Hitchens and Iraq

December 20th, 2011

The New Yorker
By George Packer
Dec. 20, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and the Iraq War ended on the same day, December 15, 2011—a historical coincidence that only he might have known what to do with. In the trajectory of his career as brilliant talker and polemicist, man of letters, self-dramatizing personality, and traveller to bad places, Iraq was the turning point. Until then, his work fit roughly within the conventions of the left. Given the deadliness of much left-wing writing in the age of Reagan, Hitchens achieved the rare feat of being dazzling while sticking fairly closely to political orthodoxy.

I read almost every one of his “Minority Report” columns in The Nation from the mid-eighties until he gave them up after the 9/11 attacks, because they were reliably less predictable and more exciting than anything else in the magazine. If, as Hitchens once said, hatred was what got him up in the morning, the first three decades of his career were motivated more than anything by a contempt for American foreign policy and the hypocrites and evil characters who carried it out. As late as 1998, Hitchens hated Bill Clinton much more than Osama bin Laden. When Clinton ordered Cruise missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan after Al Qaeda bombed the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Hitchens wrote a series of columns dissecting the American retaliation: he concluded that Clinton had chosen to kill innocent people (primarily Sudanese) in order to distract attention from Monica Lewinsky. Wag the dog, not Islamofascism, was the cardinal sin, the scandal that got Hitchens to the keyboard.