Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

16 September, 2005

The Post-Debate Haze

I listened to the Hitchens-Galloway debate yesterday. It didn’t get my full attention, as I was at work, but I did listen to it fairly closely. After it had finished, some announcers came on and gave their reflections. It surprised and saddened me to hear that one of them chose to make his first comment about how Hitchens avoided a question or questions from moderator Amy Goodman regarding his treatment by the media. While I grant the guy that Hitchens chose to not answer the question, I did have to side with Hitchens when he said something to the effect of “We’re here to debate the Iraq War, not my treatment by the media”. I agree completely – the question was irrelevant. Let’s debate the war, not talk about how the media treats the polemicist.

As for the debate itself, if I had to declare a winner, I would say that it was Hitchens. While most of the two hours was spent slinging mud, he, at least, managed to do so eloquently while Galloway had all the ethos of rabid dog. The aforementioned announcer would have done well to critique Galloway for evading a question as well and a relevant one at that. During his philippic, Galloway quoted the popular figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed after the war. Hitchens' riposte included a bit about this figure and how it was misleading at best and blatantly false at worst. He cited an article by his anti-war co-worker, Fred Kaplan, over at Slate.com which addressed the validity of this figure. If you don't want to follow the link, here's the Cliff's Notes version:

Kaplan quotes the study by Johns Hopkins University which is the source of the statistic of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians.

We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000-194 000) during the post-war period.

Kaplan then translates this for the layreader (emphasis mine): "Readers who are accustomed to perusing statistical documents know what the set of numbers in the parentheses means. For the other 99.9 percent of you, I'll spell it out in plain English—which, disturbingly, the study never does. It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language—98,000—is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)" Kaplan concludes that the number "…isn't an estimate. It's a dart board." One thing I'm sure Galloway and Hitchens could agree on is that even the low end of 8,000 deaths is a tragedy. Galloway, for his part, avoided the issue completely and merely expressed his incredulity that Hitchens would question the authority of Johns Hopkins University. It is this kind of slippery evasion and his incessant name-calling that stick out in my mind when I reflect upon Galloway's performance. (He repeated labeled Hitchens a "slug".) While Hitchens was also very antagonistic, his shots were, as I recall, very much grounded in fact. For instance, he refers to a speech Galloway gave in Damascus in which he praises the attacks on the U.S. military by "insurgents":

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.

He then lays into Galloway: "Among the victims of these operations was Specialist Casey Sheehan who was trying to clean up the festering slum of what had once been called Saddam City and was now known to us as Sadr City where the water supply is now coming back on. It's taking a while because people keep blowing it up but it's coming back on. Now I will put a simple moral proposition to you and see if I've phrased it alright: Is it not rather revolting to appear in Damascus by the side of Assad and to praise the people who killed Casey Sheehan and then to come to America and to appeal to the emotions of his mother." Considering the lefty lean to the audience, I was surprised that it didn't get a bigger and louder response. I got the impression that most of the audience was not there to hear a debate on the issues but rather to jeer their opponent and cheer their hero. And it seemed most of the audience was for Galloway. He evaded tough issues and repeated anti-war mantras ad nauseum to thunderous applause.

While listening to the "debate" provided a certain visceral thrill, it was more of a wrestling match than a true debate. Galloway thoroughly unimpressed me with his name-calling and constant use of phrases that, while they rallied the masses, were totally devoid of content. Hitchens did himself a disservice by chastising the audience several times. But it's difficult not to see how it deserved most of them. Perhaps the most poignant moment was when he asked the audience members to list for themselves the things they have done to further the causes of people in the Middle East. What had they actually done besides booed him? His fatal flaw was trying to deliver a reasoned argument to an opponent and an audience made most of people who weren't interested in debate, argumentation, or reason. It seemed like the majority of the audience were not only Galloway supporters but also were people who only wanted to see & hear a figure of some note stand before them and say "Bush is evil" in as many ways as the English language allows. Hitchens certainly did not try to paint a portrait of Bush as a saint, but he did try to fashion an argument in favor of the war. I highly suggest you read his writing or listen to the debate for the details but the crux of it was that there are these evil, twisted fucks out there in the world who hate America, not because of our freedom, but rather because they want to turn the world into one big Islamic state – a restoration of the caliphate. He then laid down reasons why invading Iraq countered this goal. In doing so, I think he exposed some great problems with the Left but perhaps Galloway did an even better job. The Left is either unwilling or unable to articulate much of anything beyond "Bush is evil". However true it may be, it alone is not much of a platform. Hitchens has argued over the past few years that those who would fly planes into our buildings don't desire to do so because they hate our freedom or because our corporations have a manic desire to litter the Middle East with McDonalds so Muslims can conveniently grab a Big Mac after their prayers. It's because we're not of their flavor of Islam. Almost everyone on the Left whom I've read address this responds in a robotic tone, "Bush is evil". The war itself and how the Bush administration justified it are two separate issues and the Left concentrates on the latter without giving much attention to the former. Not having deposed Hussein would have left a sadistic evil fuck that had used weapons of mass destruction in power. The Left must clearly explain why leaving a malicious dictator in power is morally acceptable and preferable to our invasion. It must explain this in order to win popular support and votes. The phrase "I'm glad Hussein is gone but I still don't think we should have invaded" and phrases like it clarify nothing. If you think that leaving a man in power that would kill anyone and his family who acquired a satellite dish is morally preferable to the situation as it is now, then explain why. Give everyone the moral calculus you did in reaching that conclusion. One needn't exculpate Bush and his cronies for their propaganda in order to favor the war.

This morning I find that Greg Palast has chimed in on the debate:


Guerrilla News Network

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

By Greg Palast

Man, it just felt so good watching George Galloway rip Senator Coleman an extra exit hole. In May 2005, you'll remember, while most American politicians were mincing and cowering, the Honorable Member of the British Parliament, George Galloway, told a panel of stunned US congressmen:

"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies."

It was one hell of a performance.

Tonight, Galloway will launch his American tour, a kind of extended curtain call to his US Senate debut, starting with a Punch-and-Judy show with Christopher Hitchens in New York.

In May, our Bush-kissing Congressmen could only respond to Galloway's challenge with dusty old smears and lame-ass questions.

But before we rally 'round this stand-up guy from Britain, we should ask him a few questions of our own.

Honorable Mr. Galloway, you met with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 1994 and said, "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem."

After this effusive praise for Saddam, the two of you shared some Quality Street chocolates and some funny stories about Winston Churchill.

In 1990, Saddam executed a troublesome reporter, Farzad Bazoft, of the Observer newspaper of London. You complained about it at the time. Some time later, Saddam finished off about 100,000 Shi'ites and Kurds.

My questions are, "Are Quality Street chocolates your favorite brand? And did you forget the name of the reporter that Saddam executed? And how is it that you found the courage to challenge a bunch of US Senators but became such a pussy cat when confronted with a man whose killing spree easily exceeds theirs?"

And when you were challenged on your arse-licking praise of the dictator, why did you prevaricate and obfuscate by saying the worshipful words were for the Iraqi people, not Saddam. In fact, your words were very specific: "Your Excellency, … I thought the president would appreciate to know that even today, three years after the war, I still meet families who are calling their newborn sons Saddam."

I have to say, Mr. Galloway, you are a charitable man with a big heart. But the charity is for whom? You founded something called the Mariam Appeal for Iraqis suffering under UN sanction. You raised cash on your solemn promise that, "The balance after Mariam’s hospital bills have been paid will be sent as medicine and medical supplies to the children she had to leave behind." But little of the money seems to have gone there, isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway? It seems that nearly a million dollars can't be accounted for. And the diversion of most of the money was, you said, for "emergency" purposes. One of those emergencies was the payment to your wife -- isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway?

And the source of nearly half a million dollars of that money, Honorable Sir, came from a trader in the corrupt Oil-for-Food program. The payment was equal to the profits earned by this oil trader who was blessed with discount oil from Saddam. Is that correct?

So if we add it up, Mr. Galloway, while you were railing about medicines denied Iraqis by Messrs. Bush and Blair, you were taking money skimmed from the program earmarked to pay for those medicines. And other moneys donated for medicine for Iraqis you and your group also skimmed off for "legitimate expenses" of yours, is that correct?

George Bush took money from unnamed Persian Gulf sources, as you apparently have. Should I question him, or simply ask him if his purposes were "legitimate" or an "emergency"?

And might I have a copy of the financial records of your "charity"? You promised to make them public but the records now seemed to have disappeared into Jordan. Would you mind retrieving those?

And why did you tell the US Senate the British Charity Commission "recovered all money in and all money out … they found no impropriety"? I have read their findings. In fact, the Commission excoriated you for failing to record where your million came from and where it went. And they recovered none of it.

I remember when Paul Wolfowitz told the US Congress the war in Iraq would not cost taxpayers one penny. Wolfowitz avoids prosecution for perjury because he did not testify under oath. Did you lie in your testimony because, as a foreign legislator, Mr. Galloway, you are immune from prosecution for perjury?

And when you said, "The Arabs must have a mentality that says, I want to be like Hizbollah." Sir, you mean the Hizbollah that took hostages in Lebanon and guns from Reagan, or the Hizbollah who joined Argentine military Fascists on a killing spree?

And why have you ducked for two months my request to answer questions?

Friends and comrades, this is not about George Galloway. He's just another self-promoting fart. Six months from now, even his smell will be gone.

This is not about George Galloway, but about us. What's Left? Are we about standing for the defenseless -- or the cruel and senseless?

A couple of months after the invasion of Iraq, I was in Los Angeles and some drunk accosted me, saying, "George Bush was right about everything he said about Iraq!" -- weapons of mass destruction, the al-Qaeda connection and more. It was Christopher Hitchens, "debating" me, and furious. His confusing our President's assertions with reality was a verbal pie he threw in the air and caught on his face.

He was flustered not because I disagreed with him -- he enjoys that, being the look-at-me bad boy -- but because I agreed with him: Saddam was a monster and Iraqis, overwhelmingly, wanted him gone.

But I could not, like Hitchens, shill for Mr. Bush's war of "liberation." I could see where it would end. When a snake devours a rat, it doesn't liberate the captive mice. The mice are "saved" -- for lunch.

But it is not good enough for the Left to oppose Mr. Bush's re-colonization of Iraq. We needed to have actively supported Iraqis fighting to remove their Mesopotamian Stalin. And now, we'd better come up with something a little less nutty than a recent suggestion by one otherwise thoughtful writer that we, "unconditionally support the insurgency" of berserker killers and fundamentalist madmen. If that's the Left's program for Iraq, count me out.

We can't define ourselves as the "anti-Bush," blindly supporting those he opposes, and thereby letting the nitwit Napoleon in the White House pick our enemies for us. Nor can our revulsion for Bush's horrors throw us into the arms of swamp-things like George Galloway.

Don't get me wrong. Unlike Hitchens, I cannot support the Prevaricator-in-Chief, the President who ordered Cindy Sheehan's son, Casey, to march to his death in Najaf. But I'll be damned if I'll cheer some rich white Brit-hole who brings joy to Casey's killers.

hehe He said "Brithole". hehe
|| Palmer, 11:48 AM


Just FYI Kaplan's "debunking" of the "Iraqi war deaths" study has itself been debunked. He really shouldn't do statistical analysis because he doesn't seem to know what he's talking about.
Interestingly enough Tim Lambert, who knows what he's talking about when it comes to statistics, talks about Hitchens' claim that the study was debunked here: http://timlambert.org/2005/09/hitchens/
Blogger Shane, at 4:52 PM  

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