muck with Hitchens. Not to mention his indefensible equation of Sunni insurgents with resisters to foreign occupation (since when does resistance to a foreign occupation explode a car bomb among ordinary day laborers?) I also thought that Galloway's harping on Hitchens for changing his mind about a variety of issues was very ineffective; it gave Hitchens the opening to merely say he changed his mind, which of course is everyone's right and it even bolstered Hitchens' credibility in my view, making him look more critically-minded.
Overall, I found the evening very disappointing and unenlightening. The people shouting down the debaters (from both sides) were extremely irritating.
From the UK.
I have listened to this debate on the Internet and I must have listened to a different debate to some of your commentators.
Hitchens went straight in on a very personal attack on George Galloway and George (too much in my opinion) responded to this. All in all i thought George Galloway put up a very good case against the war in Iraq. It was clear that the audiance was not packed with just radical people as was evident when George Galloway spoke about Israel and their racist attitude to the Palestinians.
America wake up before it is too late - George Galloway is only saying what millions think all over the world and in the USA.
1. The war was for oil - and almost 2000 US soldiers have paid a price for this (and 1000's of Iraq people).
2. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction.
3. The war was not to liberate the Iraq people - if so why is the USA not invading North korea or even Zibabwee.
4. It was illegal and not sauntioned by the UN.
5. Al-quida was not linked to Saddam Hussein. They are however now in Iraq thanks to the war!
Who made Saddam Hussein see:
FIGHT BACK blog at:
Just for grins, I will respond to your points.
By my count, Hitchens spent the first 13 of his opening 15 minutes arguing the substance, and two minutes attack Galloway. Whether or not that made sense tactically, it was hardly going "straight in" to a very personal attack. And even if Hitchens did draw first blood, in the final reckoning Galloway devoted much more time to personal attacks.
As to your enumerated points:
1. The argument that the war was "for oil" is laughable. If that were true, why not take the easy way out and just cut a deal with Saddam? We had him by the short ones -- no fly zones, sanctions, the whole bit -- and were therefore in a perfect position to do a deal -- drop the sanctions and no-fly zones in return for an inside track on the oil. Indeed, foreign policy "realists" argue that we should done just that. If it were "all about the oil," why did we not just negotiate for, well, oil?
My own view is that leftists argue that it is all about the oil because they want to avoid dealing with the serious moral implications of failing to act. If you say that the advocates for war were really just greedy, you dispose of the need to confront the moral arguments.
2. So what if there weren't weapons of mass destruction? Everybody thought that there were -- including countries that would not support the war in the Security Council, like Russia and France -- and in any case Saddam's government manifestly did not cooperate with either the settlement of the original Gulf War or any number of subsequent requirements of the Security Council. And, finally, he tried to procure weapons of mass destruction as recently as early 2003 (from the North Koreans). The ambition remained, and it was only held in check by American and British jets flying 10,000 sorties a year, and thousands of American soldiers garrisoned on the Arabian peninsula.
3. Absurd. If your town can't fix the potholes on every road, does that mean that it shouldn't on any road? You liberate the oppressed people you care about, and we'll liberate the ones we care about. That somebody somewhere is oppressed is never a reason not to deal with oppression elsewhere.
4. "Illegal" and "not sanctioned by the UN" are entirely different concepts. That many Europeans wish that their own experience of surrendering sovereignty to transnational institutions will translate to the broader world does not mean that it has or will. The war was at least arguably sanctioned under Security Council resolution 1443 -- the ultimate meaning of "serious consequences" was deliberately ambiguous, allowing for both the French and American constructions by design. It was also lawful, insofar as the US and UK had numerous casas belli (for one, the shooting at American and British jets enforcing the no-fly zones, which were specifically authorized by the United Nations). I appreciate that neither of these make the decision to invade Iraq good policy, but no genuinely objective appraisal would reach a different conclusion about the law.
5. Your claim that al Qaeda and Saddam's government were "not linked" depends very much on the meaning of "not linked." But that is neither here not there: Al Qaeda is in Iraq now. If it was not invited in by Saddam's government before the invasion, it has (unlawfully!) invaded Iraq for the purpose of fighting the United States and, increasingly, the democratically elected sovereign government. Is it your point that Iraq, the United States and the United Kingdom should surrender to this unlawful invasion by an organization that was at war with the US before March 2003? Or, if al Qaeda was invited in by Saddam's regime, then must it not be true that in fact there was a "link" between the Ba'athists and al Qaeda?
Thanks for responding to Neil, as your response saved me a lot of time that, let's be honest, would have been wasted but needed to be spent by someone.
I was hoping you'd gotten in, having seen your mobile entry about the logistics. It was fascinating, for as long as I could listen, and while I doubt it changed any minds, I believe it exposed GG (Groundskeeper Willie, as one of Ace's commenters named him) as the fatuous twit he is.
Simple bluster and mindless repetition of one's talking points, you see, are no substitute for making an actual case.
I look forward to seeing the C-SPAN version over the weekend, and only hope I can find a way to blank out Amy Goodman's maunderings, as she gets on my last nerve.
I've got the only complete transcript of the ruckus over at my blog, my own exclusive!
There's some serious fact-checking to be done on Galloway's claims in this debate.
One that stuck out to me was his claim that the US went in to Lebanon in 1958 (which they did) and then forced a new constitution on them that made it mandatory for a Christian to be president...
Now, from my fragmentary reading on the subject, it seems like Lebanon's constitution guarantees equality between Christians and Muslims...
From the recaps I have read this is the most thoughtful and complete of them.
I have watched the debate a couple of times, and as a follower of Hitchens work was again impressed with his performance. I think the debate was entertaining, but not neccesarily informative. If you have read Hitchens you will have already heard all of what he said. I think the circumstances and hype leading up to the debate were both fortunate and unfortunate.
Why did Hitchens make the switch on this issue? (And by the way Hitchens was already writing about the plight of the Kurds and rescinding his rebukes of US intervention by 1992 in various articles.) What has been the brunt of Hitchens' criticism? The answer is the "mentality" of liberals like Galloway. The idea that all debates should be civil is to coin a word from Hitchens "irresponsible." There are times when generalizing is needed to advance a point. Although the viewpoints of honestpartisan are needed it is also impossible to be objective down the line. Hitchens reveals consistently his disdain for certain anti-war and isolationist factions of American politics. He believes in his cause and he doesn't really give a rats ass about offending naysayers. And he shouldn't. And people shouldn't take offense. It's the problem with this country, everyone's too polite.
And I take issue to Galloway's implication that Hitchens "fight to the death for other people's blood." As if the only way to fight is with a gun. To say that Hitchens is some poser who has some self-interested and sinister stake in the outcome of this war is beyond decietful and it is a disgrace. Galloway is a politician to the bitter fucking end and it's sickening to watch him resort to this crap. Granted Hitchens used some of the same tactics and did take the first shot, which by the way was actually an insult, a truism, and relevant to the legitimacy of Mr. Galloway's views, which was the intention of the oil-for-food connection/corruption being mentioned in the first place.
Anyways, Galloway was roped and hog-tied by a man who should be listened to and listened to carefully in this country.
Hitchens can be articulate, but the fundamental premise of his argument is wrong. And therefore, he turns his verbal astuteness upon himself.
One imagines a cardinal, arguing before the pope, that the world is indeed flat and that Galileo should be executed.
It's also interesting that a man opposed to fascism, repeatedly tells the crowd to "be careful, you are being photographed" or something to that effect. For what purpose was this implied threat?
He's sold his soul and is paying heavily for it. You can tell by the stains under his armpits that he is fundamentally uncomfortable with his position.
Last Anonymous Guy: Whatever the merits of your other arguments, the armpit stains are evidence of nothing other than Hitchens' poor judgement in wearing a dark blue shirt. It was sweltering both outside and inside the theater. I was seating like a stuck pig myself, and I was just sitting there.
"It's also interesting that a man opposed to fascism, repeatedly tells the crowd to "be careful, you are being photographed" or something to that effect. For what purpose was this implied threat?"
There's the stretch of the week, huh? He was reminding them that their actions and faces were being recorded for history, not for the police. This was only a 'threat' if they had any sense of shame. You know, like 'imagine if your great grand children one day see you shouting down someone, stomping on their 1st amendment rights'. There was no implication of threat in anything Hitchens said.
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The argument that the war was "for oil" is laughable.
You just keep telling yourself that friend and maybe you will believe it. But just to let you know, no-one, NO-ONE outside the United States of America believes that it was not for oil. In fact, the whole world laughs at the claim that it was not for oil. I think that is why Hitchens was wise to concentrate on the outcome of the war, rather than the obvious motivations behind it.
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