As the drumbeat for war against Iran grows louder by the day – cheered by the same neo-conservatives, extreme Zionists and hacks who led us into conflict with Iraq – it’s vital to hold to account the commentators who never take responsibility for their war-mongering. A fine piece in Jadaliyya:
This is not another article about Christopher Hitchens.
This may come as something of a relief, given the spilling of ink occasioned by Hitchens’ untimely death last week, with Neal Pollock’s fine parody hopefully bringing this outpouring to an end. After an initial set of hagiographies, it was encouraging to see a number of pieces reminding readers of Hitchens’ role in forcefully and bloodthirstily advocating for the war on Iraq, and for the “war on terror” more generally, as part of a deeply racist and Islamophobic current in his work over the past decade (or more).
What has struck me in the articles that have followed, both those that praise and those that condemn Hitchens’ work, is the recurring use of a phrase to describe Hitchens’ advocacy on behalf of the invasion and occupation of Iraq: he was, we are told by the most perceptive commentators on his work, “wrong on Iraq.” For Hitchens’ defenders, as Corey Robin notes, this was articulated as “Yes, he was wrong on Iraq, but…” For his detractors, there is no “but”: in Glenn Greenwald’s words, Hitchens was guilty of the crime of endorsing “the generation’s worst political crime, one for which he remained fully unrepentant and even proud.”
It seems likely that this focus on Hitchens’ support for the war would have been part of these pieces in any case, since it became one of the defining aspects of his writing over the past decade. But given that his death came in the same week as the much-reported withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the connection was inevitable, even for Hitchens’ admirers. For those who accept the fantasy that the withdrawal of US forces marks the “end” of the war, the Iraq War, like the era of Hitchens, could now be given an end date; indeed, on the front page of its website today, the New York Times features a section entitled “Iraq War: 2003-2011.”
This brief re-entry of Iraq into public discourse in the United States—a re-entry that is intended only to clear the way for a final dismissal, since the war is now, according to this narrative of events, “over”—reminds us of the extent to which Iraq has fallen out of the collective consciousness in the US. It must not be allowed to do so, and the notion that the withdrawal of US troops (leaving behind the largest US embassy in the world in Baghdad and consulates in Basra, Erbil, and Kirkuk, along with at least 16,000 Americans employed by the US government—a large percentage of them “security contractors,” that is, armed mercenaries of the sort that have caused so much carnage in Iraq) should be understood as meaning the “end” of the Iraq War must not be allowed to stand unchallenged. It is an opportune moment, in other words, for some remembering, and, if we can make it happen, some accountability.
To have been “wrong” on Iraq, if one was a member of the political and/or military establishment that helped to perpetrate the war and occupation, is, simply put, to be a war criminal. If this is not how such figures are currently viewed, this speaks most clearly to the blighted state of international law and institutions, and their inability to hold the perpetrators of the planet’s most horrific acts of violence accountable for their actions.
To have been “wrong” on Iraq, if one was or is a member of the media or the intellectual establishment that argued for, and thus helped to lay the groundwork for, the war, is to be deeply complicit in these war crimes. Again, there has been no attempt to hold any of these individuals accountable for such complicity, although there is a precedent that dates back at least to the Nuremberg Tribunal that would allow for identifying and acting against such media and intellectual complicity in war crimes.