Hitchens the Warmongering Hacker
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(Editor's note: This story first appeared in a slightly different form at Informed Comment. Caution: Some of the images below are quite graphic and may be disturbing to readers.)
Christopher Hitchens owes me a big apology.
I belong to a private email discussion group called Gulf2000. It has academics, journalists and policymakers on it. It has a strict rule that messages appearing there will not be forwarded off the list. It is run, edited and moderated by a former National Security Council staffer for Carter and Reagan, Gary Sick, now a political scientist at Columbia University. The "no-forwarding" rule is his and is intended to allow the participants to converse about controversial matters without worrying about getting in trouble. Also, in an informal email discussion, ideas evolve, you make mistakes, and they get corrected, etc. It is a rough, rough draft.
Hitchens somehow hacked into the site, or joined and lurked, or had a crony pass him things. And he has now made my private email messages the subject of an attack on me in Slate. (I am not linking to the article because it is highly unethical, and Slate does not deserve any direct traffic from my site for it.) Moreover, he did not even have the decency to quote the final outcome of the discussions.
I'd like to take this opportunity to complain about the profoundly dishonest character of "attack journalism." Journalists are supposed to interview the subjects about which they write. Mr. Hitchens never contacted me about this piece. He never sought clarification of anything. He never asked permission to quote my private mail. Major journalists have a privileged position. Not just anyone can be published in Slate. Most academics could not get a gig there (I've never been asked to write for it). Hitchens is paid to publish there because he is a prominent journalist. But then he should behave like a journalist, not like a hired gun for the far Right, smearing hapless targets of his ire. That isn't journalism. For some reason it drives the right absolutely crazy that I keep this little web log, and so they keep trotting out these clowns in amateurish sniping attacks. It is rather sad that one person standing up to them puts them into such piranha-like frenzy.
The precise reason for Hitchens' theft and publication of my private mail is that I object to the characterization of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having "threatened to wipe Israel off the map." I object to this translation of what he said on two grounds.
First, it gives the impression that Ahmadinejad wants to play Hitler to Israel's Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people. But the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action or killing anyone at all.
The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini, saying that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.
Since Mr. Hitchens wants to splash my private mail all over the internet against my will, as though he were himself an agent of the Bush administration's electronic spying on the private conversations of Americans, I'm glad to share the message that encapsulates the results of our deliberations at Gulf2000.
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2006 15:34:18 -0400 From: "Cole, Juan"
The speech in Persian is here:
Sorry that I misremembered the exact phrase Ahmadinejad had used. He made an analogy to Khomeini's determination and success in getting rid of the Shah's government, which Khomeini had said "must go" (az bain bayad berad). Then Ahmadinejad defined Zionism not as an Arabi-Israeli national struggle but as a Western plot to divide the world of Islam with Israel as the pivot of this plan.
The phrase he then used, as I read it, is "The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)."
Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope -- that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah's government.
Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that "Israel must be wiped off the map" with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.
Again, Ariel Sharon erased the occupation regime over Gaza from the page of time.
I should again underline that I personally despise everything Ahmadinejad stands for, not to mention the odious Khomeini, who had personal friends of mine killed so thoroughly that we have never recovered their bodies. Nor do I agree that the Israelis have no legitimate claim on any part of Jerusalem. And, I am not exactly a pacifist but have a strong preference for peaceful social activism over violence, so needless to say I condemn the sort of terror attacks against innocent civilians (including Arab Israelis) that we saw last week. I have not seen any credible evidence, however, that such attacks are the doing of Ahmadinejad, and in my view they are mainly the result of the expropriation and displacement of the longsuffering Palestinian people.
It is not realistic for Americans to call for Iran to talk directly to the Israeli government (though in the 1980s the Khomeinists did a lot of business with Israel), when the U.S. government won't talk directly to the Iranians about most bilateral issues. In fact, an American willingness to engage in direct talks might well pave the way to an eventual settlement of these outstanding issues.
I don't have any intention of making a point-by-point reply to Hitchens' completely inaccurate screed. He blames me for not referring to some other speech of Khomeini, when in fact I never instanced any speeches of Khomeini at all in this discussion, except the snippet cited by Ahmadinejad. I was arguing that there is no Persian idiom to wipe something off the map, and that Ahmadinejad has been misquoted.
Hitchens imagines a whole discourse of mine (which mostly never took place) that he now sets out to refute -- from English translations! But I was saying that the wire service translations were the problem in the first place. Hitchens seems to think that he can overrule my reading of a Persian text by reference to some hurried journalist's untechnical rendering into English.
Hitchens alleges that I said that Khomeini never called for wiping Israel from the face of the map. Actually, I never said anything at all about Khomeini's own speeches or intentions. I was solely discussing Ahmadinejad. Hitchens should please quote me on Khomeini and Israel. He cannot. He is making it up out of whole cloth. He should retract.
I write so much with which the far right disagrees so vehemently. I publish it on my weblog. Why is it that they keep having to invent quotations and put them in my mouth? Now, Cole is alleged to deny that Khomeini's rhetoric was hostile to Israel. Is that even a plausible allegation?
But, by the way, Khomeini sold oil to Israel, and Israel sold him weapons and spare parts, and put the Reagan administration up to doing the same thing. You will note that when Khomeini originally made the statement about the occupation regime over Jerusalem vanishing from the page of time, that was not front page news. In fact, secret Israeli arms shipments were arriving in Tehran as Khomeini was speaking. So whatever is going on now is not about the rhetoric, is it?
Here is what the National Security Archive says about Khomeini and Israel:
Even during the hostage crisis in Tehran, Israel -- later the United States' partner through much of the Iran initiative -- began to strike weapons deals of its own with Iran.
Tel Aviv, like Washington, had a long history of selling arms to the Shah, which Tehran's revolutionary government was willing to exploit secretly, despite its public animosity toward the state of Israel.
Reportedly, the United States knew about Israeli transactions during the early 1980s but turned a blind eye. News accounts alleged later that President Reagan's first secretary of state, Alexander Haig, gave Tel Aviv an "amber light," acquiescing in the weapons transfers without officially approving them.
One report stated that Haig gave permission to Israel to sell U.S.-made military spare parts for fighter planes to Iran in early 1981 after discussions between his counselor at the State Department, Robert McFarlane, and Israeli Foreign Ministry official David Kimche.
An Israeli account of the U.S.-backed weapons sales of 1985-1986 reports that Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon proposed as early as 1982 that Washington consider an opening to factions in Iran using limited military sales as a vehicle. The White House apparently declined the suggestion but four years later would be more receptive to a similar proposal brought to McFarlane, then national security advisor, by his longtime counterpart, Kimche.
Note that not only were the Israelis dealing with Khomeini, they are alleged to have been doing so while he was holding American hostages .
Back to Hitchens. How to explain this peculiar behavior on the part of someone who was at one time one of our great men of letters?
Well, I don't think it is any secret that Hitchens has for some time had a very serious and debilitating drinking problem. He once showed up drunk to a talk I gave and heckled me. I can only imagine that he was deep in his cups when he wrote -- or had some far right-wing think tank write -- his current piece of yellow journalism. I am sorry to witness the ruin of a once-fine journalistic mind.
But the other reason for Hitchens' piece may be that he has become a warmonger, and it is possible that he wants a U.S. war against Iran. More on that below.
As for the matter at issue, Ahmadinejad is a nonentity. The Iranian "president" is mostly powerless. The commander of the armed forces is the Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei. Worrying about Ahmadinejad's antics is like worrying that the U.S. military will act on the orders of the secretary of the interior. Ahmadinejad cannot declare war on anyone, or mobilize a military. So it doesn't matter what speeches he gives.
Moreover, Iran cannot fight Israel. It would be defeated in 72 hours, even if the United States didn't come in, which it would (and rightly so if Israel were attacked). Iran is separated by several other countries from Israel. It has not attacked aggressively any other country militarily for over a century (can Americans say that of their own record?) It has only a weak, ineffective air force. So why worry about it?
What is really going on here is an old trick of the warmongers. Which is that you equate hurtful statements of your enemy with an actual military threat, and make a weak and vulnerable enemy look like a strong, menacing foe. Then no one can complain when you pounce on the enemy and reduce his country to flames and rubble.
It is obvious that powerful political forces in Washington are fishing for a pretext to launch a war on Iran, and that they are just delighted to have Ahmadinejad serve as cartoon villain and pretext. But they had a moderate, reforming president in Mohammad Khatami for eight years, and just blew off all his overtures to the West. Iranians organized big candlelight vigils for America after Sept. 11, in sympathy!
Washington never gave the reform movement the slightest encouragement, perhaps in hopes that the Iranians would be forced to turn right again and form a proper object of U.S. hatred. If so, they got their wish last summer, when Ahmadinejad used the same dirty techniques to get elected as had George W. Bush.
All the warmongers in Washington, including Hitchens, if he falls into that camp, should get this through their heads. Americans are not fighting any more wars in the Middle East against toothless third-rate powers. So sit down and shut up.
One, two, three, four! We don't want your stinking war!
We are not going to see any more U.S. troops come home in body bags at Dover for the sake of some Cheney affiliate grabbing the petroleum in Iran's Ahvaz fields.
We are not going to have another 15,000 wounded vets flood onto our streets with spine damage and brain damage.
We are not going to put Yazd behind barbed wire to liberate it, as a millenarian Christian general did to Habbaniyah in Iraq.
We are not going to imprison and torture thousands of Iranians at Evin Penitentiary in Tehran, as worthy successors to the bloodthirsty Shah and Khomeini.
We are not going to kill 200,000 Iranians with aerial bombardments of Tabriz, Isfahan, Qom, Kerman, Shiraz and Mashahd.
We are not going to let dozens of U.S. corporations loot the American people and the Iranian people alike with no-bid "contracts," embezzlement, corruption, and graft.
We are not going to let you have a war against Iran.
So sit down and shut up, American Enterprise Institute, and Hudson Institute, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and American Heritage Institute, and this institute and that institute, and cable "news," and government "spokesmen" and all the pundit-ferrets you pay millions to make business for the American military-industrial complex and Big Oil.
We don't give a rat's ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little shit gives.
I call on university students across America to begin holding antiwar rallies. The only way you can have a war on Iran is to draft the young people. It is you who are on the line. Demonstrate! Demonstrate against the very hint of war! Demonstrate in front of the warmongering "institutes" in Washington, D.C.! Demonstrate to end the one we've already got! (See Speaker's Forum on Iraq)
Here is what the real Iran experts think about the prospect of an Iran war.
Hitchens' dirty tricks and lies against me are only the beginning. Whoever stands against the Perpetual War Machine will be attacked, slimed, marginalized and destroyed if the warmongers get their way. I don't care. Thus far and no farther.
One, two, three, four. We don't want your stinking war!