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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Sunday, April 27, 2003


Du cote de chez Hitchens

Et sans doute, en se rappelant ainsi leurs entretiens, en pensant ainsi a elle quand il etait seul, il faisait seulement jouer son image entre beaucoup d'autres images de femmes dans des reveries romanesques; mais si, grace a une circonstance quelconque (ou meme peut-etre sans que ce fut grace a elle, la circonstance qui sepresente au moment ou un etat, latent jusque-la, se declare, pouvantn'avoir influe en rien sur lui) l'image d'Odette de Crecy venait a absorber toutes ces reveries, si celles-ci n'etaient plus separables de son souvenir, alors l'imperfection de son corps ne garderait plus aucune importance, ni qu'il eut ete, plus ou moins qu'un autre corps,selon le gout de Swann, puisque devenu le corps de celle qu'il aimait,il serait desormais le seul qui fut capable de lui causer des joies et des tourments. -- Proust

The first volume of Proust's novel tells the story (imperfectly nested, as is Proust's habit, among other stories) of the downfall of Swann. Swann, a man of perfect, even painfully perfect taste, falls in love with an ignorant slut, Odette, and sacrifices to her his supreme things -- his social connections, his taste, and finally his honor. While he does this, he tries to enthuse his friends about Odette -- thus further distancing them from him.

The story has an irresistable bearing on the recent embrace, by Christopher Hitchens, of the most brutal and the most venal right wing groups in this country. Those groups operate, of course, under the aegis of the Bush administration. They are in direct line of descent from the groups that helped create the cold war, and directed it, in all its bloody splendor, for almost fifty years, in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and whereever a dictator was to be propped up, or a union representative was to be stuffed into the trunk of a black car and unceremoniously dumped on a garbage heap. With that history in mind, it is pretty easy to see what is happening in Iraq, from the multi-year contracts being signed with the usual crew of Republican contributors -- Bechtel, Haliburtan, Fluor -- to the sinister paramilitary group crystallizing around Ahmad Chalabi. The choice narrowed, in the Cold War, between the indigestible petit totalitarianism of kleptocratic generals and the bloodthirsty dreams of Communist party offshoots. The choice is narrowing, in Iraq, to that between the disastrous dream of theocracy, on the one side, and the openly corrupt violence of pro-American groups, on the other side. Comic overtones are supplied by the numerous Americans in Iraq who are warning that third parties -- heavens, imagine third parties -- are subverting the critical path of American-Iraqi amity.

Hitchens, having propagandized for the war from his own peculiar angle -- he simply refused to recognize Bush's war, and replaced it with his own dream of Bush's war -- is now confronted with the fruits of the war that really happened. So he has manfully taken up the task of apologizing for crony capitalists and for Chalabi's Pentagon supported stormtroopers . The defense of crony capitalism is expressed by the usual casuistry of defending the indefensible. First, you break the indefensible down into alternatives -- being careful to exclude the alternative that will upset your case. Next, you invest your analysis with a grave air of necessity -- these are the sides that try men's souls, etc. So those who oppose, for instance, the US contracting with Haliburton in a closed door process that is adjudged by an American agency, pledges an amount of money extending over three years for a project that is supposedly going to be done on foreign soil, and is rewarded to a company that just happens to have gone from a couple of bad years, under Dick Cheney, CEO, to some very good years, with a plethora of fat government contracts, under Dick Cheney, VP -- anyone who criticizes such things is an oleaginous defender of Saddam Hussein. Hitchens arguments seem themselves to be written in polyunsaturated fats, and such other fats as enlarge the liver from the breakdown of alcohol in the bloodstream. However, just when you think he can't top this particular exercize in intellectual corruption, he comes up with a weepy column on Chalabi, in the course of which he gets very mournful over criticisms heaped on Chalabi in the American press. He makes a very big deal out of Chalabi's leadership of a paramilitary group in the nineties in Northern Iraq -- which, according to Hitchens, was the greatest return of a man to his roots since Alex Hailey visited Nigeria. No, this is not a man unconnected with Iraq -- he is a patriot in the line of Napoleon II and, uh, Garibaldi. Hitchens also tells us that his man's paramilitaries were collected in response to the death threats of the Saddamites. Now, we do have to give Chalabi credit for bravery. The man has been tempered, as steel is in the furnace, by the drama of haribreadth escapes -- starting with his unwilling flight from Baghdad at twelve, and going on to the humiliation of being stuffed in the boot of a car to escape being sentenced to prison for embezzlement in Jordan in 1989. The latter incident, Chalabi's partisans have assured us, was all Saddam's fault, too.

We imagine it actually gave him cred with the tough boy D.C. crowd. Imagine, Garibaldi with the soul of a Ken Lay! By that act alone he showed that he was made of the same stuff as the CEOs of Enron, or Halliburton, of General Dynamics -- he was a man willing to go to any length to avoid the penalties attached to peculation. That, of course, is the one consistent theme that unifies our present Bush-ite order. So he does seem peculiarly matched to the hour -- an hour that is marked by the movement of corporate giants into the "humanitarian reconstruction" of Iraq, and an amour of C. Hitchens for the right.

This was not, once, selon le gout de Hitchens -- but now it is indeed capable of causing him the most extreme joys and torments.

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