Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Hitchens Gets Rich

There's no more skillful writer, or effective advocate of the struggle in Iraq, than Christopher Hitchens. Nor is there anyone an opponent of the war would want reviewing his book less than he would want Mr. Hitchens to critique it. So, the New York Times' culture critic, Frank Rich, who churned out an apparently shallow screed against the conduct of the Bush administration since 9/11, must have winced when he saw that Hitchens was reviewing his effort for The Claremont Institute's Review of Books.

After having read the review Rich probably felt that he had been mugged, which indeed he had. Here's some of the drubbing Hitchens metes out to the hapless Mr. Rich:

For another instance of Rich's pseudo-forensic style, you might try the following: "I don't think we ever said-at least I know I didn't say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein," Bush said in the spring of 2006. That is technically true, but it is really just truthiness: Bush struck 9/11 like a gong in every fear-instilling speech about Iraq he could.

Now, "truthiness" is a laugh-word invented by Steven Colbert who (along with his friend Jon Stewart and the other heroes of Comedy Central) is the beau ideal of what Rich considers to be the ironic. In this book and in his regular column, he gives "truthiness" a workout whenever he can. He clearly wishes he had coined it himself, and he has kept it going for perhaps a touch longer-may I hint?-than even Colbert might wish. Let us examine it in the present case. The administration did not, in point of fact and as Rich concedes, ever make the case that Saddam Hussein had sponsored the assault of 9/11. It did, however, strongly imply that he might have an interest in, or enthusiasm for, this kind of activity. And many Americans when polled were found to suspect him of an even more direct connection.

Well, Saddam Hussein had sheltered the Iraqi-American fugitive who mixed the chemicals for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. He had allowed the internationally-wanted criminal Abu Nidal to use Baghdad as his headquarters. He had boasted of paying a bounty to the suicide-murderers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The man who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship, a certain Abu Abbas, who was responsible for rolling Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair off the vessel's deck and into the Mediterranean, had to be released when apprehended because he was traveling on an Iraqi passport. A diplomatic passport. The Baghdad state-run press had exulted at the revenge taken on America on 9/11.

This does not exhaust the "truthiness" of the suggestion that Saddam Hussein might have to be taken seriously as a sponsor of nihilistic violence. Could one even suggest that those who thought so might be intuitively and even objectively wiser than those who thought it crass to mention Saddam Hussein and "terrorism" in the same breath? Not without being jeered at by Rich, who either does not know any of the above facts or who chooses not to include any of them in his proudly truth-centered narrative.

Here's another important passage, though it's not directed specifically at Rich's book:

Once the [1991] war was over, the U.N. inspectors discovered something that has been erased from many memories. Saddam Hussein had built an enormous secret nuclear reactor at Tuwaitha, and had acquired most of the elements of a nuclear weapon. Had he waited to develop this, and only then moved to take Kuwait, that small yet incredibly wealthy country would be a part of Iraq to this day, and we would all be living-as, unknowingly, we did then-partly at the pleasure of a psychopathic dictator. Accommodations would soon enough have been made to this reality by many powers, perhaps including our own.

It is astonishing how those who scoff at Bush for believing Saddam had WMD and was interested in developing nuclear weapons, never seem to think to mention this. Nor do they ever seem to contemplate that had we not invaded Saddam would certasinly have developed nuclear weapons at the first opportunity in order to offset the Iranian nuclear program. Such details are easily set aside, however, when there are political points to be made by beating up George Bush for "lying" to us about Iraq's WMD.


Endangered Species

The Daily Mail shows us this picture of polar bears on an ice floe

and runs this story:

They cling precariously to the top of what is left of the ice floe, their fragile grip the perfect symbol of the tragedy of global warming.

Captured on film by Canadian environmentalists, the pair of polar bears look stranded on chunks of broken ice.

Although the magnificent creatures are well adapted to the water, and can swim scores of miles to solid land, the distance is getting ever greater as the Arctic ice diminishes.

The story gives the impression that these bears are stranded far from land, clinging desperately to the ice lest they fall into the sea and drown, all because of global warming. What they don't tell us is where the photographers were perched who took the photo. Were they standing on a pier or were they on a boat hundreds of miles out? They also don't tell us that polar bears often cavort on ice floes, and that these two, being excellent swimmers, are in no danger at all. The story is a good example of how the media has lost all sense of an obligation to be objective and unbiased in reporting the news.

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that polar bear populations are in decline, but though the story strongly suggests the decline is due to global warming it never really makes the connection clear. The reader is left wondering exactly how the bears' sagging population numbers are related to climate change, but there's not much doubt that the writers of the story want us to think they are.

Anyway, it doesn't appear that there's much that can be done about it since a study on climate change released Friday observes that even if we stopped pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere today the earth will continue to warm for centuries more. The best we can hope for is that we can minimize the damage. Pretty depressing.

It's a nice picture, though.