Liveblogging the Hitchens/Galloway debate:
7:20 p.m.: It’s nowhere near starting. The line is still down the block, they say. A major security problem… because there may be people there from right wing Web sites. Really, they said that.
Oh, good, they just said they’re going to start at 7:30 promptly.
In the meantime, it’s a discussion of New Orleans. The hosts are upset that military recruiters approached evacuees in the Astrodome. Geez. Of all the things that happened in New Orleans over the last couple of weeks, that doesn’t even begin to move the needle on my outrage monitor.
Hitchens would seem to have the deck stacked against him. The debate is sponsored by Democracy Now!, a hard left wing Web site. Hell, the debate itself is occuring as a part of George Galloway’s book tour. Whether that means the audience is entirely in his favor is another thing. (After all, there may be people there from right wing Web sites.) In the chatroom for Democracy Now, people seemed to be about evenly divided, or even leaning Hitchens’s way. We’ll see.
Galloway’s book-tour rep is making announcements. Anti-war protest in Washington in the near future — big cheers in response. Definitely not a Hitchens-friendly audience.
Announcer: “We’ll have an interview with the president of the Christopher Hitchen’s fan club — his mother.”
It’s starting. The moderator is Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Long list of other sponsors. Stay after and get your book signed.
The timekeeper for the event: Elizabeth Wrigley-Field. Really. (“No, she has never been there.”)
The first mention of Hitchens got a very large round of applause. Maybe not as stacked a deck after all. But Galloway’s supporters are in the majority, for certain.
First up: Hitchens’s opening statement. Wants to start with a moment of silence for the 160 people killed today. “You can take it out of my time.”
“If the anti-war movement had been heeded, then Saddam would have annexed Kuwait. Kosovo would have been ethnically cleansed. The Taliban would still be in Afghanistan. And Hussein and his crime family would still be in Iraq. If I had that record, I would be extremely modest.”
(None of my quotes are really going to be quotes because I can’t type that fast. But I’m getting the gist.)
Arguing that Iraq was justified on an international basis based on Iraq’s own actions. The state, too, was imploding, and if had been allowed to implode, then Turkey, Iran, and… Syria? (missed it) would have invaded for their own purposes. Big round of applause for his basic premises.
We make no excuses about the negative consequences, but we would also like to focus a bit on the positive consequences: A man who delighted in torture, and invader of two neighboring states, is in jail now. This is a long overdue justice.
The constitution. “Debated on six television stations and perhaps 100 newspapers.” Thank you. This is obviously my big bugaboo, that Iraq’s newly free press is just taken from granted, or completely ignored. (I don’t think Hitch himself even mentioned it his recent article about the positives of the war, in the Weekly Standard.) “Three years ago, it would be death to distribute a leaflet.”
Hitch is saying that Libya’s capitulation is a direct result of the Iraq war. Personally, I think so, too, but it’s hardly a provable connection. Expect a big wallop back on this point.
Ah: “Not all of this can be attributed to the war, but you notice that when Qaddafi wanted to capitulate, he didn’t go to Kofi Annan. Or Chirac.”
Here come the attacks on Galloway. Not quite following the specifics of the attacks, but he has enraged Galloway’s supporters. Accusing Galloway of benefiting of the oil-for-food. Of going to Damascus and telling the Syrians that they should be thankful for the leader. “He should be beneath your contempt,” and finis. Whew.
Galloway begins. Oh boy — quite an accent. I need to retune my antenna. Galloway starts off my thanking Hitchens for a speech he (Hitch) made 25 years ago that supported terrorism in some way. And for standing against the war in Iraq in 1991. In other words, reminding us that Hitchens used to be a far-left pundit himself. Which I think we knew.
Man, he’s wasting a lot of time on Hitchens’s former positions. “You are watching the first ever metamorphosis: A butterfly returning back to a slug. And a slug leaves behind a trail of slime.”
Accusing Hitchens of “half truth and untruth” regarding Galloway’s positions. And continuing on about Hitchens’s quotes about Cindy Sheehan. “People like Hitchens are willing to fight to the last drop of other peoples’s blood.” Big applause line. When does this debate start?
I really have got to say — I’m on Hitchens’s side here, but I think even if I wasn’t, I’d be disappointed with Galloway here. He’s been talking a long time and has hardly even addressed the subject of the evening. He’s talking about a historic British figure who supported the American revolution. A metaphor, obviously, but not a lot to hang one’s argument on.
“My point is this: For us in the US and the UK, there is only one big question: Are you with foreign invasion of Iraq, or are you with the right of the Iraqis to be free?” I find that an amazing, amazing question. He really… he really thinks the Iraqis were free under Saddam? I can’t even get my mind around that.
“Hitchens wants a moment of silence for the victims today, but what about Fallujah?” Big applause. “How I wish Hitchens would pick up a gun and go fight this war himself.” Another big line.
Wowee: “The US and the UK are the two biggest rogue states in the world today.” And that’s pretty much his closing line.
Back to Hitchens. Denies ever making the speech that Galloway claims he made. Happily admits he was wrong to oppose the first Gulf War. Wonders how Galloway, who positions himself as a pacifist, can go to Damascus and praise the “resistance” in Iraq, being lead by an Al-Qaedian.
“Among the people killed by these “operationists” was Casey Sheehan, who was trying to protect the infrastructure of Iraq. Is it right to go to Damascus and appeal to those who support Sheehan’s murderers, and then come to the US and support Casey’s mother?” Big applause, some shouting back. There might be fistfights in the audience by the end of this.
“While you’re masturbating and pretending to revolt against Dick Cheney, the Iraqi left-wing is fighting a bitter struggle against fascism.”
Hitchens is certainly the calmer speaker of the two. Back to Galloway, who can’t believe that Hitchens dared attack the Lancet article saying that there was 100,000 dead. (He did that. Hey, I’m not the club secretary.)
Galloway goes back to attacking Hitchens’s former positions. He also says that the terrorists — not that he uses that word — he says it’s the Iraqi people — would be using planes and tanks instead of suicide bombers if they had planes and tanks.
“You may think the airplanes came out of the clear blue sky on 9/11. I believe they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us.” HUGE reaction. Big boos, big applause. “For General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people…” More boos, catcalls. “By propping up the corrupt kings from one end to the other, the US has created this swamp of hatred. And it won’t matter how many Patriot Acts we pass. If you live by the swamp, no number of flyswatters will save you from the monsters with in. We have to stop Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Reverse your policy towards Israel and Palestine! Reverse your policy against dictatorships!” Big applause.
Hitchens again. “If anything might have inspired the hatred of the Muslim world, the Soviet murder of tens of thousands of Afghans might be a better candidate than holding free elections in Iraq.”
Wow. Hitchens chides Galloway for invoking 9/11 — in New York, in September — and is roundly booed. Sheesh.
“I think it’s a bit much to say that these terrorists wouldn’t be like this if we weren’t so mean to them.”
Wants Mr. Galloway to address the oil-for-food program, and to sign an affidavit that he benefitted from it in no way. Galloway says he’ll sign it. “Nobody ever discussed oil revenue with me. That smokescreen will not wash!”
Galloway says that Hitchens supports dictators in Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt. Hitchens is openly puzzled. That Hitchens supports a dictatorship in Lebanon — if it was a democracy, the Syrians would still be there. Makes sense to me! Anyway, Galloway’s supporters are eating this with a soup spoon.
The first part of the debate is over — now, amazingly, it is to become more freewheeling. Amy Goodman, the host, starts by asking Hitchens about WMD. Did Bush engage in a systematic campaign to deceive?
Hitchens: Bush laid out a “full menu” of reasons to invade Iraq. “I have written that Bush and Blair have done the world a disservice by trying to frighten people” instead of talking more indepth about the deeper reasons to invade. But he does remind people that Saddam actually used WMDs, that Saddam had an “elaborate system of concealment,” tried to buy weapons from North Korean, attempted to bribe UN officials. “What reasonable person would give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt?”
Question for Galloway: Has Saddam committed any crimes. “Yes. Most of them in the 80s, when he was the closest friend of the US and UK. He invaded Iran at the behest of the US and the UK. I denounced Saddam at the time and was denounced as a Communist troublemaker!”
They are now taking turns attacking each other as hypocrites. Dum de dum.
Galloway keeps coming back to the most basic points we’ve been hearing from the very beginning of the war – “illegal occupation,” “no authority,” and so forth.
Oh, now this is just getting silly. “Were you lying in 1991 or are you lying now?” asks Galloway, because Hitchens was against Desert Storm. “How can anybody trust you when you have such crazed shifts of opinion?” As if nobody in the world became a wee more hawkish after 9/11. It’s really all true: Galloway is volume over substance.
Hitchens is then more than willing to discuss his transformation from dove to hawk, which seems to counter Galloway’s insistence that Hitchens only wants to gloss it all over. He also congratulates Galloway for his “unwavering support for thugs and criminals.”
Question: What needs to happen in Iraq now? A timetable for leaving?
Galloways calls the Iraqi government a puppet regime, for the benefit of Halliburton. He really does seem to think our motives are just that simple. “Do you think they plan to leave anytime soon of their own volition? They will never allow Iraq to be free! But the Iraqis have decided otherwise, and that’s what you can’t stand.”
Memo to Jon Delfin: Galloway just cited, and recommended, Juan Cole’s essay against Hitchens’s essay in the Weekly Standard.
Galloway: “The vast majority of Iraqis want this occupation to end, and the vast majority fighting to end it are Iraqi. Get used to it!”
Should the forces be removed immediately? Galloway: Yes. Hitchens chides the audience for cheering the “resistance” — reminding them of the specifics of this resistance, including the bombing of the UN headquarters there — and is booed loudly. Galloway says Hitchens has fallen out of the gutter and into the sewer.
Hitchens: The real resistance is the Kurdish army, and we at last fight on their side. Galloway’s “resistance” want nothing more than to keep the Iraqis in fear, after three decades of fear.
Question from the moderator: What about the costs? Did the money spent in Iraq affect the response in New Orleans? And if the government failed in its response in New Orleans, what makes you think they’re doing any better overseas?
Hitchens blows this one utterly. “Bush can’t send troops to one of the United States without being asked.” Laaaamme. “But the soldiers did a fine job once they got there.”
Galloway: “You’ve ended up a mouthpiece for the Bush family.” He calls up Barbara Bush’s nutty quote from last week, as if Hitchens remotely supported that. Yes, Hitchens is now agreeing that was a stupid thing to say. Hitchens then goes to say that soldiers that served in Iraq learned valuable skills that helped them in New Orleans. Cursing is heard in the audience. That is indeed not the strongest argument for supporting the war — not even those on his side applauded it.
Hitchens asks if should also abandon Afghanistan, leave it to the warlords. Yesses are clearly heard from the audience. Some of these people are really beyond help. “Anything is better than imperialism, eh?” says Hitchens.
Last question to Hitchens: Does he feel the media is friendlier to him since he changed his views? “Sort of a waste of a question. I didn’t leave the Nation to improve my prospects.”
Galloway wraps up. “Religious fundamentalism has been put in power in Iraq by Bush and Blair.” Blink. “The number of people who hate us in the world has been greatly enlarged.”
Hitchens is given the last word. “My losing my friends from the MoveOn.org world are well worth it for the friends I have made. You would have more to be proud of, ladies and gentleman, to have done something to help build up the new Iraq. To offer your solidarity with the terrorists is something you will look back on with real regret. Many Iraqis are crying out for help. Do not appear to be deaf. And that’s the end of my pro bono bit — from now on, if you want to talk to me, you will need a receipt.” And with that, on to the book signing.
The radio hosts are back. I am waiting for them to say how splendid was Galloway’s victory. But first of all, they couldn’t believe how many Hitchens fans were around. They go on to say that Hitchens “never” answered questions directly. Give. Me. A. Break.
Oh, phooey — at this point, I have lost my connection to the server. Damn, I wanted to hear the wrapup.
Well, here’s my own: This is obviously not the kind of debate that anybody is going to “win,” as all the attendees, including me, went in rooting for one side, and would never admit the other side won. That said, it certainly seems to me that Hitchens landed far more body blows — by bringing up Galloway’s present-day visits to Damascus to support the insurrection and the Syrian dictatorship — than Galloway landed by repeatedly reminding us that Hitchens wasn’t always hawkish. Hitchens’s positions today regarding the war can be debated as good or bad; Galloway’s continuing support of dictatorships (Christmas in Iraq with Aziz? WTF?) can’t possibly be lauded by anybody. Or so I thought until I heard his supporters in the audience tonight.
I guess in the end I’d have to say this was a pretty insubstantial debate. Very few points were made about Iraq except in the light of the other debater’s words and actions — it wasn’t a debate pro or con Iraq, it was a very personal grudge match between two strong personalities who deeply hate each other. Not that I am dismissing the entertainment value in that. People still go to cockfights, don’t they? That’s illegal in New York. Maybe that’s why so many people turned out for this.