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Salon on Hitchens/Danner Debate
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On Tuesday, the same day as President Bush's State of the Union Speech, on the other side of the country, on the Berkeley University campus, Christopher Hitchens and Mark Danner debated the relative merits of using force against Iraq. Salon has a breakdown of the event (it's Salon Premium, but you can still get one of those day passes by looking at a couple of ads).

Some excerpts from the article (I tried to find a transcript, but could not...maybe one will be available in the future):

The audience at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall heard out both speakers respectfully, leading one to wonder if any left-wing rowdies who might have been tempted to heckle the pro-war Hitchens were intimidated by his legendarily box-cutter-like wit.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the article this early, but one has to wonder about that particular description, "box-cutter-like wit". Is that already making a grossly inappropriate metaphorical link between Hitchens and the 9/11 terrorists? Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive, but these days, when you see a box cutter, or hear someone talk about them, do you not automatically think of those terrorists, slitting the throats of passengers, flight attendants, and pilots?


[Hitchens] took a classic interventionist-Wilsonian line: The U.S. is fighting the good fight, attempting to liberate an oppressed people. Danner, representing the left, took the hard-boiled realist position: Military action and occupation would endanger the U.S.

So Hitchens' view is "classic" interventionism, while Danner's is "hard-boiled" realism? Surprisingly enough, the author of the article, Gary Kamiya, is reasonably fair through most of the rest.

Danner took what might be called the minimalist antiwar position: Confining himself to a bottom-line, what's-good-for-America analysis, he alluded to other subjects -- the morality of preemptive attacks, the true motivations of the administration, and the role of oil -- but didn't really explore them.


Hitchens' major counterargument to Danner's sobering scenario of a post-invasion world, full of seething anti-U.S. resentments, seemed to be the same one Bush used, and which is also made, in frightening fashion, in Pollack's book: it's more dangerous to not act, because Saddam is insane and unpredictable and might do something evil at any time, and time is not on our side.

In the next round of exchanges...

Not surprisingly, Danner responded to Hitchens' relentlessly optimistic assessment of the war and its outcome by casting doubt on just about every one of his assertions. Referring to Haiti, which has been bloodily jerked around by inconstant, ever-changing American policies, Danner said, "I've learned to suspect dreaming imperial dreams." In an eloquent excursus, he described American foreign policy as a spotlight: everything is fine when it's shining somewhere, but when it moves on, darkness falls and in that darkness you find death.


...Hitchens accused Danner and other pessimists of condescending to Iraqis and other Arabs, by not giving them credit for being capable of building a democratic society or assuming they would lash out at the U.S. in impotent rage. In effect, Hitchens was arguing that the left, for all of its defense of Arabs and Muslims, actually clings to an Orientalist, exotic series of Arab stereotypes: they are revengeful, proud, tribal, etc.

Invoking the notion that war with Iraq would only precipitate a war of civilizations:

Danner went on to say that the point wasn't whether we should think about them, or they should think about us, the point was "we shouldn't do it [invade] because it's stupid."


Hitchens, removing himself from the Samuel Huntington clash-of-civilizations cabal, replied that the Arab world had many democracies. "It's not a war of civilizations, it's a war within a civilization. We need to be on the right side of the war within the Arab world."

Anyway, the debate sounds reasonably interesting. I hope that somewhere in the near future a transcript will be posted. In the meantime you'll have to settle for a second-hand recap in Salon, brought to you by Mercedes.

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