October 13, 2008

Hitchens, Obama, and the War Party

Christopher Hitchens?s endorsement of Barack Obama should be fodder for at least two or three days of blogospheric chatter. Yes, that Christopher Hitchens, the Bolshi who became a neocon and endorsed Bush in ‘04. (Not that there?s too much ideological difference between Bolshevism and neoconservatism, especially after the latter group gave up writing about the ?unintended consequences? of public policy and started dreaming of global revolution.) Hitchens is also the man who became National Review?s favorite Leftist once he started backing Washington?s noble war of liberation against the ?fascist? Saddam Hussein. Chief NR theologian Michael Novak dubbed the author of God is Not Great a ?treasure.?

Well, after this one, I imagine Hitchens?s books will elicit much less gush when they?re reviewed in NR?s illiterate ?Book, Arts, & Manners? section, and the man probably won?t get as many invites to come ?defend? World War II with Victor Davis Hanson on those Hoover Institution webcasts. A five-year love affair has reached its end. 

Don?t worry about Hitchens though, he?ll quickly find work elsewhere, and NR?s loss will undoubtedly be The New Republic?s gain (or is it the other way around?). 

Anyway, with regard to the endorsement itself, most will probably focus in on Hitchens?s ad hominem attacks against the GOP standard bearers?and Hitchens has, indeed, rejected McCain and Palin specifically because of their personalities: The senior senator suffers ?from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical?; Palin is ?simply a disgrace.? 

It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.

Beyond all this, Hitchens makes a more important point?and one that will, no doubt, be lost on most commentators:

On ?the issues? in these closing weeks, there really isn’t a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their “debates” have been cramped and boring affairs as a result.

And the ?issues? Hitchens refers to aren?t just the bailout and tax cuts but Iraq and America?s foreign policy more generally: 

I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that ‘issue’ I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience.

Organs like NR have worked very hard to define conservatism on the basis of support for the Iraq war and one?s willingness to ?confront? various international bogeymen. Well, if Hitchens is correct (and I think he is), NR & friends will be able to get their global-hegemon fix from Obama and Biden just as with McCain and the Barracuda.

Going forward, this means that with an Obama victory, the divide between the neocon-mainstream Right and the ?paleo?-alternative Right won?t in the least ?fade in significance? (as if the two sides could reconcile and start working together to oppose socialized medicine or whatever.) To the contrary, the paleo-neo divide is likely to grow wider. As Daniel Larison argues

To the extent that Obama is relatively hawkish on most things except Iraq, which Republican hawks deny for electoral reasons now but will rediscover once he is in power, we will see exactly the same splits between the hawks who side with the Obama administration?s interventions in (name a few countries where we have no business being) and the conservatives who do not believe these interventions to be in the national interest.  It will be very much like what we saw in the 1990s.  Mainstream, ‘responsible and ‘realist’ conservatives and Republicans will support Obama?s actions, and a significant but largely uninfluential minority on the right will protest against them. All of the bogus arguments war supporters have trotted out for years to justify the Iraq debacle will be turned around on them, and most of them will end up backing the next intervention to halt a ‘genocide,’ ‘liberate’ another country or stop weapons proliferation. They will delight in the frustration of the antiwar left and praise the bipartisan consensus in favor of American hegemony.

Although it might be hard to imagine now, if Obama would decide to bomb Iran, bully Putin, or even order some ridiculous intervention in Darfur, Frum, Lowry, the Podhoretzs, and the Kristols would all be there to root him on and label the whole thing ?patriotic.? Hichens would even get in on the act and offer up a post-Trotskyist justification or two.

For the neocons, with ?enemies? like Obama and Hitchens, who needs friends?

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