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Hornswaggle is an alternate spelling of hornswoggle, an archaic word that means to bamboozle or hoodwink. I take my pronunciation from the late Harvey Korman in "Blazing Saddles" --

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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Christopher Unhitched: Part One

I promised a rebuttal of Christopher Hitchens' hit piece on Michael Moore and his documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," in which Hitchens purports to reveal Moore's lies and ... Hold on, I'm getting something ... I'm getting something over my earpiece here. Yes, okay. It's officially a screed, everyone. We have a ruling, and Hitchens' 10-gazillion word article is officially a screed.

The screed begins with a paragraph reciting the cliche that one of the problems of the American left is its image of being dull and "mirthless" and how the left has been looking for its answer Rush Limbaugh. I'm not going to spend any time on this setup assertion except to say that, contrary to this tired cliche, I'm a liberal and I have a great sense of humor. In fact, I'm really fucking funny. I know that there's no evidence of that here, on this blog, but in everyday life I'm known to drop a zinger or two.* I'm not "solemn" either, if by that you mean I curse a lot, which I do. You want proof? Christopher Hitchens is a fucking douchebag. See?

Hitchens goes on in the second paragraph to say that America has finally found its answer to the Limbaughs of the world in Michael Moore. Along the way he derides Air America as being "unintentionally funny" because apparently their production values are pretty bad right now. Then he slanders MoveOn.org for its "turgid routines" (as the most successful example of Internet advocacy in the history of the world, wouldn't MoveOn actually be an organization known for being organic and for its plasticity and adaptability?), saying Moore has found a way to combine said routines with the "filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl."

Wow. First of all, I take it that Eisenstein worked under Stalin, since he's mentioned in the same breath as Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker best known for the propaganda film, "Triumph des Willens." (All I know about Eisenstein is he did "Battleship Potemkin," which did, come to think of it, depict the Bolshevik Revolution.)

So, according to that second graf, Al Franken is not funny, even though he's way funnier than Hitchens; Michael Moore is not skilled as a filmmaker; MoveOn.org sucks; and Moore ought to be compared to the preeminent propaganda filmmakers of the two most ruthless dictatorships of the twentieth century. That is a quite a mouthful.

In the third paragraph, Hitchens sets the table with a series of what he probably thinks are amusing descriptions of Moore's film, calling Moore and his documentary "dishonest" "demagogic" "a piece of crap" "facile" "sinister" and "a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of 'dissenting' bravery."

It was after this last description, I believe, that Hitchens had to wipe the stream of froth from the keyboard.

Well! Let's get to the evidence shall we? It looks like Hitchens had better have some facts to back up his violent accusations, otherwise he would be quite a hypocrite, wouldn't he, seeing as his central idea seems to be that Moore is a (cowardly) liar.

According to Hitchens, Moore as recently as 2002 was against the invasion of Afghanistan and believed that Osama Bin Laden should be considered innocent until proven guilty. I would like to get some independent verification that Moore is on the record as having held those views. If that's the case, I have no objection with Hitchens' assertion, since I myself was in favor of a military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But now, Hitchens cries, Moore has had a "convenient conversion" and believes that Osama is "guilty as hell," the implication being that Moore has changed his mind on the matter of Bin Laden's guilt so as to be able to accuse the Bush administration of wrongfully prosecuting the war on terrorism in going after Saddam Hussein.

Hitchens is hinging his argument here on the idea that no one is ever allowed to change his or her mind. Furthermore, even if Moore in 2002 was not 100 percent sold on Bin Laden's guilt and opposed the Afghanistan campaign, it is still possible that Moore recognized that Bin Laden was at the very least more culpable in Sept. 11th than Saddam Hussein, whose culpability was, of course, zero.

The context of Moore's "innocent until proven guilty" statement, not provided here, is also important. I remember back in '03 when Howard Dean was pilloried for saying that, if captured, Bin Laden should be treated according to the rule of law, whereby he would be tried in court, and, naturally, be considered innocent until proven guilty. At the time, the outrage at Dean seemed to suggest that he was unfit to be president because he wasn't barbaric enough, ie did not advocate for feeding Bin Laden's genitals to a moray eel.

Okay. So if you're following along in Hitchens' article, you'll see he has come to six points he says Moore makes about Bin Laden and Afghanistan. So that I don't have to copy them, why don't you read them in a neighboring browser and I'll comment on them below.

1) This assertion of Moore's is true. Notice how Hitchens impugns the argument by saying "if not exactly Osama himself." Fighting distortion with distortion, eh, Bitchins?

2) This assertion is on the mark. Saudis have billions of dollars invested in the United States.

3) I'm not up to speed on Unocal and this subject generally, but to my knowledge it is true that people associated with the elder Bush did business in Iraq while sanctions were in place. Additionally, my understanding is that there were business concerns in America who very bullish about a pipeline across Afghanistan.

4) This assertion is unequivocally true. We allowed Bin Laden and his senior leadership to escape because Donald Rumsfeld doesn't believe in the Powell Docrtine of overwhelming force and may have too much of his personal pride invested in demonstrating that he is right.

5) I don't know what "risible" means. Hold please. Okay. It does not mean "capable of rising," but rather "laughable." Well, I don't see how this assertion of Moore's could fail to be true. We had just installed a new regime in Afghanistan. Of course they supported the Iraq campaign. Their troops cannot be too intimidating. As for the government, Hamid Karzai would have intercourse with a chicken on pay-per-view television if we told him to.

6) This assertion is incorrect. I don't know if Moore actually made it, but I disagree with it. The sacrifices our troops made in Afghanistan were in the service of a worthy cause.

Okay, so Hitchens makes these six points and then goes on to say:

"It must be evident to anyone, despite the rapid-fire way in which Moore's direction eases the audience hastily past the contradictions, that these discrepant scatter shots do not cohere at any point."


He continues: "Either the Saudis run U.S. policy, or they do not." Does Moore actually say the Saudis run U.S. policy? I highly doubt it. The Saudis certainly have a very influential relatinship with the American government, particularly the Bush administration, due to the close ties established during the 12 years when George H.W. Bush was Vice President and then President, not to mention when he was head of the CIA.

Did the Saudis oppose the removal of the Taliban? I can't recall off the top of my head, but if they did it was out of self-interest, because the House of Saud has to maintain its precarious balancing act between its close ties with America and the hated West and its appeasement of the virulently anti-American tides of Islam preached by its religious leaders and absorbed by the Saudi population, which leads to widespread sympathy for fundamentalist insurgents such as Al Qaeda.

The invasion of Afghanistan was clearly a case where the U.S. and the Saudis, though bound by a strong relationship, had a divergence of self-interest.

"Either we sent too many troops, or we were wrong to send any at all," Hitchens goes on to say. That too is false. It is perfectly rational for someone to say, "I oppose going into Afghanistan, but if we're going to go in, then we'd better go all the way and do it right." Sorry, Bitchens.

Then Bitchens says that success in the Afghanistan campaign to which Moore has come around would have required a degree of ruthlessness that Moore and his ilk probably would not have been able to stomach. I disagree. Afghanistan is precisely where we were and are supposed to be ruthless, because that's, like, where the bad guys are.

The problem begins when you fight a "war of choice" in which you need to "win the hearts and minds" of the people whose country you're invading so that they regard you as "liberators" and not "oppressors," but then you dredge Baghad for insurgents indisriminately, scooping up innocent Iraqis, and apply those same ruthless tactics to them. That's Abu Ghraib. That's where those ruthless tactics become a problem. Not when you're breaking down Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Not too many Americans have a problem with that.

Then Hitchens goes on to describe the things that Moore left out of the film -- a litany of ways in which Afghanistan is now a country on the right track, with a highway being built from Kabul to Kandahar. Hey great! I'm going to go there tomorrow, but first I'll stop in Milan and buy a Lamborghini so I can cruise the K to K freeway in style. I'll don my Gucci sunglasses and wear my pink Polo shirt with the collar proudly erect. I'm sure that I will not be killed within 10 minutes.

According to what I see, and again, I just read the newspapers and surf the Internet, Afghanistan has, in the words of Jimmy Cliff, "a hard road to travel and a rough rough way to go," and they'd probably benefit from more of our economic and military aid, not less.

Whew! That's it for today. Looks like this is going to be a three parter.

Allow me to bid you adieu with a few letters to an aging contrarian: Hitchens, you are insane.

*For instance, just the other day I was riding the 19-Polk bus and, for no reason, I yelled out, "Christopher Hitchens is a retard!", and the crayz, toothless old woman next to me appeared to drool in approval.

.: posted by hornswaggler 2:13 PM

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