October 03, 2006

My, Who You Wake Up Next To

Or, Is That Sulfur I Smell?

One of the juicier tidbits to come out of the advance notes on Bob Woodward's new book has been the revelation of Henry Kissinger's tendency to lurk about the Bush White House. He's more than welcome, it seems, and not only seen but well heard. Naturally, he's a big fan of "staying the course" in Iraq.

This doesn't frankly come as much of a surprise. But it does offer the consolation of delicious irony, at least if you're among those who have followed Christopher Hitchens's addled post-9/11 politics. A former Nation columnist and long-time left-wing intellectual, Hitch has birthed himself anew in the last five years, and darkly. He championed the invasion of Afghanistan, of course — but then who didn't. On the left, such as it is, most folks stopped there, or at least proceeded with caution. Not Hitch. In what some have seen as psychotic and others as doggedly characteristic, Hitch took the post-9/11 opportunity to latch himself to the Bush wagon with bands of tensile steel. He's always been the vitriolic sort; since the invasion of Iraq, though, lefties have had the disconcerting experience of watching him spit venom not at blustering right-wing functionaries but on their very behalf. Hitchens reversed guns, taking aim with his prodigious intellect, his biting wit, and his apparently bottomless rage at all those former allies who refused to tag along on his jaunt across enemy lines. And he has not done it halfway. Hitchens never does anything halfway. He's downright thuggish, in fact, and personal, and nasty — all of which makes him pretty good company for the Bush team, come to think of it. Take a listen to this debate if you want a for instance (and yes, I realize Galloway is not an uncomplicated figure himself).

But, still, it's been weird, not so much because Hitchens supported the invasion of Iraq — other liberals did that too, like George Packer at the New Yorker, and for some of the same liberal-interventionist reasons Hitchens sometimes cites in his rare moments of lucidity. What's been truly incomprehensible has been the totalitarian nature of Hitchens's self-inflicted intellectual neocon alliance, his refusal to see nuance in either the circumstances or his own position, and his rabid defense of pretty much anything Bush & co. have decided to do — all of which seem at odds with positions Hitchens himself has taken, and vociferously, over the years. Whereas someone like Packer has been able to articulate a liberal justification for military action without losing sight of the faults of the administration figures this allies him with, or of the mistakes that have been made and the mess they've created, Hitchens has gone Maoist, equating the cause (Iraq) with the man (Bush) and regarding anything shy of total fealty to both as cretinous, treasonous, punishable by public flogging at the least, or more, one senses, if he could really have his way.

It just got weirder. Because Hitchens is also a well-known Kissinger-hater. That's an understatement, really; Hitchens has labored for decades to build the case that Kissinger is a war criminal, and should be tried and jailed. It all culminated in his 2002 book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, the arguments of which are easily guessed but in their execution — this being Hitchens, after all — heartfelt, vituperative, tenacious, eloquent, and persuasive.

What now, when we find that behind his beloved Bush stands this despised figure? Will Hitchens flop again? Is a public self-flaggelation in order? Might he follow Foley (and Gibson, and Ney) into the reformative silence of rehab, or will he crank up his formidable machinery of persuasion once more and find a way to defend Bush, and defend his defense of Bush, by rehabilitating the man he's so long sought to put away?